Meet a Travel Nurse

Daniel Bal
Updated August 29, 2022
    Discover the roles traveling nurses fill and the recommended education level and skills needed to be successful within the position.
    A black female nurse wearing scrubs is adjusting her mask in a hospital parking lot.

    Travel nurses are registered nurses who fill vacant positions at hospitals and clinics around the country, providing care on a short-term basis. While every travel assignment is different, most of these nurses share a common passion, which is to offer help in some of the most high-need areas while getting the opportunity to explore new places.

    In our interview with Stan John, a traveling RN, he talks about how he began his traveling career, and his first assignment that sent him across the country.

    Keep reading to learn more about how travel nursing works and how you can get started in this flexible, high-demand career path.

    Q&A With a Travel Nurse

    Portrait of Stan John

    Stan John

    Stan John, RN, BSN, moved to Chicago, Illinois, from Mumbai, India, about seven years ago. Starting from scratch, John found a love for working in healthcare and with much hard work and dedication, he graduated with his associate degree in nursing (ADN) in May 2019 and immediately started working on his bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). As a new grad, John realized there was much more he could do with his nursing degree, especially after the pandemic hit. After one year, John received his BSN and took a leap of faith to become a travel nurse. Wanting to make a difference, John has served communities with nursing staff shortages. He loves traveling and exploring new areas, gaining new insights about life, and meeting new people.

    Q: What got you interested in pursuing a nursing career in the first place?

    When I moved to the United States, my uncle told me nursing is a booming field and I should consider it. I decided to listen to my uncle’s advice and took the risk. I also took a job as a caregiver in assisted living just to make sure I can take care of people and get some experience in the healthcare field.

    Whenever I helped someone, I had a sense of joy and happiness, and I felt the same when I took care of people. I knew nursing was the right path for me.

    Q: How did the opportunity come up for you to start traveling?

    Traveling was never on my list. I worked as a nursing assistant at a level one trauma center for three years. After completing my associate degree in nursing, I got a job at the same hospital on a surgical unit. At this point, I was working full time and started doing my bachelor’s degree in nursing online.

    Within five months of being a new nurse, the surgical unit I worked on became the “COVID unit” when the pandemic started. I wanted to increase my income, so I applied for different types of nursing jobs.

    I soon realized no one wanted a nurse with five months experience. I contacted travel nurse agencies, but they said I needed a minimum of one to two years of experience to even be considered. The day I hit my one-year mark, I contacted the agency, and they started looking for a travel assignment for me.

    Q: What’s it been like working as a travel nurse during a pandemic? Have a lot of your assignments been related to the COVID-19 crisis?

    During the pandemic, being a travel nurse made me feel special. When I saw the shortage of nurses and how travel nurses came to the rescue to help the hospital staff control the patient-nurse ratio, I felt rewarded because I am contributing to a community that needs a little extra help. The hospitals I worked at were very grateful and thankful each shift I worked. The COVID pandemic has been the most impactful thing to my nursing career.

    Q: In your experience, how have things like housing and living expenses been handled while you’re on an assignment? Are you able to travel with family members?

    Things like housing and living expenses are covered by the travel agency. They can put you in housing provided by them, or you can find your own housing and save the extra money you don’t use from the housing and living expenses.

    My wife, who is in an online nursing school due to the pandemic, has been traveling with me. One of the major reasons I was able to pursue travel nursing in such far locations from my home is because my wife did not have to be on campus for her education.

    Q: What is the length of a typical travel assignment?

    The length of a typical travel assignment can vary. Mostly, the assignments are 13 weeks, but there are also six-week and eight-week assignments that are even higher paying crisis assignments.

    Q: Tell us about your first assignment as a travel nurse in Oregon — seems like it was a whirlwind experience.

    My first assignment in Oregon was definitely an adventure. With it being my first assignment, there were already slight fears around being so new and around the risks associated with pursuing travel nursing. Within the first week that my wife and I arrived in Oregon, we were evacuated from the house we were renting because a forest fire turned into an urban industrial fire. The fire was burning down homes and buildings within a mile of where we were living.

