What Is Travel Nursing?

By Craig Miller

11/29/2021

Travel nursing is a rapidly growing niche in the nursing world. The current nursing shortage, fueled by a lack of staff nurses, has created a huge demand for registered nurses across the country and around the world.

To fill this void, many hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare operations have turned to travel nurses.

What Is A Travel Nurse?

Simply put, travel nurses are registered nurses that travel to areas where they are needed when they are needed. Usually, they are hired by hospitals and other healthcare facilities on a temporary basis. Because they are hired when the demand for nursing is great, they are often offered higher pay than a staff nurse.

A travel nurse may be hired to cover vacation or sick time for the facility’s staff nurses, work seasonally in tourist areas or, most recently, provide additional help when hospitals see a spike in patients. Often the facilities use nursing agencies to find travel nurses especially if they are in need of a rapid response to immediate nursing shortages.

What Do Traveling Nurses Do?

Traveling nurses have many of the same responsibilities as their staff counterparts. Their exact job description depends in large part on what type of facility they are working in and the job description. There are some tasks that any traveling nurse should be able to do, these include:

  • Patient intake exams.
  • Take patients’ histories.
  • Advise other medical staff as to the examination findings and provide counsel to them and the patients as to the nature of their ailment.
  • Administer medications, conduct medical procedures.
  • Keep all medical records accurately.
  • Alert doctors and other medical staff to changes in the patient’s condition.

What Are The Advantages of Being A Travel Nurse?

There are many reasons why a person may choose to become a travel nurse rather than a staff nurse.

Gaining Experience

Although registered nurses are in high demand everywhere these days, those with the most experience still tend to get the best job offers. Starting your career as a traveling nurse will give you the opportunity to get a wide variety of experiences in a short period of time.

At one hospital you may be assigned to the emergency room, another the ICU, and yet another the maternity ward. Each of the positions offers you unique skill sets to learn and another highlight for your resume.

More Competitive Wages

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for registered nurses in the United States is just a bit over $80,000 annually. The compensation package offered to a traveling nurse can vary significantly based on geographic location, need, and experience. He or she can earn more than a registered nurse on staff, especially if they have a strategic plan about where and when they work.

Travel nurses that work in areas where the cost of living is higher will receive higher wages as will those that are willing to work shifts or departments, like critical care or NICU, where positions are difficult to fill. They may also be able to pad their pay packages by choosing long-term assignments with completion bonuses or choosing to stay on after the original contract and earning a retention bonus.

Housing Stipend

In addition to earning more than enough to cover his or her living expenses, many travel nurses also enjoy either free housing or a housing stipend as part of their compensation package. This tasks a lot of the pressure of relocating off the shoulders of the travel nurse and, in many cases, allows for a more rapid response to the job request.

Travel Reimbursement

Another perk of being a travel nurse is having the cost of your travel covered by someone else. Not every facility in search of a travel nurse will offer this but many of the staffing agencies that have travel nurses working for them include this in their travel assignments.

Even if the agency or facility you will be working for does not offer travel reimbursements, you can write off your travel expenses against your taxable income when filing your taxes.

Other benefits

Higher overall pay and free or low-cost housing and travel are pretty good reasons to make becoming a travel nurse a part of your career path, but there are other reasons why this may be the right choice for you. The life of the traveling nurse offers you so many options.

You could spend your summers in a beach town and your winters near a ski resort. You could get paid to explore new cultures in various parts of the country. You could choose to spend time in a large thriving metropolis and then relax for a few months in a sleepy small town. Whatever suits your personality or mood at the moment, you are free to choose.

Travel Nurse Salary

Future Nurse Demand In 2021

Many of the listed advantages of being a travel nurse involve his or her pay package and it is important to consider all of these things when determining the actual value of a travel nurse’s salary. This is especially true if you are comparing the rates offered to you by travel nursing agencies. Some will offer their nurse practitioners higher base pay and fewer stipends or reimbursements while others opt to offer more perks and less pay.

Understanding these perks and how they translate to actual; money in your pocket is an important step for those considering becoming a traveling nurse. Find out what an average traveling nurse’s salary is.

Hourly Rate

This one seems pretty obvious, it is the rate you will be paid for every hour that you work. Be aware, a lower hourly rate does not always mean less money in your bank. Look at the stipends, bonuses, and reimbursements you are being offered as well as the hourly rate to determine the true monetary value of the position.

Stipends

These are offered to traveling nurses to help offset the costs of traveling and staying in temporary housing. Again, it is not as simple as just looking at the monetary value of these stipends. Some places offer free housing which would lower the dollar amount of your stipends but would not lower the value of your compensation package.

Health Benefits

Most travel nurse positions do not include a health benefits package as they are only considered temporary hires. If you choose to work through a staffing agency, you may qualify for benefits from them but you will likely receive a lower base pay.

