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What Does a Travel Nurse Do? Job Description, FAQs, and More

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
June 13, 2022
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Travel nurses are known to have exciting careers. From the very first opportunity to travel, a Registered Nurse is able to choose where they go throughout the United States and are in for the ride of a lifetime! Are you curious about starting your travel nurse career? Being a part of the nursing profession gives you the opportunity to choose your career nationwide and join the many other travel nurses across the US. This may be just what you’re looking for. Do you want to learn about other cultures and regional nursing? Does it excite you to consider living outside of your comfort zone? Want to make more money? Keep reading.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

After securing your RN license through an accredited nursing program and licensure through the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination), it’s important to consider the route you would like to take to get to your goal of becoming a travel nurse. If you just completed nursing school, you will want to first get a job in the acute healthcare setting instead of a job in the outpatient environment. A hospital job within your specialty will make you more marketable versus a job at local community health center. If you are an experienced RN, you’ve likely worked alongside travel nurses at your current healthcare organization. At a minimum, you’ve probably heard of a colleague or friend who left to start as a travel nurse.

But how do you become a travel nurse? To make it simple, having someone to guide you on this journey is beneficial. It allows you to relax, take a deep breath, and know that you’re on the right path to the type of nursing career you desire. The Travel Nurse Academy from Health Carousel Travel Nursing (HCTN) has all of your answers. As a preview of all this educational resource has to offer RNs interested in learning more about the world of a travel nurse—you will learn things like how housing and pay works, where travel nurses go, and more. It provides the career guidance you need to thrive in your first travel nurse role. You will complete the course with confidence as you will have all of the support you need. Hands-on support and travel nurse specialists are ready and willing to help you be successful in this career move.

A brief step-by-step list may include:

  • Obtain a nursing degree through an accredited nursing program
  • Take the NCLEX
  • Apply for nursing license
  • Obtain BLS and ACLS certification
  • Choose a specialty of interest and get experience
  • Reach out to a travel nursing agency and complete application
  • Work with a recruiter to find a good fit for your first assignment
  • Complete all onboarding paperwork
  • Go!

History of Travel Nurse

Where did the idea of nurses traveling nurses come from? According to the Professional Association of Nurse Travelers, there was a need for nurses that began in the 1970s. Nurses had been traveling to Florida for the winter from northern states and while they were enjoying the sunshine, they also enjoyed the ability to find a job due to the current shortage of nurses at the time. Known as “snowbirds,” these nurses were able to escape the cold winters and replace them with the warm sun and  salty breeze. The work agreements were informal for those nurses as they would leave to journey back to their home state further north. This seemed to benefit the employer and employee.

The idea has been formalized since then. As the nursing profession has grown and developed, travel nurses and agencies have as well. What once was originally an unofficial position is now a sought after option for experienced nurses. Travel nursing agencies now exist to support the nurse in this profession by becoming a resource, wealth of knowledge, and all-encompassing employer. Agencies are able to offer health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, travel stipends, housing stipends, and housing. Other benefits also include:

  • 401(k) retirement plan with company match
  • Standard limited liability insurance
  • Voluntary Life and AD&D
  • Voluntary Short-Term & Long-Term Disability
  • Accident & Critical Illness Insurance
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Corporate discounts
  • Free CEU credits

Travel Nurse Trends

Hospitals and healthcare systems across the country—particularly in a few concentrated states—are experiencing nursing shortages. These shortages are expected to grow over the next decade. When a hospital or healthcare facility has a shortage and needs to address its staffing issue quickly, one solution they may consider is the hiring of a short-term contract RN—a travel nurse.

As the need for the travel nurses continues to grow, independent staffing agencies and travel nurse agencies scramble to keep up the pace of hiring nurses. Healthcare staffing agencies are also feeling the pressure. The demand continues to be high, due to the pandemic, and is expected to continue that way since the US is combating a nursing shortage nationwide.

Travel Nurse Expectations

A travel nurse is a temporary, contracted employee that is hired to work at a facility through a staffing agency. They are not full-time employees of the healthcare organization at which they are contracted. This can be within the travel nurse’s home state or a completely different state of the nurse’s choosing. Travel nurse assignments typically last 13 weeks, but the length can vary depending on the needs of the host facility or healthcare system. It is expected that you will take on a different assignment after the previously agreed upon 13 weeks is completed. 

