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Have you ever wanted to be a travel nurse? Travel nursing has been a high-paying and flexible option throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for nurses seeking new opportunities.
To retain talented nurses, many health systems are now introducing their own internal travel nurse agencies with short-term, well-paid travel contracts within employers’ larger systems of sister facilities.
This page covers internal travel nurse agencies, including how they function, the pros and cons of these positions, and how they benefit nurses. If you think this career is right for you, learn how much you can earn as a travel nurse and new internal travel nurse agencies around the country.
What is an Internal Travel Nurse Agency?
The traditional travel nurse contract is generally a 13-week position at a participating hospital that has a contract with a third-party travel nurse agency. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of nurses took advantage of these high-paying opportunities, criss-crossing the United States to provide urgent staffing at facilities experiencing serious nursing shortages.
While travel nurses are extremely helpful in bolstering staffing in times of need, there are several downsides for hospitals using them. Firstly, these services are expensive. Participating hospitals also have unfamiliar nurses coming and going from their units on a regular basis.
Maintaining a solid corporate culture and identity can be more difficult when a significant percentage of staff are temporary employees who are only passing through for a few months at a time.
An emerging solution to the ongoing need for travel nurses (and other clinical staff) are internal travel nurse agencies. Hospitals launching their own programs offer eligible staff the opportunity to travel on a short-term basis to sister facilities within the hospital system. This creates an internal mobile workforce that can be shifted from one area to another on an as-needed basis. Internal travel agencies frequently offer premium salaries that are competitive with traditional travel nurse agencies, along with incentive stipends and housing allowances.
However, in some hospital systems, internal travelers do not necessarily receive the same health insurance and other benefits as full-time permanent staff since their pay is significantly higher. Some internal travel nurse agencies are open to external nurse applicants who apply specifically for employment in their internal travel program.
What Makes Internal Travel Nurse Agencies Different?
Internal travel nurse agencies differ from external agencies in that their traveler nurses work for the same healthcare system. Nurses from external travel agencies are sent to facilities where they aren't familiar with the processes. But internal travel nurses know the facility's electronic medical record, corporate culture, policies and procedures, and other aspects of the workplace.
Some internal agencies offer nurses a user-friendly self-scheduling process, minimum commitment requirements, stipends and bonuses, and highly flexible scheduling. These benefits can be very attractive based on the nurse’s lifestyle and needs.
Similar to travel and staffing agencies, some internal travel nurse agencies do not offer benefits like health insurance, paid time off, and dependent care and retirement fund contributions. Yet, for nurses covered under a spouse’s health insurance and no need for other incentives, this can be an excellent choice.
How Do Nurses Join Internal Nurse Travel Agencies?
Online applications for internal travel nurse agencies are fairly similar to the typical nursing applications. Requirements for internal travel nurse agencies often include:
An unencumbered nursing license
An accredited nursing education
At least one year of clinical experience
The ability to be flexible in terms of scheduling
Clinical skills related to the advertised position
Basic life support (BLS) and/or Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certifications
Successfully passing a drug screen
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Where are Internal Nurse Travel Agencies Located?
