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Travel Nurse Career Overview

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Travel nurses temporarily fill nursing shortages at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. They can spend days, weeks, or months working in one community before taking on an assignment in a new location. Many of these professionals stay on assignment in the U.S. However, some staffing agencies offer international opportunities too.

Travel Nurse Career in Brief

adn or bsn required
certification optional

As the healthcare industry experiences critical nursing shortages, travel nurses temporarily work on assignment in different locations to fill this gap. Instead of working in permanent positions at hospitals, travel nurses find employment at staffing agencies. Travel nursing assignments typically last a few weeks to a few months.

In terms of their day-to-day professional responsibilities, travel nurses take on the same roles as other registered nurses (RNs). Nurses perform these essential tasks:

Primary Responsibilities

  • Educating patients on health, wellness, and illnesses
  • Measuring patients’ vital signs, like blood pressure and body temperature
  • Administering medication
  • Monitoring patients’ conditions
  • Collaborating with healthcare teams

Career Traits

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Clinical skills in both chronic and acute care

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Where Do Travel Nurses Work?

Travel nurses work in various healthcare settings. They commonly find assignments in hospitals, but often staffing agencies send nurses to underserved areas like rural communities. They may also work in intensive care units, community health centers, clinics — in short, anywhere with a nursing shortage.


Hospitals


Travel nurses conduct physical exams, check patients’ vital signs, take patients’ healthcare histories, and work on healthcare teams.


Rural Health Facilities


Travel nurses care for patients with both acute and chronic conditions, administer medication, facilitate communication with nearby facilities or hospitals, and educate patients on preventive health and wellness.


ICUs


Travel nurses provide patients who need specialized treatment with life-sustaining support such as ventilators and other equipment; they also respond to medical emergencies with techniques like advanced cardiac life support and evaluate patients’ progress.

Why Become a Travel Nurse?

Like any profession, travel nursing has its pros and cons. Make sure to carefully consider these factors when deciding on whether or not to pursue this career.

Advantages to Becoming a Travel Nurse

  • Getting to experience many different parts of the country
  • Meeting people of different cultures and backgrounds
  • Potentially earning higher pay than the average RN salary

Disadvantages to Becoming a Travel Nurse

  • Not receiving the same benefits as full-time RNs such as paid vacation days or paid time off
  • Lack of long-term relationships with coworkers or patients
  • Potentially spending much time apart from families
  • Challenging paperwork for tax returns
  • May have to hold multiple state licenses to be eligible to practice

 

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Once you have earned your RN license and have at least 1 to 2 years of experience, you are eligible to become a travel nurse and apply for positions with a travel nursing agency.

Earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN).
The bachelor’s and associate degrees prepare students to work as professional nurses through lectures, labs, and supervised clinical work. Although nurses can earn an RN license with either degree, some staffing agencies may look for job candidates with a bachelor’s degree.

Pass the NCLEX-RN to receive RN licensure.
The National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) evaluates RN candidates’ nursing knowledge and skills. Once they pass, they can apply for licensure in their state. The Nurse Licensure Compact allows licensed nurses to practice between states; however, not every state participates in the compact. If assigned to a non-NLC state, travel nurses should check with that state’s licensure standards to see if they can practice in that state.

Gain clinical nursing experience.
Once licensed, RNs gain experience through entry-level positions. Some staffing agencies may require travel nurses to possess at least 1-2 years of experience before applying for this role.

Consider earning certification in a specialty area.
Certification is not necessarily required to become a travel nurse. However, many travel nurses boost their credentials in a particular area for a competitive edge.

Advance your career options by earning a graduate degree.
Earning a master of science in nursing qualifies travel nurses to become a travel nurse practitioner. This role comes with more independence and higher salaries.

 

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

Travel nurses can make an average annual salary of $76,730, according to PayScale. However, actual salaries range significantly, based on factors like experience, education level, and location — and location can vary for travel nurses within the year. PayScale data shows that travel nurse salaries can range from $46,000-$103,000.

Additionally, a 2019 travel nurse compensation report from Trusted Health found that travel nurses earn an average of $1,790 per week. San Francisco ranked as the top paying city for these professionals, with travel nurses reporting average gross weekly pay of $2,200. In most cases, travel nurses can expect to earn more than staff nurse counterparts.

Take a more in-depth look by exploring our travel nurse salary guide.

Find State-Specific Salary Data Here

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long are travel nurse assignments?

    The length of nurse assignments can range from several days to several months. That said, contracts usually last at least a few weeks. Gwynedd Mercy University reports that assignments typically range from 8-22 weeks in length, with the average contract lasting 13 weeks.

  • What kind of expenses are covered or reimbursed for travel nurses?

    This depends on the staffing agency and the contract. Many agencies cover travel reimbursements, which they either offer per trip or in a lump sum up-front. Independent contractors such as travel nurses can also write off certain expenses when filing taxes.

  • Do travel nurses get days off?

    Some staffing agencies offer paid time off or paid vacation days in nurses’ contracts, but many do not. Since travel nurses often work as independent contractors, they may not get the same employment benefits as full-time RNs. Travel nurses do often take unpaid time off in between assignments, though, to recover or spend time at home.

  • Can travel nurses bring their families or pets?

    Travel nurses can usually bring their families and pets along with them to various assignments. However, this does require extensive planning. School-age children will need to find schooling or another education option. Travel nurses with pets need to find pet-friendly accommodation as well.

Resources for Travel Nurses


  • American Nurses Association Founded in 1896, ANA remains among the largest professional organizations for RNs. The group promotes improved healthcare policies and advocates for the health and wellness of nurses. Members not only get involved with advocacy efforts, but they can connect with one another through educational opportunities and events. In addition, ANA grants several respected specialty nursing certifications.
  • Professional Association of Nurse Travelers Known as PAN Travelers, this association caters specifically to travel nurses. Members can participate in an annual conference where they can learn professional insights from experienced travel nurses. The association also publishes several resources, including legal and tax help and articles on how to find assignments.
  • Nurse Licensure Compact The NLC allows nurses to practice across state lines. Currently, the majority of states participate in the NLC, while some are pending NLC registration. Their map shows users which states currently participate in the contract, which can help travel nurses determine where they hold work eligibility.
  • The Gypsy Nurse The Gypsy Nurse offers tools, resources, and a community for travel nurses. The organization runs a job search tool specifically for nurses who travel, and it also publishes resources about finding housing and continuing education opportunities. Members can even rate and review nursing staffing agencies and hospitals, and they can connect with each other through online groups.

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Portrait of Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

As an assistant professor of nursing and entrepreneur with nearly 20 years of varied nursing experience, Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC offers a unique perspective. She currently teaches within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches master’s students through their culminating projects. Gleason brings additional expertise as a bedside nurse and nurse leader, having held past roles at the supervisory, managerial, and senior leadership levels. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout. Gleason is also an avid change agent when it comes to creating environments and systems that contribute to the well-being of students and healthcare professionals.

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