What is a Travel Nurse? Roles, Qualifications and Career

by T

Updated May 13, 2024
Travel nursing involves licensed nurses who work temporarily in healthcare facilities in various locations, often filling in shortages or covering for staff on leave. These assignments can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, and sometimes even longer. Travel nurses typically work through staffing agencies, which facilitate placements in different healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities.

With approximately 1.7 million travel nurses currently working across the United States, according to data from job website Zippia, it's evident that this career path holds significant appeal. For those nurses eyeing a change and longing to explore the world, travel nursing presents an enticing opportunity.

Understanding Travel Nursing Profession

The charm of travel nursing becomes even more apparent when considering the salary potential. Even at the 10th percentile of the salary range, travel nurses can expect to earn a minimum of $120,000 per year.

For many, this financial incentive coupled with the chance to see new places makes the switch to travel nursing all the more appealing.

But beyond the personal motivations of individual nurses, the broader context of the healthcare industry sheds light on why travel nursing has become increasingly vital. Across the country, registered nurses (RNs) are departing the healthcare field for various reasons — whether to recover from burnout, pursue entirely different careers, or opt for early retirement. This exodus of experienced healthcare professionals poses a significant challenge for hospitals and healthcare facilities alike.

Faced with the daunting task of doing more with less, many healthcare facilities find themselves understaffed and overwhelmed. In this context, travel nursing emerges as a practical solution to bridge the gap. By hiring travel nurses to address day-to-day healthcare demands temporarily, these facilities can alleviate some of the pressure until they can secure permanent nursing staff.

In essence, travel nursing operates as a flexible and adaptive solution to the ever-evolving staffing needs of healthcare institutions nationwide. It offers a win-win scenario, providing nurses with the opportunity to explore new horizons while assisting understaffed facilities in meeting the demands of patient care.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Becoming a travel nurse involves several steps, each designed to ensure that nurses are adequately prepared to excel in this unique and rewarding career path. Here's a detailed guide on how to become a travel nurse:

1. Education and Licensure: The journey to becoming a travel nurse typically begins with obtaining the necessary education and licensure. This entails completing a nursing program accredited by the appropriate regulatory body, such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Upon graduation, aspiring travel nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN for registered nurses or NCLEX-PN for licensed practical nurses) to obtain licensure in their respective state(s) of practice.

2. Gain Clinical Experience: Most travel nursing agencies require candidates to have a minimum of one to two years of clinical experience in their specialty area before considering them for travel assignments. During this time, nurses hone their clinical skills, gain valuable experience, and develop the confidence needed to thrive in diverse healthcare settings.

3. Research and Choose a Travel Nursing Agency: Travel nurses typically work through staffing agencies that specialize in placing healthcare professionals in temporary assignments. It's essential to research and select a reputable agency that aligns with your career goals, preferences, and values. Consider factors such as the agency's reputation, the variety of assignments offered, compensation packages, benefits, and support services provided.

4. Submit Application and Documentation: Once you've chosen a travel nursing agency, you'll need to submit an application and provide documentation of your education, licensure, certifications, and clinical experience. The agency may also require you to undergo background checks, drug screenings, and health screenings to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and facility policies.

5. Attend Interviews and Skills Assessments: Depending on the agency's requirements and the specific assignment, you may be asked to participate in interviews and skills assessments to evaluate your clinical competency, communication skills, and compatibility with potential placements. Be prepared to discuss your clinical experience, skills, and preferences for assignment locations and specialty areas.

6. Accept Assignments: Once you've been accepted by a travel nursing agency and offered an assignment, carefully review the contract terms, including assignment details, compensation package, housing arrangements, and any additional benefits or incentives. If the terms are acceptable, sign the contract and prepare for your travel assignment.

7. Prepare for Assignment: Prior to starting your travel assignment, take time to familiarize yourself with the facility, review relevant policies and procedures, and communicate with the nursing staff and healthcare team. Pack essentials for your assignment, including professional attire, medical supplies, and personal belongings.

8. Embark on Your Travel Nursing Adventure: With everything in place, embark on your travel nursing adventure with enthusiasm and dedication. Embrace the opportunity to work in diverse healthcare settings, learn from different experiences, and make a positive impact on patient care wherever your journey takes you.

Common Specialties of Travel Nursing

• Emergency Room (ER) Nursing
• Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nursing
• Medical-Surgical Nursing
• Operating Room (OR) Nursing
Telemetry Nursing
• Labor and Delivery Nursing
• Pediatric Nursing
• Psychiatric Nursing

Benefits of Becoming a Travel Nurse

1. Flexibility: Travel nursing offers the opportunity to work in diverse healthcare settings and locations, allowing nurses to explore different regions while advancing their careers.

2. Competitive Compensation: Travel nurses often earn higher salaries than their permanent counterparts, with additional benefits such as housing stipends, travel allowances, and bonuses.

3. Professional Growth: Working in various healthcare environments exposes travel nurses to different practices, technologies, and patient populations, enhancing their clinical skills and professional development.

4. Networking Opportunities: Travel nursing provides the chance to network with healthcare professionals from diverse backgrounds and establish valuable connections for future career opportunities.

5. Adventure and Exploration: Travel nurses have the unique opportunity to explore new cities, cultures, and experiences while making a meaningful impact on healthcare delivery across the country.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, travel nursing offers a rewarding career path for licensed nurses seeking adventure, flexibility, and professional growth while meeting the evolving staffing needs of healthcare facilities nationwide.
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