From a Staff Nurse to Travel Nurse: Everything You Need to Know to Expand Your Career

Travel nursing has been an in-demand career for years now, but the pandemic pushed demand for travel nurses to an all-time high. 

If you’re considering making the move to travel nursing, you’re bound to have certain questions. How does travel nursing work? How do I find a travel nurse position? How much is a typical travel nurse salary? What are the benefits? What are the risks? 

Below, we’ll give you our guide to everything you need to know about travel nursing, so you can make the best-informed choice about whether to pursue this high-demand field. 

How does travel nursing work? 

For those new to the concept of travel nursing, it’s generally based on 13-week contracts with hospitals, where travel nurses are employed to help fill staffing shortages. 

This is one reason that the pandemic has caused so much need for travel nurses, and healthcare staff in general: hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, while also suffering from staff who got sick with COVID and had to be out of work, sometimes for months. 

Travel nurses can travel to hospitals that use travel nurses across the country, working in their specialty. If a nurse has experience in other high-demand specialties—like ICU or OR, currently—in addition to his or her primary one, that can help expand the number of opportunities available to them. 

One frequent question that those new to travel nursing have is how to find short-term housing in the cities they travel to. 

Because this is obviously a critical part of travel nursing, travel nursing contracts will typically include a housing stipend. Many travel nursing agencies and healthcare recruitment agencies also support their travel nurses in locating housing for their contracts. 

How do I find a travel nursing position? 

Travel nurse positions are typically listed on healthcare recruitment sites, travel nurse job boards, and with specialized travel nursing agencies. 

One reason that many nurses choose to work with specialized agencies, like Nurse First, is that these agencies know all the ins and outs of travel nursing, and we don’t leave our clients hanging once the contract is signed. For instance, this is a list of the benefits we offer nurses who work with us:

  • Day 1 health insurance options
  • 100% License and certification reimbursements for required licenses and certifications (as well as assistance obtaining them)
  • 24/7 access to a Nurse First Travel Agency representative
  • Traveler Advocates who are not paid on commission 
  • Access to nationally accredited CEUs
  • Assistance finding housing
  • A leadership team who speaks with every travel nurse we work with

Because there are lots of moving parts with a travel nurse contract, from training to housing, to travel, it’s a good idea to work with a travel staffing agency that knows this field well, especially if you’re just starting out in travel nursing. 

How much is a typical travel nurse salary?

Travel nurses get paid based on their contract, so pay rates will vary depending on everything from the area of specialty, to the hospital’s needs, to the geographical location. 

However, generally travel nurses can expect to make a higher average salary than traditional RNs. This is largely due to the additional demands on travel nurses that are required—travel every few months, leaving friends and family, getting acclimated to a new team and new job setting regularly, etc. 

You can get a good idea of weekly pay rates by browsing our job board. For a larger view, consider that the median pay for an RN was about $73,000 in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Travel nurses typically make at least $10,000 per year more, and sometimes significantly more, depending on where they’re working and the state of demand in that location or hospital. 

What are the benefits and risks of travel nursing? 

As with any career, there are both pros and cons. 

For travel nursing, benefits include:

  • Higher pay
  • The opportunity to work in multiple different places in a single year
  • Frequent travel
  • Additional stipends for housing, meals, travel, and more, depending on the contract
  • The opportunity to work with different people in different settings, and potentially in different specialties
  • High demand, which means plenty of job opportunities

Risks include: 

  • Potential stress from acclimating to a new position and colleagues every few months
  • Stress from finding housing and getting used to a new city each contract (travel nurse agencies can be a big help here)
  • Not liking a specific contract (although they’re temporary, which is helpful)
  • Lack of significant job security; although there are thousands of job openings across the country at any given time, each contract is only for a finite amount of time and the travel nurse’s ability to not only fulfill their contract but also potentially continue working at the facility in the form of an extension is largely based on the hospital’s patient census that could drastically fluctuate from month to month

Travel nursing is not the job for everyone. However, for those who are looking to expand their careers, try something new, and see more of the country while helping hospitals provide excellent patient care, travel nursing can be an excellent fit. 

If you’re interested in getting started, get in touch with us today or check out our job board for available travel nurse jobs!

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