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Travel Nurse Career GuideEverything you need to know about the dynamic and fulfilling career of a Travel Nurse, including the responsibilities, qualifications required, and the unique impact of this role in healthcare. Discover the essential skills and experiences that Travel Nurses acquire as they take on temporary assignments, ranging from eight to thirteen weeks in the U.S. and up to two years internationally, through various healthcare settings and communities.

Getting Started: Travel Nurse FAQs

What is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses are registered nurses who work on short-term assignments in various healthcare facilities across the country and abroad. Their unique job allows them to experience diverse clinical settings, explore new locations, and earn competitive salaries. The compensation for travel nurses can vary significantly depending on factors such as location, specialty, experience, critical need, and the agency they work with. Travel nurses typically work as contractors employed through a staffing agency to account for payroll and tax considerations as well as insurance and other possible benefits if offered through the agency.

What does a Travel Nurse do?

The duties of a Travel Nurse will vary greatly depending on the healthcare setting and specific area of specialty and need. However, in general, here are some high-level roles and responsibilities that can expected of a Travel Nurse:
  • Collaboration: You'll work with doctors to develop care plans.
  • Documentation: You'll learn how to use a variety of patient record-keeping systems.
  • Education: You'll teach patients and families about disease prevention and overall wellness.
  • Examination: You'll assess and diagnose patients.
  • Treatment: You'll administer medication and fluids and help with assisted living and mobility.

What is the demand for Travel Nurses?

The demand for Travel Nurses has been high—and increasing—in recent years. A variety of factors contribute to this demand, including:
  • Shortages in nursing staff: Many regions, especially rural and underserved areas, face chronic shortages of nursing staff. Travel Nurses help fill these gaps, ensuring that hospitals and clinics can maintain adequate staffing levels.
  • Seasonal variations: Certain times of the year, like flu season or during tourist influxes in specific areas, see a higher demand for healthcare services. Travel Nurses are often recruited to manage these seasonal spikes in patient numbers.
  • Need for specialized skills: Hospitals may require nurses with specific skills or experience for short-term periods, such as during the rollout of a new program or technology. Travel Nurses with these specialized skills are in high demand.
  • Pandemic response: The COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the demand for Travel Nurses. While the intensity of the pandemic has subsided, the healthcare system continues to have ongoing needs for flexible, mobile nursing staff.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: The ability of Travel Nurses to quickly adapt to new environments and teams makes them valuable assets in various healthcare settings.
Given the above needs, many healthcare facilities are willing to offer higher pay rates and additional benefits to attract Travel Nurses, reflecting the high demand for their services.

How much do Travel Nurses make?

The average annual salary for a travel nurse is typically higher than that of a staff nurse in a permanent position. Salaries can range from $60,000 to $100,000 or more, with factors like specialty, location, need, and experience playing a significant role in determining the exact earnings. Specialized nurses in areas like critical care or the operating room tend to earn more than those in general medical-surgical positions.

Click here to learn more about Travel Nurse salaries and pay expectations.

Why become a Travel Nurse?

Becoming a travel nurse offers a unique blend of professional flexibility and personal adventure. In this role, you have the freedom to choose not only your work schedule but also your location, allowing you to align your career with your lifestyle preferences. Whether you're drawn to the energy of urban hospitals or the quiet of rural clinics, travel nursing puts you in control of your professional journey.

This career path is also marked by a constantly changing environment, providing a variety of experiences. You'll encounter diverse healthcare settings, patient populations, and medical practices, contributing to your growth as a nurse. Additionally, the perks of travel nursing, such as provided housing and transportation, remove the logistical challenges of relocation, enabling you to focus on your work and the exploration of new communities.

Click here to read more about how to become an international Travel Nurse.

How do you become a Travel Nurse?

  • Here are the key stages of achieving your career as a Travel Nurse:

  • Get an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
    You must first complete a nursing program. This can be an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). A BSN is often preferred and can open more opportunities, but an ADN is a valid pathway to becoming an RN.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN
    After completing your nursing education, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed registered nurse. This is a requirement in all states.
  • Gain clinical experience as a Registered Nurse
    While not a formal educational requirement, most travel nursing agencies require you to have at least one to two years of clinical experience in a hospital setting. Specialized areas, like intensive care or emergency room nursing, may require additional experience.
  • Gain any specialty certifications
    Depending on your area of specialty, additional certifications may be beneficial or required. For example, a Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification for those working in intensive care units.
  • Earn State Licensure for specific states where you want to work as a Travel Nurse
    Since travel nurses work in various states, you may need to obtain licensure in multiple states. The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) allows nurses to practice in multiple states with one license, but not all states are part of this compact.
Continuing education and staying current with nursing best practices are also important for a successful career in travel nursing.

Click here to read more about how to become an international Travel Nurse.

Where can Travel Nurses work?

