When you picture a job that involves travel, you may think of a salesperson trudging through airports, living out of a suitcase and sleeping in a different hotel room every week. Not all traveling jobs fit that description.
As a travel nurse, you can stretch your wings and explore different places around the country — and even the world. Travel nurses enjoy freedom and flexibility, but they also play critical roles in filling gaps in healthcare.
Origins of Travel Nursing
Travel nursing came from a supply-demand inequity. The 1930s nursing shortage left healthcare facilities with too many patients and not enough nurses to care for them.
Eventually, healthcare organizations had to find creative hiring incentives. Some organizations began offering higher pay and additional benefits like housing and relocation reimbursement. However, many nurses with an adventurous streak might find the financial and housing benefits as second to the excitement of traveling somewhere new for work.
Hiring Practices and Considerations
Travel nurses are not employees of hospitals or health systems, as they primarily work under independent nursing staffing agencies. To find work through an agency, nurses need to have a license in good standing and at least one year of active, hands-on experience — although some agencies require two years.
While one doesn’t require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to be a travel nurse, many hiring healthcare facilities tend to prefer the degree. This is especially true if the travel nursing position necessitates certain skills that BSN-prepared RNs acquire in their education. Nurses with a BSN may rise to the top of an agency’s list if they possess such training.
Travel nurses do not need any certifications or credentials outside of the ones required for their particular specialty. Under normal circumstances, travel nurses must obtain licensure in the states they wish to work. However, most states are at least temporarily changing licensure requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Changes exist on a state-by-state basis.
As travel nurses gain experience and learn skills like negotiating packages and understanding the legality of contracts, they can make the jump to becoming their own boss as independent nurse contractors.
How Much Do Traveling Nurses Make?
Traveling nurses often make more than in-house staff nurses, but hourly salary isn’t the only component of a hiring package. Non-taxed stipends cover housing, meals and other incidental expenses. In non-crisis circumstances, travel nurses may earn over $3,000 per week.
Other factors that influence how much a travel nurse can earn include:
1) Location. Cities with higher costs of living (like New York City or Los Angeles) tend to pay travel nurses more than rural areas. However, some states with high costs of living may not pay travel nurses commensurate rates for destination locations (like Florida or Hawaii). Of course, a crisis like a pandemic could impact the typical pay parameters.
2) Special Skills. Nurses who have training in specialty areas and have earned the appropriate credentials will likely reap a higher pay rate than those who do not have specialty training. “Ultra-specialized” careers like those in a cardiovascular operating room, pediatric/neonatal intensive care unit (PICU/NICU) or an oncology unit are often the most high-paying.
3) Flexibility in Shift Options. Travel nurses are often tasked with night shifts, and they receive additional pay for taking those shifts. However, it does take a special kind of commitment to perform night shift work. If it’s not for you, don’t let the increased pay compromise your health and safety — or the safety of your patients.
4) Willingness to Serve in Crisis Situations. Nurses who are willing and able to join the frontlines in crises — like the current pandemic — are putting their lives on the line and should receive compensation accordingly. Currently, some hospitals in New York City are offering incentive packages of over $10,000 per week. Nurses considering these positions have to weigh the financial perks against risk to personal safety.
Travel Nursing Isn’t for Everyone
While traveling nurses have the opportunity for adventure and life in new places, they also have to consider the element of safety. The COVID-19 pandemic is just one example of a workplace safety risk, but nurses on international placements may also encounter danger. Even within the U.S., certain areas may be more prone to workplace violence.
Traveling nurses could also experience potential isolation on the job. Nurses who have an independent spirit, or who have strong support systems in place, remote or otherwise, may be better equipped to manage the feelings that accompany frequent relocation.
Learn more about the University of Southern Indiana’s RN to BSN online program.