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Discover the Magic of Travel Nursing
Explore the country, make great money, and build your resume with freedom and flexibility!
What is Travel Nursing?
Travel nursing is a unique, high-paying opportunity for healthcare professionals to work short-term nursing jobs in facilities nationwide where their help is most needed. Travel clinicians work with a travel nursing agency and their own dedicated recruiter at that agency to find and apply for temporary jobs of their choosing.
The most common travel nursing assignment length is 13 weeks, but other common assignment lengths include 4, 8, 10, 16, 24, and even 32 weeks. If a traveler and a hospital wish to extend an assignment past the original contract, that’s usually also possible up to just under 12 consecutive months maximum.
Whether you’re an eager adventurer, a purpose-seeking empty nester, a nursing veteran considering retirement, or anywhere in between, the choice, variety, and endless possibility draws many clinicians to a lucrative, exciting career in travel nursing!
Why Travel Nurse?
The need for travel nursing stems from the current nursing shortage and its related factors including the aging baby boomer population requiring more care, many of those same boomer nurses retiring, and the expansion of the patient pool made possible through the Affordable Care Act.
Additional reasons travel nursing is needed to help with staffing fluctuations include:
- Seasonal population shifts like so-called “sunbirds” flocking to warmer climates for the winter
- Public health emergencies like COVID-19
- A nurse leaving for parental leave
- EMR/EHR (or other technology/system) updates at a facility
With the choice to use travelers, facilities are better able to properly staff, which ultimately means less nurse burnout, better work-life balance for all nurses and higher quality patient care.
Here’s why nurses travel: Compared to staff/perm nurses, travel nurses often net higher compensation and enjoy a variety of benefits and perks that draw more clinicians to this unique healthcare career option every year. Not to mention the personal fulfillment and adventures that come with being able to travel the country and choose where you want to visit next!
What Do Travel Nurses Do?
Travel nurses or “travelers” as they’re often simply called, typically perform a near-identical role to a facility’s staff (or “perm”) nurses. They work within their specialty to perform essential patient care functions, just as any nurse in any clinical setting would.
In addition to travel RNs, travel assignments are also an option for LPNs, CNAs, allied health workers, and other healthcare professionals. In fact, the term “travel nursing” is often used as an umbrella term to widely describe the travel healthcare industry, even though not every traveler is literally a registered nurse.
What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Travel Nurse?
Just like any other nursing job, you’ll need to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and pass the NCLEX to work as a registered nurse. You’ll also want to earn certifications relevant to your role to have the best shot at the best jobs among your competition. You can learn more about travel nursing requirements here.
When it comes to on-the-job experience, there’s no formal, industry-spanning magic number, but most facilities require one to two years of recent, in-hospital experience to hire you as a traveler. Each job listing will clearly state its required length of experience, required specialties/certifications, state licenses, and any other such parameters or applicant requirements.
Having in-hospital experience is essential to your success as a traveler. While your role will mirror that of any staff nurse, you’ll need rock-solid clinical skills to confidently hit the ground running in new environments with new rules, practices, leadership, colleagues, and patient populations. Even if you could start traveling right after nursing school, it wouldn’t be a good idea for you or your patients. The standard experience qualifications protect your patients, your nursing license, and your own mental health, allowing you to have the most successful experience possible as a travel nurse.
What Are the Benefits of Travel Nursing?
The perks and benefits are many when it comes to travel nursing! Travelers often cite benefits including:
Higher pay and compensation
- Traveler nurse salaries usually include higher net compensation than perm staff salaries. Part of that is simple supply and demand. When a facility is in a pinch they’ll pay extra for your expertise. As with any nursing job, some roles pay more than others, depending on factors like your specialty and location.
- Travelers also typically earn stipends for lodging, meals, and incidentals when eligible. As for housing, most agencies offer company-provided housing, instead of a lodging stipend.
Compensation in addition to your travel nurse salary can come in the form of 401(k) matches, license and certification reimbursement, and perks like loyalty, referral, and sign-on bonuses.
- Traditional benefits like day-one health benefits, including items like medical, dental, and vision insurance are often worked into a traveler’s compensation package if they elect to include them.
