1. Woods, Anne RN, CRNP, APRN,BC, MSN


Personal and professional growth-not to mention a chance to explore the country-await nurses who decide to give travel nursing a try.


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Maybe you've always had a secret yearning to see the country, to take off in search of adventure, wherever it might lead you. Maybe you've always stifled that urge because you thought you were tied down by your job.


Maybe not anymore.


Now is the perfect time to reconsider, reconnect with your dreams, and realize that as a travel nurse, you could have both: the adventure of travel and the career rewards of nursing.


With the nursing shortage deepening, health care facilities nationwide are scrambling to fill vacancies. Many are turning to travel nursing companies for help-and that could make you a hot property.


You know what you have to offer in travel nursing; maybe you're wondering what travel nursing has to offer you. Here are just a few reasons to consider becoming a travel nurse.


1 Expand your skills and knowledge base.

Travel nursing "makes nurses better nurses," says Brian Hekman, former director of corporate communications for Cross Country TravCorps. No matter where you work, he says, you'll be exposed to different ways of looking at nursing practice and you'll acquire new skills and knowledge that will put some muscle into your curriculum vitae. That'll help to make you an attractive candidate for prospective employers if you eventually decide to put down more permanent roots again.


As a travel nurse, you'll have access to various assignments around the country, from small rural hospitals with only a few beds, where you'll be a jack-of-all-trades, to large urban teaching centers, where you can specialize in the nursing area of your choice. Each experience would help you grow as a nurse: At one hospital, for example, you could learn the latest technique in negative-pressure wound therapy; at another, you could mentor staff nurses who are unfamiliar with this technique.


2 Take control of your career.

Feel as if you're stagnating in your present position? Tired of the hospital politics? Travel nursing may be the perfect opportunity for you to get a needed change of scenery, literally. You're in the driver's seat as a travel nurse: You have the freedom to decide what you want your next assignment to be.


Hekman encourages nurses to "shop around for the atmosphere that you want." Perhaps you'd like to gain experience working with sophisticated, high-tech monitoring equipment or exposure to advanced, cutting-edge procedures your current position can't offer. Or maybe you're attracted to the slower pace and greater patient contact that a smaller hospital could offer. Working with your recruiter-possibly the most important relationship you can develop as a travel nurse-you can tailor your assignments to meet your professional goals and personal preferences.


You can even use travel nursing as your chance to try a different practice setting. If you've always been a hospital-based nurse, for example, you could ask your recruiter to look for an assignment in an ambulatory care center, a skilled-nursing facility, or even a managed-care organization. The flexibility, Hekman says, is "liberating."


3 Benefit financially.

Pay scales for travel nurses are comparable to-and in most cases, even better than-staff nursing positions. Plus, as a travel nurse, you have the opportunity to earn bonuses for completing your assignments, for recruiting other travelers, and so on, depending on which travel nursing company you sign with. One hospital in California, for example, was willing to offer a hefty bonus for travel nurses who would work over the Christmas holidays.


Benefits are attractive too. Medical and dental insurance coverage are pretty much a given. From there, the benefits vary by travel nursing company and may include 401(k) and matching contributions, free housing, travel reimbursement or a travel allowance, various types of insurance (such as life, disability, and professional liability), free or low-cost continuing-education courses, and licensure reimbursement, among others.


4 See the country.

When you think of travel nursing, you probably focus on the "travel" part first. That's understandable. Getting to see parts of the country that you've always dreamed of seeing-and having someone else pay your way-is undeniably an attractive perk of being a travel nurse. It's one of the main reasons that many nurses consider hitting the road.


Besides the lure of sightseeing, travel nursing also offers you the chance to chase the seasons. Hate the cold? Escape the snow and ice with an assignment in Arizona or Florida. Love to ski? An assignment in Colorado, Utah, Vermont, or Wyoming is the way to go to indulge your hobby. Can't live without seeing the changing fall foliage and feeling a snap in the air? Autumn in New England is the place for you. Long to stroll on the beach and hear the roar of the ocean on a warm summer night? Southern California is beckoning. Dare you even dream of Hawaii at any time of the year? Assignments are tough to get, but it never hurts to ask.


Finally, since September 11, there's a new appreciation for our country. Maybe becoming a travel nurse is your opportunity to see more of it than you could before.


5 Broaden your children's horizons.

Have children? Not a problem: Recruiters are willing to accommodate just about any situation, including finding housing suitable for travelers with children. As a result, many travel nurses take their children-and their spouse-with them on the road. The experience can be invaluable for the children, helping to expand their viewpoint. They have the chance to explore the country in more depth than they could on a typical family vacation, plus they can interact with people from different cultures, something they might not get to do in their own hometown.


Don't want to move your children around during the school year? You can still be a travel nurse. You could request an assignment with an easy commute-say, in the next county or in a bordering state. Then in the summer, when the children are out of school, you can take to the open road.


The travel nursing challenge

There's no question that travel nursing will test your mettle and help you grow, both personally and professionally. With just a few days' orientation at each assignment, you'll draw on the confidence you have in your nursing skills and adapt quickly and efficiently to new situations in your new environment. You'll challenge your perceptions and open yourself to new experiences.


And along the way, you'll make memories that you'd never have if you'd stayed at home.


Anne Woods is the clinical director of journals at Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Ambler, Pa.; and a nurse practitioner at The Wellness Center, Chandler Hall in Newtown, Pa.