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Is a Career as a Travel Nurse Right for You?

Is a Career as a Travel Nurse Right for You?

Traveling nursing offers a variety of opportunities for skilled APRNs, RNs, and LPNs to see new places and build their professional skills in some of the best medical facilities in the country. Traveling nurses are not employees of the clinics, hospitals, or facilities where they work, but are employed by the staffing agency they represent and work under a contract that can last between eight and 26 weeks depending on the nurse’s preference. Most traveling nurses follow a 13-week schedule and there may even be assignments close to home.

Jobs in the nursing profession are expected to grow 19% by the year 2022 and traveling nurses will continue to provide essential staffing in a variety of specialty areas. Traveling nurses may work in labor and delivery, surgery, intensive care, and just about any area in between.

For nurses considering relocation, traveling first can test new geographic waters to see if a facility is a good fit for permanent employment in the future.

Why Facilities Need Traveling Nurses

Traveling nurses may be used for a variety of reasons. Sometimes one or several nurses may be requested when staffing is low across the facility. In other cases, an employee may be taking time off for medical or maternity leave or patient loads may be higher than usual — driving up the demand for trained medical staff to care for them.

More recently, medical facilities have started recruiting traveling nurses under a “try it and see” arrangement — hoping that nurses will work a few weeks and enjoy the job enough to apply for permanent placement.

Work Settings for Traveling Nurses

Traveling nurses have the ability to choose when and where they will work. One of the biggest benefits of the field is being able to shop around for the assignment and location that best fits the nurse.

While the majority of positions may be in acute care settings (like hospitals), positions are also available in clinics, primary care offices, outpatient surgical settings, long-term care, and many other locations. Rural and urban settings are also an option. From the mountains to sprawling urban centers, there is a setting for every nurse and personality. In some cases, nurses may even be able to find travel positions in their hometown or within a few hours’ drive, making it possible to be home with their families.

Some nurses who are looking for travel work may be under the impression that travel jobs are only available in poorly run hospitals with heavy workloads and high staff turnovers, but this couldn’t be less true. According to nursing experts, more than 80% of Magnet hospitals utilize traveling nurses and the majority of JCAHO-accredited hospitals contract with at least one travel agency when demand warrants.

Personality Traits of a Good Traveling Nurse

Some nurses find traveling ideal when it comes to making new friends or when looking for new professional challenges. To make the most of any assignment, nurses should bring their best skills and most professional attitude to the job. Personality traits that make a solid traveling nurse include:

  • Compassion""
  • Patience
  • Confidence
  • Flexibility
  • Outgoing personality
  • Good communication skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Problem-solving skills
  • See more traits here

Travel nursing is designed for nurses with at least one to two years of experience in a specific field. Most agencies will require at least that amount of time before accepting a nurse for contracts. Solid assessment, decision making, and clinical skills will be difficult to learn once on an assignment. Traveling nurses are expected to be experts in their field before they begin.

Work Schedules and Contract Lengths

The average contract length for most traveling nurses is 13 weeks. However, shorter lengths can span just two weeks and longer contracts can be 26 weeks with the possibility for extension if the nurse wishes. Nurses will need to sign a new contract with each assignment but remember once a contract is signed, it will need to be completed.

Work schedules can be day- or night-shift depending on what the facility offers. For nurses who prefer a specific shift, it should be easy to find the right fit. 40 hours is a full-time work week and some positions will offer eight- or 10-hour shifts. 12-hour settings will consider 36 hours (three 12-hour shifts) full-time.

Average Pay and Benefits

Several variables, including geographic location, facility type, and nursing degree or specialty can all influence base pay. In some cases, the facility requesting staff may implement a sign-on bonus — some of these can range from $500 to $6,000 and is usually delivered to the nurse in payments, or when the contract is completed.

Traveling nurses can expect to make about 15% more than those with permanent positions. Starting base rates can be on or around $40 an hour and vary greatly from nurse to nurse or assignment. In addition, agencies cover other costs including:

  • Housing
  • Meals
  • Other “incidentals” like parking fees

In some cases, agencies will also cover:

  • Rental cars or airfare
  • Other travel expenses

Make sure to ask your agency what is and isn’t covered and find out more about accommodations when on assignment — in some cases nurses will have to stay with a roommate or live with other arrangements that were unexpected.

Health, dental, vision, liability insurance, and 401(k) benefits are provided by the travel nurse agency and will remain current as long as the nurse is on assignment and up to 30 days between jobs in most cases, but be sure to ask. Every agency is different.

In some cases, nurses may be able to bring their families with them on assignment. This may not always be the case and the type of housing provided may not allow it, but make sure to ask if this appeals to you. Pets may also be allowed to travel. Some nurses may also choose to travel with a nursing coworker or partner from assignment to assignment. Taking a friend can make the experience more pleasant and jobs may be available in the same facility for the same length of time.

Travel agencies work very hard to accommodate specific needs of the nurses they employ. Keeping their staff happy means they are more likely to return for additional contracts and refer their friends.

Certifications and Training

Traveling nurses are as qualified, and in some cases, more qualified than the permanent staff nurses they are covering for or working with. An advanced degree help nurses solidify leadership, case-management, and health-promotion skills that lead to better clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction. A good option for RNs is to go through an accelerated program to receive their MSN.

To take a travel nursing assignment, nurses must show proof of training and education. This includes:

  • A valid nursing license without sanctions
  • At least one year of work experience
  • Proof of graduation from an accredited nursing program
  • A license to work in each state you travel to (your agency will cover additional licensing costs)
  • CPR certification
  • Proof of specialty certification (optional)
  • Proof of a current physical exam
  • PPD/TB skin test results
  • Immunization proof including Hepatitis B status
  • A clear background check and other forms depending on the agency

A new nursing license may not be needed if the nurse travels to one of the nation’s compact states. Twenty-four U.S. states currently participate in the compact making it possible for nurses to move between them without additional paperwork or licensure.

Most agencies will also require a professional resume and a list of references who can address work skills and professionalism. Make sure to have this list ready.

Where to Find Traveling Nurse Jobs

Travel-nursing job listings are as close as the nearest Internet connection. There are a variety of agencies across the country that will work with nurses remotely. There may be no need to visit the agency in person and most paperwork can be signed electronically or emailed.

Take time to choose the right agency. Make sure the recruiters are friendly, attentive, and forthcoming with information on assignments, benefits, and pay. Make sure to ask questions if something is unclear and never sign any paperwork without reading it fully.

It’s fine to shop around for an agency too — if something doesn’t feel right about one, keep looking. Remember that there may be room for negotiating certain parts of the assignment, like housing accommodations or other benefits.

Enjoy All Travel Nursing Has to Offer

Travel nursing is an exciting opportunity to practice nursing and see new places. Remember that the main goal is to work — there may not always be a lot of time to play — but traveling is sure to provide plenty of professional and personal challenges and enjoyment.

Learn more about Sacred Heart’s online RN to Bachelor to Master of Science in Nursing by requesting more information or calling 877-791-7181 to speak to an admissions team member.