Career Spotlight: Travel Nurse

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For registered nurses looking for a new challenge, one exciting career option is that of travel nursing. Professionals in this field move around frequently, filling positions at health care facilities for a predetermined amount of time, completing their contracts before departing for a new role somewhere else in the country. Furthermore, due to several factors, the demand for travel nurses has increased in recent years.

A closer look at travel nursing

As detailed by journalist J.E. Cornett in the Houston Chronicle, travel nurses are independent professionals, unaffiliated with a specific clinic or hospital. Instead, these professionals complete temporary contracts as provided to them by staffing agencies, many of which specialize in travel nursing recruitment. Some travel nurses are open to moving around nationwide, accepting assignments in locations far away from each other in terms of geography and culture. Other travel nurses, however, may decide to work exclusively in a particular region, moving between cities that are relatively close together.

Travel nursing agencies typically will assist nurses with the practicalities of living life on the road. Many organizations will help nurses find temporary housing and will offer financial assistance for travel costs. Some agencies also will help cover the cost of rent. Each agency and agreement will differ when it comes to benefits, however.

Cornett elaborated that the duration of each assignment can vary, contingent on the needs of the health care facility in question and the agreement reached with the staffing agency. A typical travel nursing contract lasts around three months, but Cornett noted that it is possible for travel nurses to stay in assignments for a longer period of time. However, these kinds of agreements are often at the discretion of the health care facility and staffing agency employing the travel nurse.

Travel nurses can work all over the U.S.

Why is there a high demand for travel nurses?

Travel nursing, as an industry, developed in response to a nationwide shortage of qualified registered nurses, Dana Severson explained in the Houston Chronicle. Given the shortage, health care facilities began to look for alternative ways to fill vacant nursing positions with professionals they knew they could trust in terms of skills, aptitude and qualifications.

According to an article published by Nephrology News & Issues, a major factor in the current high demand for registered nurses is the gradual retirement of professionals from the baby boomer generation. This increase in retirees means that younger nurses need to assume the vacant roles, and travel nurses can help to meet this demand.

Requisite skills and qualifications

To work as a travel nurse, the requisites are essentially the same as working as a registered nurse under normal circumstances in a permanent employment contract — a nursing license and an academic qualification from a nursing program are needed, an article from Payscale listed. In an article published by American Nurse Today, Dr. Franklin Shaffer stated that bachelor’s degrees are increasingly preferred by employers. Shaffer explained that a majority of travel nurses have both certification(s) in a specialty as well as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Given the ubiquity of BSNs among today’s nursing population, professionals with advanced nursing degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), will be even more marketable in the travel nursing industry.

The skills and qualities required for travel nursing differ very little from regular nursing. Professionals need to be proficient in areas such as bedside manner, patient care, organization, written and verbal communication, and information technology. Travel nurses, in particular, also should be adaptable to new surroundings. Travel nurses often will be expected to assume new roles and hit the ground running.

Benefits of travel nursing

Both registered nurses and the health care organizations that employ them benefit from travel nursing in a number of ways, including:

  1. Flexibility
    Travel nursing is a flexible option for nurses and health care facilities. For travel nurses, the freedom to work for a designated period of time and move around is ideal for professionals who enjoy lifestyles that incorporate routine change and travel. For health care facilities, travel nurses are able to fulfill vacant positions quickly. Additionally, the flexibility of the temporary contract means that if a nurse is not the right fit, the consequences are less severe than if the professional in question was a permanent hire, Shaffer explained. He also stated that it is common for health care facilities to use travel nursing contracts as quasi extended interviews — both parties can use the typical three month contract to determine whether the working relationship is mutually beneficial. In this situation, it is not uncommon for health care facilities to later offer travel nurses permanent contracts.
  2. Cost-effectiveness
    According to Severson, it is common for travel nursing staffing agencies to assume responsibility for a nurse’s benefits, such as vacation time and health insurance, which relieves a financial burden on health care facilities. This is likely a reason why travel nurses tend to earn higher salaries.
  3. High pay
    As noted by Severson, health care organizations often are willing to pay more for travel nurses because the need often is immediate and pressing. For example, a travel nurse may fill a vacancy left by a staff member who has gone on maternity leave or who has developed a sudden illness. Severson explained that travel nurses often are recruited when health care organizations are unable to find candidates who are suitable or willing to take on full-time contracts, which again means that travel nurses are in a more favorable position to negotiate higher salaries.Salaries vary, contingent on the health care organization and geographical location, but Severson reported that it is not uncommon for travel nurses to make around $40 an hour, based on estimates provided by the staffing agency Nurse Choice. This wage translates to close to $100,000 in annual salary, which is considerably higher than the average salary for a registered nurse in a permanent contract. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that registered nurses took home a median nationwide salary of $67,490 per annum in 2015.

Consider Bradley University

If you are keen to pursue a career as a travel nurse, one way to gain an edge over the competition is to earn an advanced degree. Through Bradley University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program, you can study at a time and pace that best suits your personal and professional schedule.