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How to Become a Travel Nurse

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Explore the World as You Serve Others

Travel nurses are registered nurses who accept assignments to work outside of their residential area. If you are adventurous, love to travel and adapt easily to change, a career as a travel nurse could be exciting and fulfilling. Assignments generally last for a few months at a time, which could be challenging for children, so develop a plan for child care and encourage a sense of adventure and flexibility to help your little ones adjust.

Job Description

Travel nurses are registered nurses who accept assignments to work outside of the area in which they live for several weeks or even months at a time. Assignments can be anywhere in the world and sometimes include unpredictable or on-call hours. Your employer will cover the cost of travel and living in your new environment so that you don’t have to worry about rent. Sometimes, travel nurses have a room in the facility where they work, which could be challenging with little ones still living at home. Assignments often entail working with specific populations, such as cardiac intensive care patients or premature infants. Travel nurses work on medical teams with physicians, medical technicians and other medical professionals. An ability to keep immaculate patient records and tend to patients in a confidential manner is an important characteristic for the position. Expect to spend a good amount of time on your feet as you care for patients and assist in medical procedures.

Education Requirements

Travel nurses are required to attend nursing school to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing, though many employers prefer a bachelor’s degree. After nursing school, you will sit for the licensing exam that’s required to become a registered nurse. It’s common for employers to expect travel nurses to have two to five years of experience as a staff nurse, often within a particular specialty such as obstetrics, psychiatry, pediatrics or geriatric medicine.

Travel nurses earn a salary that’s competitive with the salary of other registered nurses, but the position comes with the added advantage of having some living expenses covered by an employer. The median annual salary for registered nurses is $68,450, which means that half earn more than this, and the other half earns less. The top 10 percent earns more than $102,990, while the lowest 10 percent earns less than $47,120.

About the Industry

Travel nurses work in all kinds of medical settings, including hospitals, clinics, and residential nursing or treatment facilities. Settings can be urban or rural, but they’re normally in areas experiencing a nursing shortage. Work can be demanding and require long hours. Some travel nurses find their contracts themselves, while others work through a specialized staffing agency. Travel nursing assignments provide housing, but arrangements vary greatly from position to position. When you have little children at home, a fully furnished apartment might be OK, but a roommate situation or room in a nursing home is probably not appropriate. Work with your employer or staffing agency to ensure that living arrangements suit your family, or find loved ones to care for your children while you are away on assignment.

Years of Experience

Travel nurses normally enter the profession with a few years of experience as staff nurses and have many living expenses paid for, which is a financial advantage. Pay increases with experience and varies by location, as in other areas of nursing. One salary projection for registered nurses looks like this:

  • 1–3 Years: $58,534
  • 4–6 Years: $64,843
  • 7–9 Years: $70,097
  • 10–14 Years: $72,903
  • 15 or More Years: $77,692

Job Growth Trend

Job opportunities for all registered nurses, including travel nurses, are expected to increase by 15 percent over the next decade, which is much faster than in other industries. Demand is due to an aging population and changes in health care that reduce hospital stays, but increase stays in long-term care facilities as well as the use of in-home nursing services. Travel nurses with well-defined specialties and an excellent work record stand out to employers and agencies.