Is Travel Nursing Right For You?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are well over 40,000 travel nurses in the United States. At Trusted Health, we help travelers build their careers and find their next job opportunity, and I regularly chat with nurses who are curious about making the transition to a travel role. Many of the same questions come up again and again, which inspired me to put together a guide for anyone who is curious about what being a travel nurse is really like. If you’ve been thinking about it, or even curious at all, I’d encourage you to read on!
Why travel nursing?
The first and biggest advantage of travel nursing is the flexibility. In parallel with the larger workforce in the US, nurses are increasingly seeking a more flexible lifestyle and varied job opportunities, and travel nursing is a great way to achieve that. Want to take a month off in the summer to visit friends and family? Have your eye on a nursing mission abroad? Interested in living in a variety of locations over a relatively short time frame? Travel nursing enables you to do all of that.
Many nurses also find that traveling allows them to develop their careers more quickly, giving them a greater variety of experiences that they are unlikely to find working solely in a staff role. For example, working at a Magnet-designated hospital will likely offer a chance to gain deeper knowledge in your specialty with nurses who lead research in their field, as well as access to nurse-led quality and innovation projects and continuing education. Similarly, an academic medical center will give you exposure to the latest technology, evidence-based approaches to care and the chance to learn more in-depth about diagnosing, result interpretation, and clinical decision making.
In general, the constant exposure to a wide variety of care settings and best practices on everything from admit and discharge processes to bedside and patient rounds will give you a well-stocked toolkit to draw from. Many travelers find that repeatedly absorbing new skills boosts their ability to quickly learn and adapt to new methods, and in turn, makes them highly attractive to future employers and — for those interested in going back to school — educational institutions. What’s more, interacting with patients from different cultures, languages, and socioeconomic backgrounds can be inspiring, humbling, and eye-opening and can give you a cultural competency that can help you provide better patient care.
Travel nursing can also be a big driver of personal growth. You will be regularly pushed outside of your comfort zone. You’ll build resilience dealing with the stress of moving between places. You’ll build self-confidence learning to advocate for yourself and to make new friends in unfamiliar towns and cities. You’ll build humility each time you’ll need to learn new policies and procedures, EMRs, or how to use new equipment.
Are there any drawbacks?
For the right people, travel nursing can be a wonderful career option. That said, it’s good to be aware of a few things before jumping into your first travel role. The first and most obvious is that job security can look a bit different for travel nurses. I see firsthand at Trusted just how high demand is for travel nurses, however, the reality is that it’s still contract work and thus, temporary in most cases. Because most contracts are 13 weeks, the lifestyle can feel a bit transient and requires effort to sort out details related to relocation. (This can also be a benefit because if you’re in a situation that is less than ideal, it’s temporary!)
What’s more, because travel nurses are expected to get up to speed quickly to provide much-needed help and are often employed at a premium to a facility, they can be held to a higher standard than staff nurses, and are expected, at a minimum, to be highly competent, flexible and adaptable. And lastly, benefits can sometimes be a bit tricky for travelers. Generally speaking, you’ll get benefits like health insurance through the company that employs you in your role (like Trusted or an employment agency), but you can sometimes face gaps in coverage if you move from one company to another or have longer gaps between assignments.
What are the requirements?
The requirements to become a travel nurse are fairly straightforward, with a low barrier to entry. In general you need:
- At least a year of recent experience in your specialty (although more is recommended!)
- At least two recent professional references
- An active nursing license in the state that you wish to practice in and any certifications relevant to your area of specialty (you can read more about how to get licensed in other states here)
- Up-to-date health records, including recent documentation for flu shots, TB shots, and other immunizations; recent physicals; titers; blood tests; fit mask tests; and PPDs, though these can be obtained during an onboarding period
In her book Highway Hypodermics, Epstein LaRue writes “I have found one definite about travel nursing—either you love it or you hate it. I have not found very many people who are stuck in between.” I’ve found this statement to be true, but am happy to report that for the nurses who love it, it can be a positive, life-changing experience. Only you can know whether travel nursing is right for you, but if you are drawn to new experiences, love learning, and are highly adaptable, those are all good signs that you may want to give it a try and see where it takes you!
Sarah is the Founding Clinician at Trusted Health, the career platform for the modern nurse. Sarah is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Nursing School and began her nursing career at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Prior to moving away from the bedside, she was a Clinical Nurse III and an Evidence Based Practice Fellow, and served on multiple hospital-wide committee boards. At Trusted, she utilizes her clinical insight and passion for innovation to change how nurses manage their careers and solve for inefficiencies within healthcare staffing.