Benefits and Opportunities as a Travel Nurse
If you are a person who likes adventure, seeks out new places to eat and play, and loves meeting new people, travel nursing might just be your ticket.
Whether you choose to work somewhere near your home or travel across an ocean like to Hawaii, the choices are unlimited. Plus, there are more than 400 travel nursing companies nationwide can who match nurses with available positions at hospitals, clinics and other facilities. Or some nurses choose to get their own contracts and work as an independent.
“A traveling registered nurse is a highly educated and flexible healthcare professional who is interested in broadening their scope of care, and learning how differing facilities executive proper nursing care,” says Joe Bartoszek, director of staffing services at TaleMed.
TaleMed was rated the No. 1 travel nursing company in 2015 by Highway Hypodermics, the website and name of a series of travel nursing books by author Epstein LaRue, a registered nurse.
Bartoszek adds that traveling RNs are also motivated for other main reasons – money and adventure.
“As traveling healthcare professionals, they receive premium pay with a number of tax-free benefits in accordance with the IRS. They also get the opportunity to travel the country and see areas they have always wanted to visit,” he says. “Whether you like to shop, eat at unique restaurants, climb mountains, ski, or camp, travel nursing affords professionals the opportunity to experience the best of the best that this great country has to offer.”
Reasons Travel Nursing is in Demand
Traveling healthcare professionals, especially nurses, are in high demand because many hospitals try to maintain an appropriate staffing budget based on their quarterly and seasonal needs which are based on census, Bartoszek reveals. This is why most hospitals want an RN to contract for three months at a time. If the facility’s census persists, then they will renew the contract for an additional three-month contract. If the census declines then they will allow the contracted employee to pursue other opportunities.
Travel nursing also allows many hospitals to utilize “a try-before-you-buy approach.”
Travel nurses do often get offered full-time permanent staff positions at their contracted facilities. Travel nursing also allows for hospitals to bring in more seasoned and experienced RNs which can be much more beneficial to their unit than bringing in new graduates whom they may have to train and orient for months.
“Travel nurses are expected to hit the ground running after a week of orientation (sometimes less),” Bartoszek says. “Also, the main reason for the high demand is that the population is only increasing, and people continue to get sick or hurt and need to be taken care of properly and quickly.”
History of Travel Nursing
Temporary staffing at hospitals has been going on for more than 30 years, according to PanTravelers, the national professional organization of healthcare travelers. Travel contracts originally came about to meet seasonal shortages.
For instance, areas with big increases in population during the wintertime such as Florida, needed to add nurses to their staffs as more people came to the area for vacation or to live the winter in better climates. Hiring temporary travel nurses became a less expensive and efficient way to make sure there were enough nurses to take care of the sick and injured, PanTravelers says.
“These RNs are to fill these voids wherever and whenever needed as long as the task they are asked to perform falls under their scope of practice, experience and certifications/qualifications,” Bartoszek says.
Typical Salary and Benefits
A typical salary for a travel RN is around $65,000-$90,000 a year – after taxes -- depending on the specialty, the location and the contract. Many of the positions available actually pay quite a bit more, Bartoszek says.
He adds that the benefits for a travel RN can be amazing. Travel companies provide such things as health benefits, housing or a housing allowance, 401K, travel reimbursement and around the clock support.
Every travel nursing company has its own incentives and benefits. For instance, TaleMed provides upfront round trip airfare and will provide the RN with a rental car if they need one. The company also gives the RN their recruiter’s personal cell phone number and a 24-hour emergency line as well, just in case they need help in any situation.
PanTravelers states that most contracts are typically 13 weeks in length, with shift work of 36, 40 or sometimes 48 hours a week. But many of the living expenses are paid for, unlike a regular nursing job. They may even get an allowance for meals, parking or even car rental. It is the norm to have health insurance paid for, and many agencies offer retirement plans.
Housing Options and Opportunities
Housing options range from fully furnished apartments to extended stays at hotels or motels. Some travelers prefer to accept the agency-provided housing, it’s just one less issue to deal with when moving to a new city. Others take the stipend and find their own apartment or they live in their RV.
