What is a Travel Nurse? | Everything You Need to Know!

A travel nurse works provisionally at various hospitals and clinics countrywide.

These nurses operate on temporary assignments provided by travel nursing agencies and recruiters.

Travel nurse assignments give interim medical support to understaffed locations or those needing extra nurses for a particular purpose.

Healthcare facilities request travel nurses due to emergencies, staffing shortages, or when an influx of patients arrives unexpectedly.

They also fill positions when hospital staff is training on new technology/systems or during seasonal times.

For instance, some healthcare facilities may request flight nurses when patient numbers are higher during flu season.

During assignments, travel nurses fulfill any nursing requirements need by that facility.

Some institutions offer excellent wages and guaranteed hours to inspire travel nurses to assist a particular healthcare facility.

They also grant numerous benefits and compensation for relocation costs.

It includes rental car reimbursement, housing accommodations, and other travel expenses.

Alternatively, nurses can take a tax-free stipend that includes travel expenses.

It allows nurses to receive travel money directly and handle all travel expenses.

The benefit of a stipend is that nurses make extra money if they pay their expenses and have cash left over.

The benefits travel nurses receive depend on the contract they accept.

Fortunately, travel nurses choose their assignments.

As a result, they can accept only the assignments that provide the perks.

Consequently, the hospital also has the opportunity to review the travel nurse’s profile to determine whether they’re a good fit.

If the hospital likes the profile, it will present an offer.

Travel Nurse Assignment Expectations

Most healthcare facilities consider nurses commuting over 50 miles to be travel nurses.

That said, nurses traveling locally to numerous healthcare facilities are considered local travel nurses. 

State taxes and other factors impact nurses differently, whether they work locally or out of state.

Furthermore, travel nurses work various hours depending on the healthcare facility and their agreements.

However, they’re guaranteed a set number of hours per week while on contract.

Moreover, travel nurses still get paid if a hospital or clinic cancels the assignment.

It’s distinct from per diem nurses that don’t get paid for canceled assignments.

As with other nursing professions, travel nurses work morning, noon, and night shift rotations.

It generally includes working either 5-8 hour shifts, 4-10 hour shifts, or 3-12 hour shifts per week.

Consequently, nurses working 36 – 40 hours per week are considered full-time workers.

Besides this, travel nurses may choose to or be required to work overtime based on the employer’s needs.

Assignment Length

Most travel nurse assignment lengths range from 1 month to 1 year, with an average term lasting 2 – 4 months.

That said, assignments outside the U.S. may last 1 – 2 years or longer.

After a travel nurse finishes their assignment, the hospital/healthcare facility may offer them a permanent position.

If the travel nurse accepts, the facility will assist with relocation costs associated with moving to the new location.

With that said, not all locations offer permanent positions.

It depends on the facility’s long-term needs.

Travel nurses usually maintain temporary work assignments rather than relocating to a new location.

However, it’s important to mention this as this is a viable option in some circumstances.

Job Description and Responsibilities

Travel nurses have the same responsibilities as regular registered nurses.

The only real difference is that travel nurses temporarily relocate to different locations to provide medical assistance.

Most registered nurses work permanently at a single healthcare facility and don’t commute long distances.

Travel nurses provide immediate medical care and emotional support to patients suffering from injuries or illnesses.

They help patients throughout their hospital stay recover and regain their health.

Travel nurses educate patients about injuries or illnesses, assist with treatments, and answer patient questions.

They also record patient progress, administer medications and treatment plans, and assist with cleaning, bathing, feeding, and collaborating with hospital staff.

Fundamentally, a travel nurse’s responsibilities are the same as regular registered nurses.

Responsibilities Include:

  • Monitor patient vitals
  • Document and record medical treatments
  • Provide emotional and medical support
  • Administer medications and treatment plans
  • Assist patients with cleaning, bathing, and feeding
  • Work alongside physicians, physical therapists, and other healthcare providers

Travel nursing agencies and healthcare organizations prefer registered nurses with at least one year of experience in a clinical setting.