Freedom to choose your assignments
- Travel nursing lets you choose where and when you want to work. You’ll have full control over the facility type, city/state, and the timeframe you accept in a contract.
- You can choose an urban or rural hospital, a clinic setting or home health, a teaching hospital or trauma center — you are totally in control and the variety is at your fingertips.
- As a traveler you can schedule your assignments around holidays, family events, leisure trips, or anything else you see fit. Some semi-retired nurses even work just one or two assignments per year for extra income. Want to work more? Just contact your recruiter. Want to work less? Just contact your recruiter.
- If you want even shorter assignments than traditional travel nursing, you always have the option of PRN/per diem/shift nursing work where you can work in increments as little as a day and be closer to your home.
Travel and see the nation
- A big draw for many clinicians is the ability to travel widely and have new experiences in new locations.
- Take yourself on a tour of the country all while getting paid. Your days off are going to be even more amazing!
New skills and perspectives
- You may have your clinical skills down pat but there are many things to learn from working in a variety of new environments. You’ll learn new skills and ways of doing things, which most travelers say expands their horizons.
- You’ll likely also get the chance to work with more patient populations than most perm nurses. Such experiences strengthen your skill set and are great on a human level!
- Having travel nurse experience is fantastic for your resume and future hiring prospects. It shows you’re adaptable, great at what you do, and have the benefit of working in different settings.
- Most travelers say a good relationship with a trusted recruiter is the #1 asset to seek in a travel career.
- It’s common for recruiters to become more than a business contact and more than a partner, resulting in lifelong friendships.
Freedom from hospital politics and drama
- As a traveler, you can stay insulated from the otherwise intrusive workplace politics and resulting drama most perm nurses endure.
- Many travelers report they make deep connections at each facility they visit. That means friends to go visit across the nation!
- Some clinicians use travel nursing to essentially job or home shop. Indeed, as a travel nurse you get to sample various facilities and locations, and many facilities love hiring travelers who’ve already proven themselves as great clinical and cultural fits.
What Are the Challenges of Travel Nursing?
While most travel nurses have great feedback on travel nursing, there are challenges in the industry — just like any other job! Travelers can be away from home for long stretches and over holidays, work long hours (also not totally uncommon among perm staff), and experience a lack of stability and consistency in routine while moving locations several times each year.
Many nurses are well-suited for a full-time career as a travel nurse, some like to travel on and off, and others just don’t care for the travel lifestyle. It’s important to consider what matters most to you, personally and professionally when thinking about a career in travel nursing.
The fantastic thing about travel healthcare is you can sample the career without a long-term commitment. Say you try a travel assignment or two and it’s just not your style or it’s not the right timing. Just wait a few weeks and you can go back to a perm job! With the nursing shortage at a peak, you should have no problem switching back after trying travel out. On the other hand, you might find you love traveling and decide to keep your show on the road!
How Do I Become a Travel Nurse?
Once you have the relevant education, experience, and credentials needed for travel nursing, you should explore travel nurse agencies to find one with the benefits you need and the kind of jobs you want. From there, it’s essential to find a recruiter you can trust and have a good rapport with because this person is your secret key to success in a travel career.
It’s never too early to reach out to a recruiter to get the ball rolling. The more they get to know you, the better they’ll be able to scout jobs on your behalf. You can apply for travel nurse jobs right away or tell them you aim to start traveling in six months — or whatever your timetable may be. Again, travel nursing lets you decide when and where to go on exactly your terms.
Is Travel Nursing Right for Me?
At the end of the day, only you can answer that question — but there are countless reasons to try this exciting, high-paying, fulfilling, exciting career! If you’re interested, you can start right away or get set up with an assignment in the near future. Simply apply with a high-rated company, get to know a recruiter there, and explore available jobs with them to get started. You can also search travel nursing assignments on your own, if you just want to see what’s out there. But remember, it’s that recruiter relationship that will make or break your experience. So, be sure to reach out for the best possible service and to access the best jobs as soon as they’re available.
Another great thing is that travel nursing, by nature, isn’t a permanent decision. You can always try a travel nurse assignment and see what you think. Whatever you decide, travel nursing is an exceptional opportunity, unique to healthcare professionals. And it’s pretty cool to have options!