Travel nursing has risen in prominence over the last few years. Per Zippia, over 1.7 million travel nurses work around America alone, as we speak. Certain figures have estimated that the nurse staffing industry, as a whole, brought in $27.6 billion in 2021. More and more Registered Nurses have bought into the industry, both to increase their earning potential and to enjoy more flexible work arrangements and higher salaries. What exactly is travel nursing, however? What makes it different from regular registered nurses and should you consider making the leap?
What is a Travel Nurse?
Put simply, travel nurses are nurses brought in on a temporary (or per diem) basis. As the name implies, they take gigs at facilities away from their usual home or geographical location. A travel nurse job can last between 13 to 26 months, depending on the contract offered. Instead of associating with a specific hospital, they work under a nurse staffing agency that connects them with various healthcare facilities in need of short-term staffing solutions.
How has Travel Nursing Gained so much Popularity?
The United States is currently faced with a critical nursing shortage. HCPs across all levels are leaving, whether it is due to age or work-related stress. Though these trends predate COVID-19, the heightened workload and pressure due to the pandemic have accelerated the rate of burnout and turnover experienced by healthcare facilities worldwide. In addition, “hiring more nurses” to compensate for spikes in case counts is not sustainable. If a facility brings in more full-time HCPs to account for a sudden increase in patients (either due to natural disasters or another pandemic), they will end up overstaffed once the situation settles down.
Travel nursing gained popularity as an excellent short-term staffing solution. Now, facilities only need to bring in as many nurses as they need within a given time. Not only that, but they can also attract nurses from across the country instead of being constricted to HCPs within their immediate vicinity. This gives healthcare facilities across the country more flexibility with their workforce while easing the burden of the valuable full-time HCPs that remain on their staff.
How well Compensated are Travel Nurses?
At the time of writing, ZipRecruiter lists the average Travel Nurse compensation at $105,021 annually. For reference, this equates to $50 an hour. With nursing shortages crippling facilities nationwide, demand for per diem staff is understandably at an all-time high. In these conditions, it is no wonder that the average Travel Nurse is remunerated so well. In fact, rates are extremely competitive with average full-time compensation for RNs.
They can also enjoy other forms of compensation. Travel Nurses are expected to temporarily move away from their home state, in a lot of circumstances. Depending on the agency you work with, they can provide coverage for travel expenses and free housing. Some agencies even provide coverage for dental, vision and medical healthcare. Be sure to read your contract thoroughly, to see if any of the listed benefits are included.
Where do Travel Nurses Work?
Travel nurses work in a wide variety of settings. They can pick up contracts with any facility currently contending with a nursing shortage. This list includes (but is not limited to) hospitals, community health centres, intensive care units, physician’s offices and more. While your options will depend on an agency’s list of partnered facilities, you can choose what jobs you want to accept and what you want to pass on. Just be sure to partner with an agency that caters to your strengths and specializations.
How do I Become a Travel Nurse?
Before you can even pick up your first Travel Nurse contract, you have to fulfil a number of steps and requirements:
Travel nurses have all graduated from an accredited nursing program. This requires graduating either a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or a 2-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing. While the latter is quicker and less costly on average, BSN candidates are given priority in most cases.
Following this, you must pass the NCLEX-RN. Before students become full RNs, they have to take and pass this national certification exam. Review well in advance, both with material from your previous classes and with online or physical reviewers that specifically cover the NCLEX-RN. Once you pass the exam and meet your state’s specific requirements, then congratulations! You have finally become a Registered Nurse.
Agencies do not accept rookie nurses in a majority of circumstances. To maximize your opportunities, you want at least one to two years of relevant nursing experience. For example: Intensive Care Units will most likely not accept you without at least two years of practical experience in the field, and this goes for every unit in a healthcare setting.
Gaining additional certifications is sometimes optional, but always highly recommended. Most nursing agencies are looking for at least certifications in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Basic Life Support (BLS). If you work in a speciality, then certifications are all but a must. If you want to pick up roles in neonatal care, gaining CCRN (Neonatal) may be a minimum requirement for some facilities. Even if it is not, facilities and agencies will give preference to individuals with these additional qualifications.
Once everything has settled, you can finally join a travel nurse agency. Do your best to research an agency’s reputation and requirements, before you attempt to join one. If you have a specialization, look for nursing agencies that cater to your field in particular. Take a look at the kind of healthcare facilities they partner with, and which geographic locations they primarily operate around. Browse through reviews and feedback from other HCPs, to see if the agency treats their clients correctly.
Does Licensure Carry Over?
Having a license in a state under the Nurse Licensing Compact (NLC) makes travel nursing more appealing. Under this multistate agreement, RNs licensed in that area hold cross-state licenses. If you practice in Colorado, you do not have to apply for reciprocity or new licensure in Utah, Georgia, Wisconsin, or any of the other NLC states. 41 of the 50 US States have joined the NLC, with others reviewing the possibility of joining in the future. If you already have a license in one of these 41 states, then your credentials are already multistate.
If you do not live in these areas, you can apply for licensure at an NLC state to acquire your own multistate license. For HCPs with multi-state licenses who want to work in non-NLC states, you have to either apply for reciprocity or new licensure, from scratch.
What can HCPs gain from Travel Nursing?
Travel nursing opens countless avenues and professional opportunities for nurses. It gives them the chance to travel the country while working in different healthcare settings. Not only do they enjoy more flexibility than fully-staffed RNs, they receive compensation that is comparable or even higher than their full-time counterparts. For HCPs who are considering a change in healthcare scenery, or young nurses who simply want to fill their resume with a variety of work experiences, travel nursing is an exciting field well worth considering.