However, most locations prefer nurses with two 2 – 3 years of experience to ensure they’ll provide adequate support.

Since travel nurses must be ready to work immediately, they must be well-trained and understand their responsibilities thoroughly.

Finally, some registered nurses work as volunteer travel nurses.

In this case, they take assignments in areas where many people need immediate medical attention.

For example, they’ll travel to 3rd world countries to help people suffering from war, famine, and diseases.

These nurses help stabilize and improve the lives of those in need of adequate medical care.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Travel nursing allows nurses to develop skills at various healthcare facilities and establish new connections.

Those interested in becoming travel nurses must first become registered nurses.

Students must complete a 2 – 4 year nursing program and earn their ADN or BSN degree.

After completing the program, students must pass the national licensing exam for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) to earn their nursing license.

Most travel nursing agencies hire registered nurses with 2 – 3 years of experience in clinical care.

However, some travel nurse recruiters hire nurses with as little as one year of experience.

Registered nurses must develop excellent clinical, analytical, and decision-making skills for training.

There are no specific programs travel nurses must take.

However, they benefit from earning certifications that improve their expertise and pursuing continuing education courses.

These courses help build knowledge and experience, allowing nurses to earn certifications while working.

Since many healthcare organizations suffer from nursing shortages, they don’t have the time to train inexperienced nurses.

Developing prior knowledge and training at an established healthcare facility is vital.

Beyond that, healthcare facilities want nurses who are confident in their abilities and can work immediately with little training.

Therefore, the more clinical experience you receive, the better your resume will be and the more opportunities you have.

As you work small travel nursing jobs, you’ll develop your resume to obtain better travel nursing offers.

Finally, contact several travel nursing agencies and healthcare facilities to determine what healthcare facilities want.

They’ll help you determine what training, certifications, and experience provide the best opportunities for travel nursing work.

As a result, you’ll be able to gear your education and training toward those recommendations.

Steps to Become a Travel Nurse

  1. Attend an accredited registered nursing program
  2. Obtain your ADN or BSN and pass the NCLEX-RN
  3. Gain 1 – 3 years of clinical experience
  4. Taking CEUs and certifications to improve your resume
  5. Apply to several travel nursing agencies
  6. Develop your travel nursing experience to obtain better opportunities

Travel Agency Requirements

Most travel nurse agencies require a minimum of one year of working in a clinical setting.

However, 2 – 3 years of experience is generally preferred.

Travel nurses must be ready to work immediately and require a solid understanding of their job responsibilities.

It includes knowledge of patient procedures, medical equipment, and practical communication skills.

Moreover, travel nurses must have sufficient experience in providing patients with medical care without requiring additional training.

The healthcare facilities travel nurses work for often have limited staffing.

As a result, the more training you develop, the better job offers and incentives.

Healthcare facilities want the best staff possible to manage their shortages.

To obtain the best work opportunities, take continuing education courses to expand your knowledge and work capacity.

In addition, if the hospital offers certification courses, try to obtain a few certifications to expand your skillset further.

It will help you become more valuable to any healthcare facility that hires you.

Obtaining a BSN or attending a post-graduate program is also beneficial (but optional).

Although working as a travel nurse is unnecessary, highly educated nurses earn more money and have more opportunities.

For example, advanced practice registered nurses have a broad scope of practice and can operate in most nursing professions.

Furthermore, their training allows them to get hired and earn six-figure salaries quickly.

While much of this advice is optional, it will help you obtain the best job opportunities.

Also, as the nursing shortage grows, healthcare organizations will need more travel nurses to provide additional medical assistance.

You’ll have numerous opportunities to travel, establish friendships, and earn excellent incomes for working as a travel nurse.

Accordingly, it’s a fantastic career for those with the right mindset and skills.

Travel Nurse Pay and Benefits

The salaries travel nurses earn greatly depend on several factors.

It includes the assignments they choose, the hours they work, the benefits/perks they receive, and the cost of living expenses.

From a financial and travel perspective, many travel nurses feel well compensated for their work.

As stated earlier, those who work as travel nurses receive numerous benefits and perks.

