What Is a Travel Nurse and What do They do?

Mar 10, 2017 | Travel Nursing

What exactly is a travel nurse? When they’re on the job, traveling nurses are no different than a regular nurse. Travel nurses have the same responsibilities as regular nurses and can work in a variety of departments around the hospital. The difference is that a traveling nurse works with hospitals on a temporary basis, often being brought in from other cities to fulfill staffing shortages.

Traveling nurses are usually employed through a staffing agency that helps them find assignments with hospitals in need. This allows traveling nurses the freedom to choose when and where they work.

What do you have to do to become a traveling nurse?

If you’re considering a career as a travel nurse, you’re likely interested in the requirements to become a traveling nurse. First and foremost, you’ll have to be a registered nurse to get started, and many staffing agencies look for nurses with a few years of prior nursing experience.

Other travel nursing requirements often include:

  • Licensing for the right state
  • Skills Assessment Tests
  • Reference letters from superiors

What are travel assignments like?

The typical assignment for a traveling nurse is 13 weeks of full-time work in a predetermined department or multiple departments. Assignments will vary depending on the needs of each hospital and can occasionally be extended if both the nurse and the hospital are happy with the arrangement.

Staffing agencies work with their nurses to find assignments that fit their wants and needs and get them in touch with hospitals that are short on staff. Once an assignment is agreed upon, the staffing agency usually provides free housing or a housing stipend for their travel nurses so they can get to work right away.

How does housing work?

Most travel nurse staffing agencies provide the option of either free housing or a tax-free housing stipend for their employees. For nurses who want the simple route, the free housing is a great option. Usually, there’s a certain budget for housing, and the nurse can find any place within that budget and the agency will get everything set up for them.

For savvy travel nurses, the stipend is a great opportunity to increase their pay. Some nurses will choose to take the stipend and then find housing under that value, allowing them to pocket the rest as additional income. For more information about housing for travel nurses, see what one of our housing coordinators has to say.

Why are travel nurses needed?

So why are travel nurses hired by hospitals? The healthcare industry has expanded at a rapid rate over the past few years, and nursing schools haven’t quite kept up, leading to a nationwide shortage of nurses. When a hospital is having difficulty finding qualified nurses, they often reach out to travel nursing staffing agencies to fill their open positions.

Not every part of the country has a dire need for travel nurses, but states like California, Texas, Colorado, Washington, and South Dakota are among the common locations traveling nurses are sent to.

What are the benefits of travel nursing?

There are many benefits to being a travel nurse, including the freedom to set your own schedule and find assignments that fit your lifestyle. But there are two benefits that stand out above the rest.

Ability to Travel

The biggest benefit to travel nursing is in the job title itself. The ability to travel around the country while bringing a job along with you is alluring for nurses who enjoy traveling to new places. As a travel nurse, you’ll be able to fully experiences living in fun, new places while getting paid to do so. Combine your love of travel with your career and explore places like North Dakota, Texas, and California.

Increased Salary

Many nurses who make the switch to travel nursing will enjoy a boost in their salary. Since travel nurses are sent to areas with high demand, that often means the hospitals are willing to pay a little extra to get a qualified nurse. Travel nurse salary will vary by contract depending on location, hours available, department, and other variables.

Traveling nurses can also earn bonuses for completing an assignment or for referring other nurses to their staffing agency. Plus, when you include free housing or a housing stipend, travel nurses are able to keep more of their paycheck than ever before.