What Is a Traveling Nurse?

What Is a Traveling Nurse?

Careers in the medical field are often rooted in one area as most healthcare professionals are licensed state by state. Usually, a doctor or nurse works out of one hospital or a series of local medical centers. We often don’t view medical professions as ones that include a lot of travel and working out of different locations. However, there is a need for traveling nurses, who fill in gaps in hospital staffing. 

As the need for nurses increases around the country, more travel nurse assignments are being contracted out to meet demand. Read on to learn more about travel nursing, the benefits, the drawbacks of the job, and how to become one.

What Is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses are registered nurses (RN) who work temporary or short-term roles at hospitals and facilities across the country. The needs could stem from a lack of qualified candidates, maternity leave, budgetary restraints, or seasonal fluctuations. There are 3.9 million nurses and midwives in the United States, and it is estimated that 1 million additional nurses will be needed in 2020.

To find travel positions, a nurse will work with an independent staffing agency to find temporary assignments based on need or their specialty. They are assigned to staffing shortages in hospitals, clinics, medical centers, and other healthcare facilities sometimes even overseas. 

Their placements can last anywhere from 8 to 26 weeks, with the average being 13 weeks, depending on the need. If there’s a continued need at the end of the term, agencies may ask the nurses to extend. Occasionally, there is a potential to obtain a full-time position if that is something both the hospital and travel nurse are looking for. 

Salaries for travel nursing depend on many factors, including the length of the contract, the location of the assignment, and the RN’s experience. Nurses with specialties tend to earn a high rate. The median salary for early-career travel nurses is $64,478 and for mid-career nurses, it is $92,308. The overall median salary is $71,829. Because of the amount of travel and lack of consistency, the salary is higher than that of the average RN who practices in one location.

Traveling nurses can have a flexible career trajectory. Many choose to become a travel nurse to have control over their work schedule. Another motivating factor is the ability to get to live and work in another part of the country with a consistent job and a free place to live. As time goes on, many choose to trade being a travel nurse to pursue a full-time position in a centralized area so they can be with their families and have a more consistent lifestyle. They also may look to become more specialized nurses.

Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

With so much travel and constantly working in new places with new people, there are many advantages and drawbacks to the career of a travel nurse. We’ve listed below some of the unique positive aspects of the job, as well as the disadvantages to consider:

Pros of Travel Nursing

  • Flexible working schedule: Being a travel nurse and getting work from an agency gives you the freedom to choose when and where you’ll work. If you plan ahead and don’t take a contract during that time, you won’t have to worry about taking time off for a wedding, graduation, or any special event.
  • Adventurous lifestyle: If you’re someone who often feels stuck in a job or gets easily burnt out, you’d be well-suited for a job where you’re constantly in new places. You can take assignments in states based on your hobbies or places you’ve always wanted to travel to and visit, without the commitment of living there.
  • High pay and benefits: As stated above, travel nurses are compensated better than their standstill counterparts because of the added factor of travel. Their agencies also offer benefits packages that are competitive with those of the best hospitals.
  • Large network and extensive experience: Working at different locations gives you new experiences and allows you to learn from different people in new environments. You can add these skills and practices to your nursing toolbelt to make you a more well-rounded nurse. You’ll also gain a new network of health care professionals who you can go to for medical, patient, and career advice.

Cons of Travel Nursing

  • The stress of travel: At first, constant traveling is exciting and new. Eventually, though, it can take a toll on your mind and body. It’s stressful to always be adjusting to time zones, constantly arranging travel plans, learning a new location, and not having a consistent routine. These factors can lead to burn-out, both physically and mentally.
  • Loneliness: Life on the road can be lonesome, especially if you have to leave a partner, children, pets, or relatives behind. Even if you don’t have anyone waiting for you back home, you’ll need a strong support system and a sense of independence. When you’re out on assignment it’s important to go out, explore the new area, and socialize. 
  • Obtaining multiple state licenses: The downside of practicing medicine in multiple states is that you’ll need to be licensed in all of them. Luckily, a large majority of states are covered under a Compact RN license, a licensing agreement that allows nurses to hold valid nursing licenses in multiple states. Your agency may even help cover the fees to obtain your license.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Most travel nurse agencies require a minimum of one year of hands-on experience in a chosen nursing specialty to ensure you can work in the proper settings. There are no additional certifications or credentials needed to be a travel nurse, though your specialty may require certain certifications.

If you’re a travel nurse who’s looking for per diem nursing shifts in your area visit Clipboard Health and download our app. We can help you find additional shifts in any of the various locations you may practice in.

Justine Nelson

Justine Nelson RN, BSN, has been a registered nurse for over 11 years with experience in home health, community health, school based nursing and healthcare based tech startups. Justine is passionate about developing new and innovative roles for nurses outside of traditional nursing roles. She currently serves as an RN content Specialist for Clipboard Health.

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