It includes increased wages, travel reimbursement, car rental, license reimbursement, and sign-on bonuses.

They can also obtain 401k bonus contributions, top-rate medical coverage, permanent job offerings, and covered relocation expenses.

The travel agencies and their assignments are the most critical factors determining income potential and benefits/perks.

Travel nurse agencies scout for jobs and provide offers to travel nurses.

Since no single agency can provide all available job opportunities, registered nurses work with several travel agencies to determine the best assignments, locations, and perks.

For example, some facilities may be located in desirable locations but offer few benefits/perks.

Conversely, other facilities may offer excellent benefits but not have the best location or greater work demands.

As a result, having multiple job offers allows travel nurses to make better choices for their assignments.

Most nurses should find suitable healthcare facilities by carefully interviewing and selecting the appropriate travel agencies.

In addition, as the economy continues to grow and more experienced nurses retire, travel nurses will see more employment opportunities become available.

As a result, they’ll earn better pay and obtain increased benefits/perks for their expertise.

Travel Nurse Perks and Incentives Include:

  • Tax-free travel reimbursement
  • 401k contributions
  • A rental or loaner car
  • High-end health insurance
  • Sign-on/completion bonuses
  • Increased pay/wages
  • Guaranteed pay
  • License reimbursement or reimbursement for continuing education courses
  • Paid luxury housing
  • Relocation pay
  • Opportunity to choose your assignments
  • Permanent job offerings after completion of an assignment

Career Demand and Outlook

Travel nursing demand is slowing down compared to previous years.

However, numerous hospitals and healthcare facilities still require travel nurses due to nursing shortages.

It’s due to a lack of qualified nurses or a need to fill temporary nursing positions.

As a result, those who work as travel nurses will always find opportunities if they’re flexible.

Between 2019 and 2029, the registered nursing profession will experience a 7% growth.

The labor force will grow from 3 million to 3.3 million over the next decade.

Moreover, there is a greater expectation of baby boomer nurses retiring, leading to an expanding nursing shortage.

As a result, new and existing nurses can expect better pay, additional incentives, and more opportunities for career advancement.

Travel agencies and healthcare facilities will offer numerous incentives to entice registered nurses to choose particular assignments.

Accordingly, nurses can expect non-taxable travel reimbursement, a rental/loaner vehicle, housing accommodations, sign-on bonuses, salary incentives, bonus contributions towards 401k plans, and other perks.

Travel nurses must deal with lengthy trips away from home, family, and friends.

Moreover, they must expose themselves to new environments and people regularly;

It will cause some nurses to think twice about travel nursing.

Travel nurses have many memorable experiences, and it’s an excellent opportunity for those with the right mindset.

As nursing continually expenses, there are more options for increased pay and various incentives.

Is Travel Nursing Appropriate for You?

While traveling to unique locations and receiving excellent pay and benefits sounds fantastic, there are some cons to working as a travel nurse.

For example, whether you have trouble adjusting to the travel nursing lifestyle depends on your personality.

As a result, some nurses may be negatively affected by traveling and leaving their homes regularly.

The following section explores the pros and cons of travel nursing to determine whether this career is right for you.

1. Is Leaving Family/Friends For Extended Periods Difficult?

Travel nurses often work on assignments that last a few weeks to several months.

However, longer assignments can last up to 1 year.

You’ll have to relocate far away from home during this time.

Therefore, it’s essential to determine whether you will be comfortable leaving friends and family for extended periods.

Those who have difficulty working away from home may find local travel nurse gigs in their state.

However, these jobs operate differently and have distinct incentives and tax setups.

You must contact the travel agency/hospital to determine what they offer local travel nurses compared to traditional travel jobs.

Do You Have The Training Necessary to Work Independently?

You must be comfortable with your training and experience as a travel nurse.

Healthcare facilities expect you to work immediately and don’t have the time to train inexperienced nurses.

As a result, most travel agencies require 1 – 3 years of experience in a clinical setting.

You must determine whether you have the experience necessary to operate as a travel nurse.