    The fires also impacted the hospitals I was working at by shutting down the internet and phone signals. This made it more challenging to do my typical tasks, but with a good team, we were able to manage. Other than the fire, we also got to climb mountains, develop a love for hiking and exploring new places, and made lots of new friends who are both travel nurses and staff nurses.

    Q: What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working as a travel nurse?

    Being a travel nurse is rewarding because I am working in an environment that is dangerously understaffed, which negatively impacts the community. This is rewarding because I can help reduce burnout in staff nurses and contribute to the safety and quality of care that the community desperately needs.

    It was also rewarding to be working during the fire crisis. I worked longer hours than usual so staff nurses could tend to their homes and make sure their families were safe. Also, with it being a pandemic, it is rewarding to actively contribute to the care of COVID patients not only in my community, but in communities that are struggling with resources more than my own.

    Q: What advice would you give to other nurses considering a career traveling?

    Just take the risk! It is scary due to all the “what ifs” of being canceled in the middle of a contract, left without a job, not liking the work environment, not finding housing, and living so far away from family. With all this being said, once my wife and I took the risk, we enjoyed it so much more than we could have ever imagined.

    Travel nursing has given me a new perspective on life and a new love for exploring this beautiful country. Make new friends, even though there will be goodbyes as you will go from assignment to assignment. Having a good group of friends is better than having no friends and being lonely for the duration of each assignment.

    You only get to live your life once, so make the most of it by not fearing the unknown and embracing life’s beautiful adventures day by day. You won’t regret trying, but if you never try, you will regret it when it’s too late.

    What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

    Traveling nurses are employed by an independent staffing agency, which means they are not limited to a certain location or workplace setting. They also have the ability to choose where they work, which allows them to focus on specific facilities and explore new specialties to enhance their skill set. Traveling nurses can find themselves interacting with other healthcare professionals and patients in a hospital setting, community health centers, and rural facilities.

    “Travel nursing has given me a new perspective on life and a new love for exploring this beautiful country.” — Stan John, RN

    Key Skills and Responsibilities:

    • Educate patients on various health issues
    • Administering medication
    • Monitoring patients’ conditions
    • Collaborating with healthcare workers and teams
    • Measuring patients’ vital signs

    How to Become a Travel Nurse

    Graduate with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN).

    An associate degree is typically a two-year program, whereas a bachelor of science degree takes four years. Those who were not academically successful in high school should pursue an ADN, which will help them increase their chances to advance to a BSN.

    Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive RN licensure.

    Once an ADN or BSN is earned, prospective nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam in order to receive their license to practice. This six-hour exam assesses an individual’s knowledge on nursing practices, conditions, treatments, legal/ethical issues, and patient communication.

    Gain experience in RN positions.

    Independent staffing agencies who work with traveling nurses typically require the nurse to have at least a year of experience as a registered nurse. RNs perform some of the same tasks as a traveling nurse but are typically employed in one workplace.

    Consider earning certifications in specialty areas.

    It is recommended that those who wish to pursue traveling nursing as a career focus on specialty areas to broaden their skill set and make them more employable. Traveling nurses can choose to focus on certain populations, such as pediatrics or geriatrics, or on specific types of care, such as obstetrics or infection control.

    Increase your career options with a graduate degree.

    Traveling nurses can also grow their earning potential and knowledge by earning a master of science in nursing. A master’s program in nursing typically takes 1-2 years and provides nurses with the opportunity to complete in-depth study on specializations such as anesthetics, education, and psychiatry.

    How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

    As of July 2020, Vivian reported that traveling nurses earn $1,841 per week on average and the max pay was $6,347 weekly. Compared to 2019, this is an increase of approximately $125 per week; these numbers are based on 36 hour work weeks.

    In comparison to traveling nurses, RN pay is typically lower and includes additional hours per week. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2019, RNs earn $73,000 on average. Broken down weekly and by hour, this amounts to $1,409 and $35.23 respectively within a 40-hour work week.

    Ultimately, there are several variables that can affect salary ranges. According to the networking platform BluePipes, traveling nurses have the opportunity to earn more than $100,000 in annual salary depending on location and workplace setting.

    Average Hourly Wage
    Source: Vivian

    Average Total Weekly Pay
    Source: Vivian