Some of the bigger travel companies offer their own expert housing department. They want to make travel nurses feel comfortable, safe and at home during their stay, so they know all the ins and outs of where to live that would be conducive to what the travel nurse wants to see, do and experience.
A big percentage of the companies pay for the housing along with the furnishings. Some offer cable and other amenities as enticements. You just bring her personal stuff and clothing.
All housing is private housing unless the RN requests a roommate or is traveling with a friend, Bartoszek says.
Top Cities for Travel Nurses
Traveling nurses who remain flexible in their choices of location will more likely stay employed and get higher pay, according to PanTravelers. Some locations just don’t have a lot of travel assignments up for grabs or even existing. But many places have a plethora of jobs available.
Bartoszek said opportunities within his company are available in all 50 states and in every major city in the United States.
“The industry is booming,” he said.
Some of the places with openings include:
San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles; Seattle; Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas; Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Denver, Grand Junction and Fort Collins, Colo.; St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; Charleston, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Chicago; and Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio.
Top Specialties for Travel Nurses
Bartoszek says that there are a few specialties that are in top demand for travel nurses. They include: intensive care and cardiovascular intensive care units, labor and delivery, emergency room, operating room, cardiovascular operating room, progressive care unit, medical/telemetry unit, neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, and cardiac catheterization lab.
Length Spent as a Travel RN
A travel nurse’s longevity in this industry can greatly depend on their experiences with their travel company, Bartoszek says. But the length is usually between one to 10 years or even more.
Just like in any business, if the experiences and pay were good, people tend to stay longer.
“There are many different travel companies available for RNs to work with in the industry and not all of them are known for being upfront, honest and running their business on ethical and moral grounds,” he says. “It is important for all healthcare professionals to research the companies they decide to work with.”
The longevity of a relationship with a RNs’ travel company depends on whether that company was informative, helpful and honest with the nurse.
“Did they get paid and was their check what they were expecting?” Bartoszek asks. “Was the RN supported when a rough or stressful situation arose?”
Who Chooses to be a Travel Nurse?
RNs travel in all ages and from all demographics and genders. The bulk of RNs who seem to travel are recent graduate nurses with two or more years of experience. Some nurses also choose the traveling career in the last phase of their nursing career before and during their retirement.
“They can be picky and work or not work for months at a time because after all, they are retired,” he says. “Their kids are grown they can go spend months on a contract with their son or daughter who now lives across the country and spend lots of time with their grand babies.”
Most Travel RNs are single or married, but their children are grown. Many RNs do travel with their spouses or significant others who are finishing school online, search out available work where they land a contract or who are retired. The majority fall in the first two categories, he says.
“Our main priority is to improve patient outcomes throughout the U.S., and we do this by educating the healthcare professionals we staff about every detail they should know about the hospitals and cities they will be traveling to and the travel nursing Industry as a whole,” he adds.
The rewards for being a travel nurse can be huge. Each individual has to decide if they have the personality and the desire to do such an adventurous journey.
Before deciding to become a traveler, PanTravelers tells prospective travel nurses to first take a serious self-examination.
Do you have the personality and mindset to be a traveler? Having an open mind and free spirit can help to make this a success along with a sense of humor and the ability to adapt to new things and people.
Whatever you choose, talk with those who have done it or read their blogs online. The more information you have, the better off you will be if once you decide to pack your suitcase and hit the road.
Lee Nelson of the Chicago area writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has recently appeared in Realtor.org, Nurse.org, Yahoo! Homes, ChicagoStyle Weddings, and a bi-weekly blog in Unigo.com.
Nurse.org's Popular Articles and Resources
Best Gifts for Nurses
Tis the season! Check out our list of the top gifts for nurses.
15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021
You know all nursing jobs aren’t created (or paid!) equally, but do you know which nurses are making the most money in 2020?
2021's Best Nursing Schools
We've looked at programs nationwide and determined these are our top schools
Start your Career Quiz
Ready to take your career to the next level? Find out what your next step could be.