Beyond that, travel nursing work varies, and you must quickly adapt to different situations.

A diverse skillset, ascertaining CEUs, and obtaining certifications can help you develop your expertise.

Are You Team-Oriented?

Travel nurses have to be comfortable adjusting to hospital staff and patients.

It includes working with various nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals whenever beginning a new assignment.

Each healthcare facility has its own rules, protocols, and personality.

As a result, one facility may operate very differently than another.

Travel nurses must communicate effectively to ensure adequate care and make the best decisions possible.

Because each healthcare facility has its employees, rules/procedures, and patients, quickly adjusting is essential in the travel nursing profession.

Travel nursing may be difficult if you like dealing with the same employees.

However, this career could benefit you if you have excellent communication skills, enjoy challenges, and like meeting new people.

Those who adapt quickly can make connections and develop skills that translate well to future career opportunities.

Can You Adjust to New Settings?

Travel nurses will experience different cultures, environments, and climates when traveling to a new state or country.

As a result, your ability to adapt to various environments and communicate effectively strongly impacts your overall happiness while on an assignment.

Also, you must adjust to new and unfamiliar climates and weather that may differ from where you live.

Therefore, determine whether you’re comfortable working in a location with different weather/climates.

Are You Comfortable Commuting Long Distances?

Travel nurses are assigned to work at many locations at least 50 miles away.

Most nurses must fly, take a train, or drive to their destination.

If you don’t enjoy planes or long commutes, you may feel uncomfortable working as a travel nurse.

Therefore, you must decide whether you’re ok with utilizing these travel methods.

For registered nurses that don’t want to fly, renting a car one way or taking a train may be an option.

However, you must contact the travel agency/healthcare facility to determine your commute options.

Travel Nurse Agencies List

Working as a travel nurse can be a fantastic experience for nurses who have always dreamed of traveling.

As a travel nurse, you will work with one or more travel nursing agencies to find hospitals and healthcare facilities dealing with nursing shortages.

You’ll assist those facilities by working on temporary nursing assignments that last anywhere from 1 month to 1 year.

Many travel nurses work with travel agencies to locate healthcare facilities needing assistance to find jobs.

They’ll help you relocate to your assigned location and provide follow-ups to ensure you receive the assistance you need to make your transfer as smooth as possible.

Travel agencies also help you receive benefits and perks from facilities incentivizing high-quality travel nurses to work for them.

Travel Nurse Incentives Include:

  • Tax-free travel reimbursement
  • 401k contributions
  • A rental or loaner car
  • High-end health insurance
  • Sign-on/completion bonuses
  • Increased pay/wages
  • Guaranteed pay
  • License reimbursement or reimbursement for continuing education courses
  • Paid luxury housing
  • Relocation pay
  • Opportunity to choose your assignments
  • Permanent job offerings after completion of an assignment

With that said, it’s essential to understand that not all healthcare facilities provide all the above benefits.

Also, no single travel nursing agency can provide you with all available job opportunities.

As a result, it’s wise to work with several travel agencies to determine the jobs offering the benefits/perks you desire.

Travel Nurse Agency List:

  • American Mobile Healthcare
  • American Travel Nurse Liaison
  • Axis Healthcare Staffing
  • Cirrus Medical Staffing
  • Cross Country TravCorps
  • Expedient Medstaff
  • Freedom Healthcare Staffing
  • Flex Care Travel Nursing
  • Healthcare Seeker
  • Medical Express
  • Nightingale Nurses
  • Nurses Rx
  • NurseChoice
  • O’Grady Peyton International
  • Preferred Healthcare Staffing
  • Prime Time Healthcare
  • Premier Healthcare Professionals
  • Response 1 Medical Staffing
  • TaleMed
  • Valley Healthcare Systems

Disclaimer: NurseTheory.com has no affiliation with any of the companies listed. We are not responsible for these websites’ links, content, products, and services. If you have any concerns with the companies listed on this page, it is in your best interest to do further research and gather as much information as possible before following their advice. Also, don’t give out personal information before determining the travel agency’s legitimacy.