Learn about a travel nursing career firsthand

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For some nurses, the routine and stability of working in a long-term position in a hospital or other health care organization is highly desirable. But, that preference is not true of every person working in the profession.

Do you love your career as a nurse but feel like you could use a change of scenery? Are you one of those people who cannot stay in the same place for long without feeling restless? You are not alone. Today, nurses have more options than ever before that can allow for a career to be tailored to a professional’s personal preferences.

Take Tony Conway, a student in Bradley University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice/Family Nurse Practitioner (DNP-FNP) online program. He is one of the many nursing professionals in the U.S. who have taken advantage of a traveling career’s benefits. Working as a traveling nurse has given him the flexibility to pursue his career and education, while simultaneously providing for the needs of his family.

As Conway’s experience shows, dedicating your career to patient care does not mean that you need to be tied down to a single organization. If you are a nurse who enjoys adventure or simply needs a flexible schedule, travel nursing could provide the perfect alternative to a more traditional nursing position.

The importance of travel nurses in health care

In hospitals and other health care organizations, it is critical to keep staffing at adequate levels to meet patients’ needs. Consequently, when there are short-term openings throughout the year when nurses take maternity leave or other temporary absences, employers must find professionals who can fill those roles temporarily.

To answer the demand, health organizations hire travel nurses, ensuring that the quality of patient care remains high. These positions can last weeks or months depending on the group’s needs. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, research over the last decade has verified that temporary nurses provide just as much value to hospitals in terms of cost, quality and patient satisfaction as permanent staff members.

USA Today reported that demand for travel nurses in the U.S. reached a 20-year high in 2015. The increasing need generally means that travel nurses have their pick of locations and organizations when they look for a placement.

“Travel nursing provided so much of what I was looking for in a career and just happened to be an option available to me at the right time in my career,” Conway said. “I had worked with numerous travel nurses in my previous position and was completely sold on the idea of making the transition into such a challenging and rewarding position that allowed me to rotate somewhere new on a regular basis.”

The benefits of a traveling career

A traveling career can be beneficial to your ultimate professional goals, especially if you are working while pursuing a degree, such as your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Nurses who choose a traveling career have the flexibility and freedom to work in a variety of locations, including at prestigious health care organizations that will look great on a resume. The varied experiences provide an opportunity to explore your options before deciding on a particular long-term position, or you may find that you enjoy the flexibility so much that travel nursing becomes your permanent position.

There are numerous other perks to pursuing a career as a traveling nurse. One of these benefits is financial, as travel nurses typically are paid very well. According to the job and salary website Payscale, the median hourly wage of a travel nurse is $31.99, as opposed to $27.03 for the permanently employed RN. Travel nurses often additionally receive financial assistance for moving and living, as well as health insurance and 401(k) plans from their agency, which can be a very appealing option for nurses who are paying off student loans or saving up for major expenses down the road.

Some travel nurse agencies even offer assistance in pursuing continuing education, licensure or a higher degree. If you are interested in pursuing your MSN, for example, the organization that you work with may have a program that will help you with tuition.

Another major benefit of a travel nursing career is the flexible schedule that it provides. If you need to spend some time in a different city caring for an ill family member or want to escape to a warmer climate for the winter, you can take assignments in the area of your choice. Most regions in the U.S. have demand for travel nurses, which means it is likely you will be able to find a position in any major city in which you wish to live.

Conway explained how this flexibility works for him and his family: “I currently live in central Illinois and have chosen to take contracts locally (within an hour of home) while preparing to sell my home and move my family to Murfreesboro, Tenn., area,” he said. “When my current contract is completed, I plan to take contracts within a few hours of our new home during the school year and contracts in a location my family can enjoy and vacation in during the summer break. With the nursing shortage continuing to grow, there is no limit to the locations available.”

The life of a travel nurse

A career as a travel nurse can vary dramatically based on your own personal goals and preferences. Whether it is a short-term decision or a long-term career choice, taking on this role can allow you to gain valuable experience while living in new areas of the country and even abroad.

“I really enjoy having the opportunity to experience nursing and health care delivery in different settings on a regular basis,” Conway said. “It is such a great supplement to my education and is providing me with new tools and alternative ways of caring for patients every single day. I also have the privilege of working with some of the best nurses, doctors, practitioners and technicians, and meet people from all walks of life. It’s no secret that having the option to travel wherever you want to go is a huge incentive, as well.”

Conway recommended that if you are interested in working as a travel nurse, you should start by contacting an agency and asking questions. Each staffing group operates differently, so you need to make sure it will be a good fit. Recruiters at agencies usually will be able to give you all the information you need. Be sure that you read everything carefully before signing to ensure that you fully understand the commitment.

“Other than that, have fun and soak up everything you can,” Conway said. “Regardless of your experience as a nurse, you will be placed outside of your comfort zone and forced to find ways to provide the best care possible to your patients with the resources you have available. In doing so, you will become a better nurse and a stronger person that is more confident and poised in any situation you’re thrown into.”

If you are a certified professional interested in pursuing a career as a travel nurse, consider reaching out to a travel nursing agency to discuss your options.