The travel nurse will also expect to work within their area of expertise. Knowing your specialty usually means 2-3 years of experience within that role. Do you have a nursing specialty? If you have not worked in an ICU prior to becoming a travel nurse, you should not expect to get a position there. The same is applied to other nursing specialties such as Oncology, Telemetry, Pediatrics, etc. 

Other expectations may include the thrill of moving to new places, seeing sights you’ve never visited, and meeting new friends.  Have you ever lived at the beach or near world famous ski slopes? How does surfing or skiing on your day off sound? The travel nurse life can make those dreams a reality. 

If you’re unsure about housing while you’re on assignment, there are generally two options: agency provided housing or a housing stipend. There are benefits to both, so the decision is yours to make. In some cases having the guess work cut out of housing already provided for you offers one less thing to consider with the next assignment. If you choose the housing stipend and are able to find housing less than the housing stipend amount, the balance is yours to keep

Travel Nurse Job Description

The travel nurse’s job is almost identical to a non-travel nurse. The nursing process will be used throughout your shift as you assess, diagnose, plan, implement, and evaluate according to your scope of practice. 

Your day starts just like any other nurse’s day would with getting report from the previous shift. You are expected to perform all duties of the registered nurse and continue to carry out provider’s orders as appropriate. Depending on hospital policies, procedures, or the type of unit the travel nurse is working in, the role may vary slightly from assignment to assignment. Travel nursing agencies will provide you additional information as needed. 

Normal duties include performing nursing assessments, assisting in exams and testing, obtaining vital signs, admitting patients, discharging patients, providing emotional support as needed, reporting any necessary data to the patient’s doctors, educating patients on their conditions, administering ordered medications, etc. As always, it is expected that patient safety be paramount and patient care always be provided.

Travel Nurse Tips

  1. If you would like to become a travel nurse, finding someone who has already gone through the process can be very helpful. Another helpful tip is to reachout to Health Carousel Travel Nursing for guidance on the next steps. Having a bachelor’s degree (BSN) will make you more desirable to hire compared to a nurse with an associate’s degree. 
  2. Be flexible and keep a good attitude. Expect there to be hard days and amazing days, just as it is with every nursing position. By having a willingness to learn, you have already set yourself up for success. 
  3. Know who your support system is and be sure to celebrate your wins and talk through your losses. Family members, fellow nurses, and therapists are all great resources.
  4. Get ahead of the game and start now by applying for a compact nursing license. The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) program exists to give the ability for nurses to work in those states who participate in the program. By having an NLC you won’t have to obtain an individual license for each state in which you work. Be sure to see if your home state participates. 
  5. Make sure you have your Advanced Care Life Support (ACLS) certification and Basic Life Support (BLS) certification.
  6. Be proficient in basic nursing skills. Orientation on a new nursing unit may only be a couple of shifts which is intended for learning the specific unit and hospital policies and procedures- not how to be a nurse. 

Ensure your recruiter through your travel nursing agency is a good fit for you. They will be able to help you with your travel nursing assignments and other questions concerning travel nurse jobs you may have.

FAQs

What Do Travel Nurses Do Daily?

Travel nurses care for their patients and follow provider's orders. They follow the flow of the facility where they are working throughout the day. They are expected to function within their scope of practice.

How Much Money Do You Actually Make as a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurse salary varies by state and assignment. To get a clearer picture of what each states’ average wage, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good resource. Your recruiter will be able to discuss specific wages and any additional stipends offered for each assignment. 

Is Being a Travel Nurse Worth It?

Yes! Being a travel nurse can bring fulfillment in the nursing profession that you haven’t had elsewhere. You can have an exciting life of adventure, pursuing your dreams, and experiences beyond what you are accustomed to. By not having a permanent staff role you will have the opportunity to escape current day-to-day hospital politics and drama.

What Kind of Nurse Is a Traveling Nurse?

A traveling nurse has many qualities that regular nurses have already—kindness, compassion, organization, and being an excellent multi-tasker. What may be different is their love of adventure and a desire to experience and live in other regions of the US. They are happy to pick up their current lives and transport them to different areas.

Author Bio

Katherine Wylie, BSN, RN provides written health content for W Health Publications. She has worked as a RN for over 10 years in various specialties. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outside exploring with her husband and two kids in North Carolina. 

Health Carousel Travel Nursing

Find the Travel Job that’s Right for You

Interested in how the pay stacks up in other states not on this list? Our trusty Super Nurse sidekicks are standing by to answer any questions you have. Click below to get information on opportunities in other states!

Woman standing with suitcase looking out at the city