What Is A Traveling Nurse?

nurse in green scrub smiling

Whether you’re contemplating the idea of becoming a nurse or are already a registered professional in search of new challenges, you might be wondering what is a traveling nurse. 

According to the Travel Nursing Organization, a travel nurse is a nurse who fills the gaps in staffing needs for national and international hospitals and facilities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, hospitals and healthcare facilities will experiment a shortage of over 1 million nurses by 2020; as a result, there is high demand of travel nurses across the entire country. 

Travel nurses fill in the roles at their designated hospital or facility, interacting with the patients in the same way as the permanent staff. Traveling nurses can work in a variety of settings for periods of eight to 13 weeks, and sometimes even longer. 

All registered nurses can become traveling nurses regardless of their specialty, although some sectors, including ICU, NICU, and ER, are more sought-after than others.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of travel nursing is the opportunity to make the most out of your nursing education and experience while exploring other states or countries. However, the benefits of such a job extend way beyond the opportunity to travel while making a living. 

As a travel nurse, you can expect: 

  • Competitive salary: Travel nurses earn generous wages, which, added up to bonuses and medical benefits, can easily reach $100,000 annually. 
  • Professional and career advancement: Working in various hospitals and facilities will help you sharpen and diversify your nursing skills. You’ll face new challenges each time you change your location and will gain more experience than you would in a permanent position. More experience also weighs in your resume and will count towards securing a better position in the future. Not to mention all the invaluable connections you’ll build both nationally and overseas. 
  • Better work/life balance: As a travel nurse, you’ll have the possibility to take as much time off as you want in-between assignments. Consequently, you can manage your time off to spend with your family or go on vacation in any way you want. 

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

While working as a travel nurse may let you manage your work and private life in any way you find fit, it also means you’ll have to spend periods between eight and 13 weeks away from your family when you commit to assignments. 

This may leave you with the question; how much do travel nurses make? Is it truly worth it? 

We already mentioned that you could reach generous annual amounts. But what are you truly left with after-tax? 

It is easy to understand that how much you earn depends on where you work, your level of expertise and specialty, and how much tax the state takes. Specialty travel nurses can look at higher wages than general registered nurses, but you can easily reach as high as $50 an hour

Considering the bonuses and non-taxable stipends you might have, you could take home over $6,000 a month. 

What Other Bonuses Are Included?

Being a travel nurse comes with pros and cons. You might have a higher salary but will stay away from home on all your assignments. That’s why the job also comes with additional perks. 

Non-Taxable Stipends

If you’re contemplating the idea of becoming a traveling nurse, know that you’ll get both a regular salary and a non-taxable stipend to use for your expenses, including housing and meals. While the agency you work with will usually secure housing for you in the various locations, you can save some more and take home a higher pay by simply securing your own accommodation and preparing your own meals. 

Insurance and Retirement Benefits

Most staffing agencies provide extensive benefits, including immediate health coverage, expanded dental care, or affordable health insurances for your family. Some companies may also provide basic life and accident insurance coverage for no extra cost. 

401(k) retirement plans are also offered by most agencies or their partners, so you can start saving for your retirement. 

Tax-Free Travel Reimbursements

Most of the times, you won’t have to worry about any incurring expenses for traveling to and from your assignments, as most agencies offer tax-free travel reimbursements. If it’s your dream to see the world or hit all 50 states before you turn a certain age but don’t have sufficient funds, working as a travel nurse might help you make your dream come true. 

How To Become A Travel Nurse?

If you don’t have any formal education already, you should follow one of the existing routes to become a registered nurse. The duration of the program can vary based on your chosen path, but it usually takes at least two years to earn your diploma. 

Most staffing agencies have no other requirement regarding your education, but there are a few things you should know before starting to evaluate your opportunities. 

  • Nurses with a BSN are more marketable: Indeed, holding a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is more appealing to potential employers, that’s why most staffing agencies would rather work with nurses with a BSc then an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. That’s because most academic teaching hospitals and other large healthcare facilities require travel nurses with a BSN. 
  • You must have previous working experience as a nurse: Don’t believe that you can become a travel nurse as soon as you graduate. While travel nurses are allowed a short orientation time when arriving on a new unit, this time is used to learn the unit and get used with your new coworkers. However, you must already be accustomed to providing basic nursing care, and you can only learn this during your years of practice. In most cases, you should have at least two years of experience before accepting a contract as a travel nurse. 
  • You must be licensed in the state where you’re accepting a contract: Although most staffing agencies can assist you with the process, you won’t be able to take on an assignment in a new state until you obtain your nursing license in that state. If you want to start the assignments as quickly as possible, you could consider getting an Enhanced Nursing Licensure that allows you to practice in 29 states.

Choosing the staffing agency is as important as having all the requisites to work as a travel nurse. 

While each agency offers benefits including health and dental care, non-taxable stipends, and tuition reimbursements, it’s essential to compare the agencies and see which one gives you the benefits that are the most important to you. 

You can either use a spreadsheet to make a list of all the agencies and the benefits they offer or reach out to other travel nurses on online forums and ask about their experience with various agencies and working places. 

Keep in mind that you should never rely on the information provided by the staffing agencies only, as their purpose is to earn as much as possible by placing as many travel nurses as possible in various hospitals and facilities. 

Where Can Travel Nurses Go?

what is travel nursing

Whether you dream to work in the U.S. alone or travel internationally, you can go anywhere as a travel nurse. 

  • Domestic travel nurses: As it’s easy to understand, they work within the U.S., typically on assignments between eight and thirteen weeks. The highest demand comes from states and regions that experience severe staff shortage, so you might have to travel to less than ideal areas. Oftentimes, there is also a high demand for domestic travel nurses in areas that experience natural disasters or epidemics. 
  • International travel nurses: Work overseas, typically in areas that experience natural disaster or epidemics, such as South America, Africa, or rural parts of Asia. Most international travel nurses provide medical care to remote populations and work on longer assignments, usually between one and two years. If you want to become an international travel nurse, you must also obtain a license in the country where you want to practice and wait for all documents to be processed before traveling.

Whether you decide to become a domestic or international travel nurse, you must also know that all travel nurses must have excellent communication skills and an open mind. You must be willing to deal with all challenges and new experiences this profession might throw at you. 

Your role as a travel nurse might include everything from performing your medical specialty to administering medication, treating wounds, and providing emergency medical care. 

Sometimes, you might even have to educate family members and caretakers about appropriate medical and patient care. 

Down To You

Now that you know what a traveling nurse is, it’s down to you. If you’re ready to embrace constant change, new challenges, and to practice your profession while exploring the country or the world, travel nursing is for you. This isn’t a decision to take lightly, but it surely is a rewarding way of doing what you love to do. 

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