Travel nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings across different locations, depending on the needs of their assignments. Some common places where travel nurses are employed include:
  • Hospitals: Many travel nurses work in hospitals, including large medical centers, teaching hospitals, and smaller community hospitals. They may work in various departments such as emergency rooms, intensive care units, medical-surgical floors, or specialized units like pediatrics or oncology.
  • Outpatient Clinics: Some travel nurses take positions in outpatient settings, providing care in environments such as doctor's offices, walk-in clinics, or specialty clinics.
  • Long-Term Care Facilities: Opportunities also exist in long-term care, including nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and assisted living facilities, especially given the aging population.
  • Schools and Universities: Travel nurses can work in educational settings, providing healthcare services to students and staff.
  • Public Health and Community Clinics: In these settings, travel nurses might focus on preventive care, health education, and serving underserved populations.
  • Home Health Care: Some travel nurses work in home health care, providing nursing services to patients in their homes.
  • Telehealth Services: With the rise of telemedicine, some travel nurses may also work remotely, providing care and consultation through digital platforms.
  • Crisis or Disaster Areas: Travel nurses are often in demand in areas experiencing a healthcare crisis, natural disaster, or pandemic, where they provide critical support during times of need.
The variety of work environments allows travel nurses to gain diverse experiences and skills, making the role both challenging and rewarding.
  • 7 Essential Qualities of a Successful Travel Nurse

  • Adaptability
    The ability to adapt to new environments, policies, procedures, and technologies is crucial. Travel nurses often work in diverse settings, and they need to quickly become familiar with each facility's practices.
  • Flexibility
    Travel nurses need to be flexible with their schedules and assignments. They should be open to different shifts, including nights and weekends, and be willing to work in various healthcare specialties.
  • Communication Skills
    Effective communication is vital in healthcare. Travel nurses must communicate with patients, their families, fellow nurses, and other healthcare professionals. Being a clear and empathetic communicator is key.
  • Emotional intelligence
    Dealing with patients and their families from different regions and diverse cultures in challenging situations requires heightened emotional intelligence. Travel nurses need to be both compassionate and culturally sensitive.
  • Critical thinking 
    Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are important for assessing patient conditions and making quick decisions. Travel nurses often encounter new challenges and must be able to think on their feet.
  • Love of travel
    Travel nurses work in different regions and with diverse patient populations, cultural sensitivity and awareness are essential. Understanding and respecting cultural differences can enhance patient care.
  • Language skills
    Travel nurses change geographic locations, healthcare facilities, and teams on a regular basis. Effective language skills facilitate smooth transitions between work settings and ease assimilation into new teams.
Becoming an international travel nurse offers a unique blend of professional development and cultural exploration. Our guide outlines the journey to a rewarding career that combines nursing expertise with global travel. Starting with acquiring a the necessary degree credentials and gaining clinical experience, aspiring international travel nurses must navigate various requirements, including specific licensing and language proficiency tests. Researching destinations and understanding the healthcare systems, culture, and language of potential countries is crucial. Find out more here.

How Much Do Travel Nurses Get Paid?

The compensation for travel nurses can vary significantly depending on factors such as location, specialty, experience, critical need, and the agency they work with.

Salaries for travel nurses often include both taxable and non-taxable components. The taxable portion represents the base salary while the non-taxable portion includes benefits such as housing allowances, meal stipends and travel reimbursements. These benefits are designed to cover the cost of living in different regions and can make a substantial difference in a travel nurse's overall income.

The average annual salary for a travel nurse is typically higher than that of a staff nurse in a permanent position. Salaries can range from $60,000 to $100,000 or more, with factors like specialty, location, need and experience playing a significant role in determining the exact earnings. Specialized nurses in areas like critical care or the operating room tend to earn more than those in general medical-surgical positions.

Geographic location is a key influencer of travel nurse salaries. High-demand destinations, such as large cities or regions with nursing shortages, often pay more to attract travel nurses. Locations with a high cost of living may also offer increased compensation to offset expenses. Rural areas or smaller towns may have lower salaries but could provide a quieter and more affordable lifestyle.

Experience is another crucial factor. Travel nurses with more years of experience generally earn higher salaries. Additionally, they may often receive preferential treatment when it comes to choosing assignments, allowing them to pick the most desirable locations and assignments.

The agency a travel nurse works with can also impact their salary. Different agencies offer varying pay packages, benefits and opportunities for advancement. It's essential for travel nurses to research and choose agencies that align with their career goals and salary expectations.

Overall, travel nursing can be a lucrative career option for registered nurses looking to combine adventure with their profession. While the salary can vary widely, travel nurses often enjoy competitive compensation, a wide range of benefits, and the flexibility to explore different regions and healthcare settings. Before embarking on a travel nursing career, nurses should consider their specialty, location preferences, experience and agency selection to maximize their earnings and job satisfaction. Researching and negotiating salary packages, including taxable and non-taxable components, is vital for making the most of this rewarding and dynamic career path.

What's the average salary of a travel nurse?
The average annual salary for a Travel Nurse (RN) in the U.S. is $81,000, according to 2023 data from Payscale.com.
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Join an Organization
Become a member of a Travel Nurse organization to find career opportunities, learn from your colleagues, and support the profession.

National Association of Travel Healthcare Organizations

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