1. Simon, R. Bryan BSN, RN, CNOR, FAWM
  2. Simon, Debbie A. BSN, RN, CCRN, CNOR, FAWM

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WHY TRAVEL? Travel nursing offers outstanding opportunities to healthcare professionals who desire a challenge, a change of scenery, or a touch of adventure. Experiencing a new region of the United States or a different country is another great draw. Nursing opportunities overseas include those in the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and Australia. Being able to have a flexible work schedule, follow a spouse due to a job transfer, or have a working vacation are all reasons that nurses give for accepting a travel assignment.


Whatever the reason, an assignment is available for those who are qualified and willing to embrace the lifestyle of a travel nurse. This article describes some of the benefits of this position and tips for getting started and being successful.


Fast forward to the future

With the great need for nurses and the growth in demand expected in the future, this unique field of nursing should continue to expand and offer outstanding prospects for those willing to accept a travel assignment. In the depths of the recent recession, many retired or semi-retired nurses returned to the profession or increased their hours, reducing the need for travel (or contract) nurses, but this trend isn't expected to continue.1


Because a limited number of nurses graduate from nursing programs nationwide each year, the need for travel nurses is expected to remain strong in the future to meet the increasing needs of the baby boom generation.2 A recent study also suggests that demand will continue to increase, with the shortage of nurses estimated to be 260,000 by the year 2025.1


Weighing the advantages

The benefits of travel nursing vary by assignment and by travel nursing company. Each company offers unique benefit packages, pay, and programs. Each assignment offers the travel nurse the ability to share knowledge and skills, learn new techniques, use different equipment, and interact with different patients and staff.


Learning new skills and using a variety of equipment makes the traveler a more capable and knowledgeable nurse. A travel nurse may encounter new or different electronic documentation programs, unfamiliar equipment such as I.V. pumps and point-of-care systems, and the latest techniques in patient care. All of these differences present opportunities to broaden your skill set.


Each travel company offers different forms of compensation. Besides hourly pay, many companies offer per diem (an allowance for daily expenses), free housing or housing allowances, travel reimbursement, license fee reimbursement, 401(k) plans, and medical, dental, and liability insurance. Benefits vary by company. A nurse seeking to travel should research each component to find a company that provides the best fit.


Becoming a travel nurse

A web search of "travel nursing" produces an avalanche of information that may seem daunting. Rest assured that many travel companies are ready and willing to find you an assignment. While requirements vary depending on the company and type of nursing, generally a potential travel nurse should have at least 1 year of experience. A successful travel nurse candidate should have experience in his or her field, all of the necessary certifications, and be able to communicate this expertise to hospitals during a phone interview.


Some specialties are more in demand than others, and hospitals' needs are always changing. Although every specialty is needed somewhere, ED, OR, and ICU units routinely have openings throughout the country.


Take the time to research each company through its website. Ask nurses who are on assignment at your facility or who've traveled in the past about their experiences and recommendations. Read travel nurse blogs and articles on travel nursing on the Internet or in print. Based on the information that you gather, create a list of questions about the process of receiving and successfully completing an assignment, the support provided, and the execution of the process.


Be sure to find a company that understands your motivations for becoming a travel nurse, a recruiter who's responsive to your desires, and a support network within the company that can handle any problems that may arise while you're on assignment.


You'll need to pass several hurdles once you've chosen a company. Before accepting an assignment, you'll need to complete applications, skills checklists, and health screenings, and provide peer and supervisor recommendations. Be patient-coordinating and completing these documents takes time and effort, and each hospital has different requirements. While these procedures are time consuming, they help to show potential employers that you're a knowledgeable and professional nurse.


If your permanent residence is in a "compact state," you'll immediately be eligible to work as a nurse in the 24 states that are a part of the Nurse Licensure Compact.3 (See Will your license travel?) If not, you'll need to obtain licensure in the state where you're assigned. A good company representative will guide you through this process and make completing these requirements as close to painless as possible.

Box. Will your licen... - Click to enlarge in new windowBox. Will your license travel?

Meeting the challenges

Becoming a successful travel nurse is challenging, but it's in the hospital's best interest to get a new nurse onboard quickly to help meet patient and staffing needs. During the usual 13-week assignment, you'll need to adjust to varying workplace cultures, protocols, management structures and styles, and organizations. Even details such as locating linen and finding the cafeteria may seem daunting. To help you adjust, the facility will conduct a thorough orientation and ensure that you understand the who, what, when, where, and how of its operations.


Five strategies for success

As a confident, competent, and open-minded travel nurse, you can easily overcome challenges. Being personable, working hard, and showing dedication to your patients solves most difficulties that you may face as a travel nurse. As Kim Leung, an RN in San Francisco, so aptly stated, "The traveler that comes into this facility with the attitude of 'I'm only here for a short period, but I would like to contribute as much as I can to improve this unit' is greatly appreciated." She continues, "As a team, I think we work off one another's energy and attitude, so when a traveler comes into a room and exudes confidence, the whole team feels it. That impacts the setting."4 Below are five strategies for success that will help make the transition to any new facility easier.


1. Hard work. A strong work ethic is the number one criterion for success. Show that you care by taking on tasks that need to be done even if they aren't assigned to you. You'll endear yourself to patients, coworkers, and managers alike.


2. Flexibility. Adapting to change is difficult, especially in an unfamiliar workplace. But as a travel nurse, you may have to float to another unit, take a new patient assignment, or go home early. Being able to adapt to the unexpected will help you adjust quickly.


3. Positive frame of mind. Smile! Fellow nurses will notice and appreciate your enthusiasm and desire to do what-ever needs to be done for your patients. Having a positive attitude for even the mundane tasks will help other staff accept you as a member of the team. Attending to details, such as keeping your work area clean and helping housekeeping staff prepare a room, will put you on the winning track!


4. Competence. As a traveler, you must be an expert in your specialty to provide quality patient care and be a reliable team member who other staff can count on in a crisis. Be prepared to discuss your abilities, education, experience, and certifications when interviewing with a potential employer.


5. Desire to learn. "How do WE do it HERE?" This question is the key to becoming a valued team member because it has the correct focus on teamwork, facility policy, and procedures. Be open to learning new methods of completing a task and be willing to share your experience.5



Happy trails

Although travel nursing can be tough, it's also very rewarding. It opens opportunities to live in new areas, take care of patients from all walks of life, and overcome a myriad of unique challenges. Good luck, and enjoy!




1. Buerhaus PI, Auerbach DI, Staiger DO. The recent surge in nurse employment. Health Affairs. 2009;28(4):657-668. [Context Link]


2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Joint Statement from the Tri-Council for Nursing on Recent Registered Nurse Supply and Demand Projections. [Context Link]


3. Nurse Licensure Compact Administrators. Nurse Licensure Compact States. Updated 2010. [Context Link]


4. Leung K. Personal interview. 17 March 2011. [Context Link]


5. Simon RB, Simon DA. It all started on Kilimanjaro: our lives as travel nurses. Nursing. 2010;40(12):44-47. [Context Link]