Getting paid to travel all over the United States sounds like a pretty good way to make a living. And, the good news is that you don’t need to be a freelance writer who gets paid to write travel and leisure articles for a national magazine. Just because you chose to pursue a career in healthcare, doesn’t mean you can’t find adventure and flexibility in your work.
Travel nursing is one of the marketable career moves you can make, and it is getting easier to join the ranks of those working tourists traveling the country. Maybe you have thought about travel nursing but didn’t know enough about it to make the jump. Or, perhaps you are finally at a place in your work life where the excitement of taking on travel assignments is precisely what you need in your career. No matter how or how you have arrived here, you have questions, and we have answers! Here are 10 of the most searched travel nursing questions.
Your Travel Nursing Questions Answered
1. What is travel nursing?
Healthcare organizations everywhere are faced with a highly competitive staffing market. In many cases, hospitals, clinics, and medical groups find themselves short-staffed or with crisis needs. To fill temporary vacancies, they turn to travel nurses to help fill the gaps. Travel nurses can come from all clinical backgrounds. Travelers work for a travel nursing agency, like Supplemental Health Care, while fulfilling their duties at a facility during an assignment.
Travel nursing assignments are prevalent for covering highly in-demand specialties too. When medical facilities are having a hard time filling vacancies in critical care, ICU, med-surg, or emergency departments, they can contract with a healthcare staffing agency to fill those needs. Typically, travel nursing assignments can be for any role and in any clinical setting throughout the country.
2. What does a travel nurse do?
Travel nurses are employed by the agency that placed them; however, they have the same roles and responsibilities as the nurses who are permanent employees of the facility. Travel nursing contracts may vary from facility to facility but typically include certain shifts and days off. Additional responsibilities, such as overtime, call, and floating for other units, may be required based on the need.
Because of procedural or regulatory differences in the state or at the facility level, travel nurses must have the flexibility to adapt to site-specific requirements and policies. It is also important to be confident in your skills and abilities because depending on the circumstances, you may not have a lengthy orientation or a lot of time to adjust to the new environment. You were brought in to help fill a specific need, so getting up to speed as quickly as possible is essential.
3. How does travel nursing work?
Each state nursing board has different requirements for out-of-state nurses who wish to work an assignment in that state. This means, at a minimum, you will need an active state license to work there. To make the licensing process easier, many states have joined the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), allowing licensed nurses in certain states to work in all other Compact states with a single license. This can save time, money, and hassle of applying for individual state nursing licenses.
Today, a total of 38 states have joined the Compact. In states that are not currently recognizing the NLC, nurses will need to acquire licensure for that state before beginning work on a travel assignment. Typically, agencies will help travel nurses acquire the necessary credentials.
One of the most exciting aspects for travel nurses is deciding when and where to go on assignment. With the competitive staffing environment for healthcare professionals nationwide, travel nurses have a wide variety of locations and care settings available to choose from. And, the best part is that when you are not scheduled to work, you have plenty of time to explore your surroundings and enjoy what each location has to offer. Just like a working tourist!
4. How much experience is required?
While specific experience requirements may be designated at the state or facility level, and vary by specialty, a good rule of thumb for a new travel nurse is to have one to two years of clinical experience in your chosen specialty. In most cases, the more experience you have, the easier it will be to adjust to a new facility. Having experience in different specialties opens up more opportunities and travel destinations.
5. How to become a travel nurse?
The first thing you will need to start a career as a travel nurse is experience. At a minimum, you will need your associate’s degree or licensed practical nurse degree, although many hospitals now require a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). After passing the NCLEX exam and completing licensure in your home state, it is recommended that you gain at least one to two years of experience in your desired specialty.
Not all healthcare staffing agencies are the same. One of the most underrated aspects of a successful travel career is having a great recruiter. Especially when you are new to travel nursing, having a trusted recruiter who listens to your needs, and works with you to find the best opportunity is vital. Your recruiter will help you find opportunities that match your needs and skill set.
The actual interview process varies by facility, but your recruiter will walk you through it all. Your agency will help you navigate the submission and contract process and any additional compliance requirements before you begin your assignment. Check out our in-depth post about how to become a travel nurse for more details on getting started.
6. How long does it take?
The timeframe between filling out an application, acquiring necessary compliance documents, and accepting a travel assignment will vary from state to state and even facility to facility. In some cases, if the need is extremely urgent, a facility and the agency will take an all-hands on deck approach and expedite the process as much as possible.
In other cases, it may be several weeks between expressing your interest in a position and actually beginning the assignment. Some of the time constraints can also depend on what you need and what you are looking for in your next assignment. Your recruiter can help navigate the process for you and find the right assignments to match how quickly you want to start.
7. How long are travel assignments?
Travel assignments vary by facility and specific need, but typically they are 13-weeks. Three months is a perfect amount of time to acclimate and experience all that a location has to offer. In some cases, a facility may need your services longer than the initial 13-weeks and you can decide to extend your travel contract. You may consider extending a contract when:
- You haven’t found another assignment that has piqued your interest.
- You have a comfort level with your current assignment and aren’t ready to start over again.
- You love the location and need more time to explore the surroundings.
- The geographic location is a place you may want to work in long-term or relocate to permanently.
8. How much do travel nurses make?
As with any salary, the amount you will earn as a travel nurse varies considerably based on location, cost of living, and other factors. According to ZipRecruiter, on average, travel nurses currently earn around $99,202 annually or about $48 per hour. States with high living costs and large metropolitan areas will usually offer higher pay rates for travel nurses.
It’s important to consider what might affect your pay though. Although working in a higher-paying location might seem like the easy answer, you will need to consider the tax implications as well. Working in a variety of states throughout the year can also impact your tax filing, so it is vital to keep your documentation organized, and it is always wise to partner with a trusted CPA to help you with the process.
Another factor that impacts your rate of pay can be your specialty and how urgent the need is to fill the vacancy. Another consideration is whether the assignment offers opportunities to earn a bonus such as a sign-on, assignment completion, retention, or referral bonus.
9. How do travel nurses find housing?
Many options exist for deciding where you will stay on your travel assignment. Your agency can help find housing for you and some assignments offer versions of corporate housing. You can also look into finding your own accommodations.
Websites like Airbnb and Vrbo have taken temporary housing options to an entirely new level, and you can usually find a variety of options in every city and town across the country. Travel nursing-focused online platforms such as Furnished Finder and Travel Nurse Housing specifically cater to nurses looking for temporary housing.
Other travelers prefer to find extended stay hotels, while increasingly more are turning to RVs as their mode of travel while on assignment. The key is to decide on housing that fits your needs and lifestyle, and in many cases, it may take a few contracts to learn what works best for you.
10. Is travel nursing worth it?
The answer to this question will be different for every nurse. While it takes commitment to navigate the credentialing process and self-confidence to set out on your own in a new place every few months, there are obvious benefits.
Travel nursing is a unique career opportunity with invaluable experience and exposure to many new skills and ways of administering care. On a personal level, you are seizing the opportunity to find new adventures and meet people in places you may only have imagined visiting.
If you are adaptable and enjoy learning new skills and trying new things, travel nursing could be the perfect fit. If you still have questions or are unsure, check out some advice from seasoned travel nurses or read our Working Tourist stories to learn more from other travelers' experiences.
Whether you’re looking to go to a new location or start traveling closer to home, Supplemental Health Care has travel nursing assignments across the country in a variety of specialties and settings. Contact our recruiting team today to learn more about how to get started.