What Is a Travel Nurse?

Updated November 23, 2022

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Do you dream of both exploring new places and working as a nurse? Here's everything you need to know to become a travel nurse.
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How Long to Become

2-4 years

Job Outlook

9% increase from 2020-2030

Average Annual Salary

$84,000


Becoming a travel nurse can be financially and professionally rewarding and offer nurses a chance to see the country. Travel nurses fill short-term vacancies across the nation, with assignments that may last from a few days up to several months.

Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for travel nurses is high. In addition, these professionals can earn considerably more than full-time permanent positions. Keep reading for more about what travel nurses do and how to become one.

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What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

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:

closeup of nurse hands on computer keyboard

JGI/Tom Grill / Getty Images

Key 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

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.

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.

Hospitals

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

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 of 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 of Becoming a Travel Nurse

  • Not receiving the same benefits as full-time RNs, such as paid vacation days or paid time off
  • 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

To be a travel nurse, you must first become a registered nurse (RN) by earning either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). After graduating, you need to pass the NCLEX-RN and apply for a state nursing license.

Because travel nurses must adapt rapidly to a new hospital or other healthcare setting and be able to contribute immediately, most employers prefer to hire travel nurses with experience, especially for higher-paying positions. Certification distinguishes your skills from other applicants.

Most travel nurses work with agencies, since these agencies do the work of finding positions and much of the paperwork. Establishing a reputation and relationship with a travel nurse agency makes it much easier to get the best assignments.

Learn more about how to become a travel nurse.

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

Because they travel to where demand is highest, travel nurse salaries are typically higher than full-time permanent positions. Some travel nurse positions provide room and board or offer an allowance in addition to pay, while others pay a set amount. Therefore, salary ranges without this context may be misleading. According to Vivian, a healthcare jobs marketplace, the average weekly salary for travel nurses reaches $2,666 per week.

Demand, local cost of living, experience, and nursing specialties all affect travel nurse pay scales. Shorter-term assignments tend to pay proportionately higher than longer-term assignments. While the nursing shortage continues, travel nurse salaries are likely to remain high.

Some travel nurse agencies have been accused of price gouging during COVID-19. While it is not clear what, if any, legislation might pass to address this, most of the complaints focus on the agency share of payments rather than nurse earnings. However, you may wish to keep an eye on how this might affect travel nurse salaries.

Frequently Asked Questions about Travel Nurses


How long does it take to become a travel nurse?

It takes at least two years to earn an RN license and become a travel nurse. However, most travel nurse agencies prefer to hire nurses with some experience or certifications.

Can travel nurses specialize?

Many travel nurses specialize. Operating room, critical care, emergency room, telemetry, and labor/delivery nursing are some of the most in-demand specialties, according to The Gypsy Nurse, a travel nurse agency blog.

How long are travel nursing assignments?

Travel nurse assignments typically last 2-26 weeks, with 13 weeks being a fairly common standard. However, the length varies based on employer needs and budget.

Why are travel nurses paid more?

Travel nurses can travel to where the demand is highest. Travel nursing is not for everyone and requires long periods away from home or loved ones. It can also be more difficult to build work relationships. Short-term housing or hotels are also typically more expensive than longer-term leases, so travel nurses have more expenses.


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