A travel nurse is a contract worker, either self-employed or employed through an agency, who fills in at hospitals, clinics, and private practices around the country—and sometimes the world—for varying intervals. There are many benefits to becoming a travel nurse: the pay and benefits are competitive, your work is interesting and dynamic, and housing and travel expenses are often covered, to name a few. You will be filling a need in often underserved areas, and you will have the opportunity to explore different parts of the country. You may even be assigned overseas. Read on to find out if a career in travel nursing is for you.
As a travel nurse, you can expect to perform the general rundown of RN duties, which will vary somewhat from one assignment to the next. Typically, you will be doing things like recording patient history, performing routine check-ups, measuring vital signs, assessing symptoms, making diagnoses, discussing treatment, and administering medicine to the patient. When you work with a travel nurse agency your assignments will run between one and three months. Overseas assignments are generally about one to two years. You will have the freedom to accept or refuse any contract, but bear in mind: the more contracts you refuse, the less you’re likely to be offered down the road.
To become a travel nurse, you will need a minimum of an ASN or BSN with your current RN license. In addition to your degree and credentials, it is helpful to have one to two years of practical nursing experience before applying to an agency.
How to Get the Job
When you have the requisite education and experience, it’s time to begin the job hunt. Read up on different agencies to find the one that suits your needs and desires. Here are the top ten travel nursing agencies of 2012 according to Travel Nursing Central:
- Travel Nurse Across America
- Sagent Healthstaff
- Medical Solutions
- Surgical Staffing Incorporated (SSI)
- Premier Healthcare Professionals
- Valley Healthcare Systems Inc
- American Traveler
- Sunbelt Staffing
- On Assignment Healthcare
- Core Medical Group
Once you apply at the agency or agencies that fits into your career vision, you will meet with an agent or recruiter who will manage your assignments. You will need to establish a relationship with your agent so that he or she will be aware of your preferences, your specialization, and can make sure any travel needs you may have (such as arrangements for a pet, child, or partner) can be met. Your agent can also help to ensure you get the assignments you prefer. Finally, your agent will make final contract, housing, and travel arrangements for you when you choose to accept an assignment. You will touch base with him or her periodically, and you may choose to renew your contract if you wish to remain in one place, or you can move on to the next one.
The high number of agencies combined with the amount of underserved areas results in a good employment outlook for travel nurses. Applying to multiple agencies will yield a greater chance of finding work, as well as finding the agency that best suits your goals. Potential salary depends on your education and experience. Full-time travel nurses make an average yearly salary of $79,000. Your loyalty to a given agency is also likely to pay off in the form of benefits, free or discounted continuing education courses, and more. The downside of travel nursing is the lack of job security. Working on short-term contracts isn’t always reliable, and when a facility has to lay workers off or make cuts, the contract and part-time workers usually bear the brunt.
As with any nursing position, a more advanced degree or specialization will generally result in better pay and more desirable positions. However, because you will be filling a variety of roles, you may not always work within your specialty, or even at your level. If you love working as a travel nurse, and are looking for more control and better options, you might consider becoming an independent nurse contractor. After you amass the experience and understanding of the travel nurse industry, you may find success as your own boss. Do bear in mind: this step requires shrewd business sense and impeccable organizational skills. If you aren’t confident in these areas, you’ll be better off sticking with the agencies.