High Demand Rates

When a particular hospital or geographic region has a sudden or drastic increase in its need for nurses, such as after a natural disaster or the spikes in Covid cases, the pay rate is often raised in order to attract more travel nurses. While this will increase your overall pay rate, the extra money is added to counteract the sometimes substantial risks you may be taking.

The rates offered in times of high demand are tempting and will certainly raise your travel nurse salary but keep in mind that the demand is likely high because few other people want to do the job.

10 Tips To Maximize Your Travel Nurse Salary

It is not difficult to earn a comfortable wage working as a traveling nurse. However, if you want to earn more than an average salary, there are a few ways to maximize your earning potential.

  1. Supply Your Own Housing – in most cases, traveling nurses will be offered a housing stipend and a suggested place to use it. These accommodations are often in the pricier range as the healthcare facility has a reputation to protect. Take the stipend but use it at accommodations that meet your price tag. Also, many agencies offer housing as a part of their compensation package but then remove the cost of that housing from your base pay. Ask them if you can find your own housing and have that part of your paycheck returned to you.
  2. Be Open To Any Shift, Any Department – If your primary reason for working as a traveling nurse is to increase the size of your paycheck, then you need to be ready to accept almost any job that comes along. Travel nurse pay tends to go up as the desirability of a position goes down. Be willing to work weekends, holidays, and overnights, and don’t shy away from the toughest departments like the NICU and emergency department.
  3. Choose Your Agency Carefully – not all staffing agencies are created equal and many take advantage of their travel nurses by offering what sounds like competitive wages only to whittle away at your base pay with hidden costs and fees. Take some time to talk to other nurses about the agencies you are considering. They should be transparent about the costs and fees they will be charging you and be able to justify them all. For best results, find a nursing agency that publicly posts their rates of pay and their employee’s expected rates of take-home pay. Also, avoid those that tell you that their travel nurse salaries are negotiable. If the travel nurse salaries are negotiable then they are not offering their highest rates from the start.
  4. Work with Multiple Agencies – No matter how hard a respectable agency works to procure the best travel nursing jobs for their employees or how many opportunities they can dredge up, it is always a good idea not to keep all of your eggs in one basket. By remaining an employee in good standing with multiple agencies you get more options and should be able to find the absolute highest paying travel nursing jobs.
  5. Keep Up With your Paper Work – Although the need for travel nurses is great, the competition for the job positions can be fierce. If you see a position that meets your goals, you need to have all of your paperwork, including your resume, cover letter, certifications, and referrals up to date and ready to be handed in at a moment’s notice. This is also true if you use an agency to find positions for you. The hiring managers trust the agencies to send them prevetted and accurate accounts of the candidates they offer them. Make sure your agency can easily do this by keeping all your information with them, including new experience or school rankings.
  6. Earn and Maintain Multiple State Licenses – except in rare and dire cases, like the height of the Covid pandemic, most states will not allow you to work as a nurse in their borders if you do not have a valid license in that state. make a list of states you would consider working in and set about doing whatever it takes to earn those licensees. In some states, like North Carolina, the process is relatively easy and you may be able to accomplish it in a couple of days. In other states, like California, the process is a bit more in-depth and regularly takes as long as 6months to accomplish. Once you have earned the licenses in the states you want to work in you can begin to apply for travel nurse positions in those states. Just be sure to keep an eye on the renewal dates for each one and keep them from expiring.
  7. Good Communication Is Key – Frequent communication with your recruiter is the best way to keep your name front and center in his or her brain. If your name is on your recruiter’s mind then you may be the first person they think of when n new opportunity comes along. Also, don’t be afraid, to be honest about what you expect to accomplish. if you are only interested in the higher-paying jobs, then tell them that. If there are certain shifts or departments you are not interested in working in then tell them that too. That way they will not feel like they have wasted their time bringing you an opportunity that you going to turn down.
  8. Find Crisis Work – the average travel nursing salary is often significantly lower than the rate paid to travel nurses who are willing to go to areas where natural disasters or the pandemic have created a drastic increase in demand.
  9. Ask For Bonuses – Agencies and healthcare operations that offer sign-on, retention, or a completion bonus may not feel obligated to tell you that it is available to you. They may wait until you enquire about them to give them to you. Also, even places that do not regularly offer bonuses may have the money allotted in the budget for them but don’t bother to do so until they are asked about them.
  10. Refer a Friend – In today’s healthcare environment, travel nurses are in great demand. So much so that many agencies and healthcare facilities will offer referral bonuses to their employees who bring potential employees to them. If you have a few friends who work in nursing you could make a tidy sum referring them to places you are already working.

If being a traveling nurse sounds like a career path you would like to pursue, you can begin with a school search for nursing schools near you. It is the right career choice for many people, including both experienced nurses and those who are just getting started. A competitive base wage, numerous benefits, and a chance to travel and see the country while being paid is a lot to say no to.

Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job of a traveling nurse has great opportunities for continued growth providing you with job security.

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