How Does Travel Nursing Work?

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If being a nurse and traveling are two of your passions, answering the question, “How does travel nursing work?” might spark a new curiosity and a career option for you. Travel nurses get paid to experience new locations, build their nursing skills and meet nurses nationwide.

nurse talking with patient

Nursing is a fast-paced career, and every day is unique. With a curiosity for life and a love of learning, some nurses might also like to travel. What if you could combine compassion for others with your passion for travel — and get paid? If this sounds like a dream come true, you may want to consider a career in travel nursing.

With Harding University’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing program, you can earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing and start your journey to become a travel nurse in as few as 16 months.

Are you wondering “How does travel nursing work?” or “What do travel nurses do?” Once you have the right travel nurse qualifications, you can dive into the world of travel nursing and find your next great nursing adventure.

What Is Travel Nursing?

If you’ve seen any news about health care worldwide over the last several years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the shortage of health care professionals, especially nurses. However, patients continue to get the care they need from highly trained nurses. When hospitals and clinics don’t have enough staff at one time, they often turn to travel nurses to fill short-term needs.

Travel nursing is when a registered nurse temporarily moves to a different city to work at a hospital, clinic or health facility. These facilities need more staff for planned or unplanned reasons. Hospitals hire travel nurses when too few regular staff can cover training exercises, during an increase in patient volume or during a global pandemic to name a few cases.

Other times, a facility might be short-staffed when its regular staff is unavailable due to a strike. In these scenarios, hospitals and clinics hire travel nurses to fill the gaps until they can hire permanent staff or the event has concluded.

nurse standing on sidewalk holding coffee

How Are Travel Nurses Hired?

Travel nurses are hired as temporary or contract employees to work alongside regular staff nurses. Hospitals may engage with a staffing agency to help fill vacant nursing positions or post a job opening for a temporary contracted position on their own job board.

You can apply for a travel position directly with the facility if posted there or contact the dedicated travel nurse agency that holds the contract at the facility to submit your application on your behalf. It doesn’t cost to hire a travel nurse agency to help you find a travel nurse job, but they will likely retain a portion of your earnings as a commission for helping you find a position.

You must ensure that you clearly understand your contract with the travel nurse agency and the facility. Multiple types of taxed and non-taxed compensation are included as part of your contract, and you should be aware of the differences before you sign.

What Do Travel Nurses Do?

What a travel nurse does is not vastly different from what a staff nurse does — receive reports, perform assessments, administer medications, review test results and communicate abnormalities to the care team.

Travel nurses are expected to be more flexible in their patient assignments but should not be expected to care for more patients than the staff nurses. Travel nurses may be reassigned to different units during their contracts and sometimes during their shifts.

Changing tasks in the middle of a shift can be challenging, but that makes travel nurses some of the most skilled and resilient. Remember, you can do anything for 12 hours, and your contract lasts only up to 13 weeks with your patients relying on you to be there all the same.

nurse setting up IV bag

Learn more about what nurses do on a daily basis to better understand a travel nurse’s responsibilities.

What Are Travel Nurse Qualifications?

Travel nurse qualifications include an RN license. To earn an RN license, you must first earn either an associate degree in Nursing or a BSN. Although an ADN qualifies you to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses to earn your license, a BSN is the preferred nursing degree, favored for its comprehensive education.

You must be licensed in the state where you will be working. Some nurses are automatically part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which means an RN from a participating state can work in any other state without additional licensure. Not sure whether your state participates? The National Council of State Boards of Nursing provides a map of participating jurisdictions.

If you want to travel to a state that is not an NLC member, you must formally apply for a license in that state and follow their requirements. Some staffing agencies can help and may even pay for the application process.

You will likely need two years of experience as a nurse in your specialty to land your first travel nurse job. The most common types of travel nurses are critical care, medical and surgical, and telemetry nurses.

Read more to learn why earning a BSN is worth it.

Harding ABSN student standing in lab smiling

What Are the Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing?

Before you pack your bags to pursue a career as a travel nurse, you should consider several pros and cons.

Pros of Travel Nursing

  • Locations: Travel nursing offers access to different cities, states or even countries and opportunities to explore new places and cultures.
  • Higher pay: Travel nurses often receive higher pay than permanent staff including benefits such as housing allowances and meal stipends.
  • Professional growth: Working in diverse health care settings and with various patient populations enhances your nursing skills and knowledge.
  • Flexibility: Based on the contract you sign, you get to choose when, where and for how long you work in one location. You can also take extended breaks between assignments if you want to do some work-free travel.
  • Networking opportunities: Travel nursing exposes you to different professionals expanding your network and opening doors to future career opportunities.
nurse on roadside holding phone

Cons of Travel Nursing

  • Job instability: Most travel nurse contracts have a set duration of eight to 13 weeks leading to potential gaps in employment between assignments, which may create financial uncertainty.
  • Adjustment period: Travel nurses must adapt to a new work environment, hospital policies, charting systems and team dynamics within a relatively short time, which can be challenging and stressful.
  • Lack of benefits: Some travel nursing positions may provide different benefits from permanent positions such as multiple options for health insurance, retirement plans or paid time off.
  • Isolation: Frequent relocation may lead to a lack of a stable support system, making establishing long-term personal connections or friendships harder.
  • Housing issues: Pre-booked accommodations are standard, but you may need help finding suitable and comfortable options in a new location. If you accept a housing stipend, finding your own accommodations in a new town can be time-consuming.

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

How much travel nurses make depends on many factors. Location is one of the primary considerations, as well as the cost of living and the desirability of an area, which can dictate whether a travel assignment pays more or less. According to recent data from the health care hiring platform Vivian, travel nurses make $2,182 a week on average.

If you work for a travel staffing agency, they usually include health insurance as part of your benefits. Additionally, they will be responsible for arranging a place to stay while you are on assignment or offering monthly compensation for your housing, called a stipend. Some travel nurses prefer hotels, room shares or their own apartments; some even bring their own home on wheels with an RV.

Where Travel Nursing Adventures Begin

nursing student in front of sign

A career in nursing offers innumerable opportunities. If traveling and nursing are your two passions, consider the nomadic life of a travel nurse. With your newfound understanding of “How does travel nursing work?” you can embark on your next great adventure.

Start your travel nursing journey by earning a BSN with Harding University’s ABSN program. If you have a minimum of 64 college credits from an accredited institution, you can earn your BSN in 16 months, acquiring the knowledge and skills you need for a variety of nursing careers, even travel nursing. Contact us today to learn more about our ABSN program and how you can take the next steps toward becoming a nurse.