Travel Nurse Career Overview
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.
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Travel Nurse Career in Brief
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:
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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.
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.
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.
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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
Disadvantages to Becoming a Travel Nurse
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).
Pass the NCLEX-RN to receive RN licensure.
Gain clinical nursing experience.
Consider earning certification in a specialty area.
Advance your career options by earning a graduate degree.
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.
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 AssociationFounded 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 TravelersKnown 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 CompactThe 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 NurseThe 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.
Brandy Gleason is a nursing professional with nearly twenty years of varied nursing experience. Gleason currently teaches as an assistant professor of nursing within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches graduate students. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.
Gleason is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.
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