Have Stethoscope, Will Travel: An Introduction to Travel Nursing - header image

For hospitals, travel nurses offer an attractive solution to staffing needs. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Nursing Care Quality found that the modest use of these nurses is cost-efficient. Additionally, patients benefit. “The main benefits for patients have to do with higher quality of care and better safety outcomes,” Linda Aiken, PhD, RN, summarized in her 2013 study on travel nursing. She also found that hospitals analyzed in the study that used agency nurses had lower rates of preventable mortality following common surgical procedures.

The advantages extend to nurses, too. Aiken discovered that travel nurses not only were happy with their jobs but also had a higher level of satisfaction than permanent nurses due to flexibility and the ability to take charge of their career goals.

As a result, travel nursing has become a popular choice for nurses and hospitals. And given the current state of nursing, it’s an area that should continue to grow in the coming years.

The Basics of Travel Nursing

What Travel Nurses Do

Travel nurses work for a limited amount of time in any given location. Similar to permanent nurses, specialties can vary. For instance, travel nurses work in labor and delivery, ER and nearly any nursing specialty found in the industry.

Where Travel Nurses Work

Assignments exist all over the country; the agency facilitates geographic choices with the nurse, based on availability. Travel nurses are able to work in any given geographical area, exploring places of interest and gaining experience in different health care environments. This variety is one of the most attractive elements of the profession, as nurses get the opportunity to travel and discover new locations while gaining valuable experience.

In terms of the workplace, travel nurses often work in hospitals. Other health care institutions such as nursing homes, research facilities and medical schools are possibilities.

Career Information

Salary & Compensation for Travel Nurses

Generally, travel nurses earn between $30 and $50 per hour. However, there are many factors at play that can impact pay. Geographic locations, agencies, specializations, experience levels and more can affect how much a travel nurse earns.

Travel nurses typically earn more than permanent nurses because the facility pays a premium to the agency for each placement. And in addition to higher rates of pay, travel nurses often receive compensation for housing, travel expenses, health care insurance and other benefits.

Job Outlook for Travel Nursing

According to Aiken, the current use of travel nurses is strong. “What we found is that most hospitals use travel nurses at one time or another, and 95 percent of America’s top hospitals use agency nurses.” Travel nurses have become commonplace for hospitals looking to fill temporary nursing gaps.

The demand for travel nurses is expected to grow. Modern Healthcare reports that this growth is due to several factors, including the number of aging baby boomers, the shortage of primary care doctors, the increasing need for preventative care and the new requirements of nearly all Americans having health insurance. Rachael Zimlich also reports an increase in travel nurses, pointing to the overall shortage of nurses and the flexibility and quality of care that travel nurses provide to health care facilities.

Requirements for Travel Nurses

Education, Experience and Credentials

Travel nurses are highly qualified professionals whom health care facilities rely on to provide quality care. Nurses looking to pursue these assignments will need to be experienced and have the right education and credentials.

  • Education: As U.S. News & World Report summarizes, “Although you can get an entry-level RN position with an associate degree or a diploma program, the industry standard is fast becoming a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.” Because travel nursing is not an entry-level area within the industry, most travel nurses will need at least a bachelor’s degree, given the growing majority of hospitals that now require the bachelor’s degree for all nurses.
  • Experience: Typically, 18 months of experience are required for travel nurses. Some specialties can call for at least two years of experience.
  • Credentials: Travel nurses often work with their agency to ensure that they are licensed in the state where they are taking an assignment. For relevant specialties, national certifications can provide travel nurses with an edge for desirable assignments.

Assignment Length

An assignment is typically 13 weeks. More generally, assignments can vary from as few as four weeks to as many as 26 or more weeks. Following an assignment, it’s possible to extend a contract or receive an offer for a permanent staff position.

Next Steps

Registered nurses interested in travel nursing can consider professional resources and educational goals that can help prepare them for the career.

Professional Resources

The Professional Association of Nurse Travelers

The Professional Association of Nurse Travelers is a nonprofit organization that supports nurse travelers as well as other health care travelers. Representing and advocating for health care travelers in the United States, it offers professional development, tools and resources for members. The organization is also involved in legislative advocacy that can benefit travel nurses.

A free, basic membership is available, which includes access to most resources and tools. A paid, full membership is also offered for additional benefits and services.

National Association of Travel Healthcare Organizations

NATHO is a nonprofit association of travel health care organizations, which seeks to promote optimal business practices in the industry. It maintains standards for both the member organizations it works with and the travel nurses who take assignments, and NATHO educates the industry on the benefits travel nurses provide.

Educational Goals

Travel nurses are often expected to have higher credentials and experience than an average permanent nurse may have. And due to the emerging standard that all nurses have a bachelor’s degree, nurses looking to enter the travel nursing industry should pursue at least a bachelor’s degree to enhance their marketability. Learn more about Southeastern University’s RN to BSN online program.