Internal travel nurse agencies can be found in a growing number of cities, states, and health systems. According to Becker’s Hospital Review’s list, that is admittedly not exhaustive, you can find internal travel nurse programs at the following facilities in the following states:
- Arkansas: Mercy
- Arizona: HonorHealth, Banner Health
- California: Scripps Health, Trinity Health
- Colorado: UCHealth
- Connecticut: Trinity Health
- Delaware: Trinity Health
- Florida: AdventHealth, Orlando Health, Health First, Trinity Health
- Georgia: AdventHealth, Trinity Health
- Idaho: Trinity Health
- Illinois: AdventHealth, OSF HealthCare, Trinity Health
- Indiana: Trinity Health
- Iowa: CHI Health, Trinity Health
- Kansas: AdventHealth, Mercy
- Kentucky: AdventHealth
- Maryland: Trinity Health
- Massachusetts: Trinity Health
- Michigan: Henry Ford Health, Bronson Healthcare, Trinity Health
- Minnesota: CHI Health
- Missouri: Mercy
- Nebraska: CHI Health
- New Jersey: Trinity Health
- New York: Trinity Health
- North Carolina: AdventHealth
- North Dakota: CHI Health
- Ohio: University Hospitals, Trinity Health
- Oklahoma: Mercy
- Pennsylvania: WellSpan, UPMC, Trinity Health
- Texas: AdventHealth, Christus Health
- West Virginia: Mon Health
- Wisconsin: AdventHealth
Units and specialties where internal travel nurses can find employment include, but are not limited to:
- Medical surgical
- Intensive Care Unit (ICU)/Cardiac Care Unit (CCU)/Progressive Care Unit (PCU)
- Emergency Department
- Flex Team
- Cath lab
- Inpatient rehab
Pros and Cons of Internal Travel Nurse Agencies
Internal travel nurse agencies offer nurses the flexibility and excitement of travel opportunities with the benefit of staying within the same organization. Like traditional traveling through a third-party agency, this lifestyle and workstyle may be perfect for some nursing professionals, while it may not be optimal for everyone.
The opportunity to travel and work in new places
Higher pay, bonuses, stipends, and incentives
Working within the same overall organizational culture
Adjusting to new facilities, units, and colleagues on a regular basis
Being away from family and familiar places
Constantly adjusting to new organizations and their cultures
How Much do Internal Travel Nurses Make?
You will find similarities and differences when comparing internal travel nurse salaries and benefits between internal vs. third-party agencies.
Both internal and external travel agencies recruiting nurses use terms like “competitive salary” or “premium salary” when describing their compensation packages. It is generally expected that any travel assignment will offer the nurse significantly more per hour than a normal staff nurse position.
Paid time off (PTO)
Paid time off is rare among traditional travel nurse agencies due to significantly higher hourly pay and stipends for travel and housing. For internal travel nurse agencies, these benefits can differ greatly, with some offering paid time off and others not.
Hours and shifts worked by traditional travel nurses vs. internal travel nurses can also differ. Some internal programs may limit the internal travel nurse to 30 or 40 hours per week. Both traditional and internal programs may need coverage for day or night shifts, including shifts up to 12 hours. Flexible scheduling is something generally promoted by either type of agency.
While traditional travel agencies typically offer no benefits beyond premium pay and allowances for travel and housing, internal travel nurse agencies differ greatly based on employer. Certain internal agencies advertise offering excellent benefits for their travelers, while others clearly state that no benefits are provided.
Frequently Asked Questions about Internal Travel Nurse Agencies
What makes internal travel nursing different from staff nursing and travel nursing?
Some internal agencies offer full or partial benefits to traveling nurses, while external agencies typically do not. Also, internal travelers work for the same employer and do not have to adjust to a different corporate culture with each new assignment, so some familiarity can be expected no matter the assignment.
How much does an internal travel nurse make?
Although salaries are advertised as “competitive” or “premium”, internal travel nurse agencies do not openly state specific salaries on the web pages for these programs. Salary information is more likely to be available to employees with access to company intranet systems and actual position postings.
What is the long-term strategy of these internal travel nurse programs?
The long-term strategy of internal travel nurse programs is to maintain a travel-ready cohort of their workforce who can move around the country based on patient census, staffing shortages, public health emergencies, and other factors. The number of internal traveling nurses a hospital system may need at any given time can change. Having a pool of nurses willing to travel on an as-needed basis is an excellent way to prepare for staffing shortfalls or surges in capacity. Hospital systems are likely to benefit financially from not needing to use external third-party agencies that charge a hefty fee for providing travelers.
What state has the most opportunities for internal travel nurses?
Based on Becker’s Hospital Review data, Florida appears to have a relatively high number of facilities offering opportunities for internal travel nurses. Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania also show a high level of internal travel activity. It should be noted that this is not an exhaustive list and additional internal travel nurse opportunities may exist elsewhere.
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