The History of Travel Nursing: Then vs. Now

Modern-day travel nurses are essential to any healthcare ecosystem. The career itself is gratifying, with plenty of personal and professional growth opportunities. However, travel nursing only came into existence as an employment option for nurses a few decades ago. 

Travel nursing was not as popular as it is now, and it took a while for travel nurses to be recognized and compensated for their hard work. However, travelers are currently on the rise, working in various healthcare facilities while exploring the world. This now massive industry has undergone multiple transformations over the years, and it’s essential to know how it came to be.

Travel Nurse Pioneers

Florence Nightingale and 37 other volunteer nurses were the first to travel to another country. They went to Turkey to assist wounded English soldiers from the Crimean War. Six and a half years later, a nurse during the Civil War, Clara Barton, traveled from Europe to Washington D.C. to attend to the wounded from both sides.

Although they weren’t our modern version of “travel nurses” staffed by travel nursing agencies and healthcare organizations, these women sparked the idea that nurses could travel to different locations to assist those in need. 

The Beginning of Travel Nursing

The emergence of hiring travel nurses in America can be accredited to New Orleans, Louisiana, in the late 1970s. Due to the high volume of injuries sustained during the 1978 Mardi Gras week, hospitals filled up and overwhelmed the little staff available. Hospitals in New Orleans contracted nurses around the country to provide extra support for a few weeks. After this incident, the idea of travel nursing took off in the 1980s as a temporary solution to a growing national nursing shortage.

Travel nursing positions continued to be widely accepted and available since the end of the 1980s. Short travel nurse assignments became a cost-effective method for healthcare facilities to deal with staff shortages. For some nurses, it offered a lucrative way to hone their skills and acquire experience in the industry—this is still true for travelers today. As technology and the Internet become more accessible, the allure of travel nursing shot through the roof.

Where We Are Now

The digital age has been an essential factor in helping travel nurses expand their horizons. With limitless information online and mobile technology, hospital organizations can quickly find travel nurses and vice versa. Travel nursing agencies rely on this to better promote the nurses to the organizations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably impacted the healthcare industry, with shortages across all medical fields. The need for travel nurses skyrocketed due to a lack of permanent staff in various facilities, the high volume of patients, and burnout and exhaustion. Also, as the population ages and life expectancy increases, there is a need for more chronic and long-term care for older generations. The changing demographics and the widening gap among active healthcare professionals have made the travel nursing industry more essential than ever. 

The Future of Travel Nursing

Although the nation has been through a nursing shortage before, the lingering effects of the pandemic have made it difficult for some industries to make a full comeback. Healthcare facilities face as many shortages as they did in the 1980s when travel nursing positions first opened up on a wide scale. Opportunities for travel nurses are not likely to recede any time soon as interest in the profession continues to rise.

In addition to nurses, healthcare professionals like doctors, dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists, social workers, psychologists, nutritionists, and others could all benefit from traveling abroad for work. The demand for these services will continue to grow as we move forward into recovery mode.

Final Thoughts

The number of registered nurses (RN) who work in home health care has increased steadily since 2000. In 2001, RNs working in this field were outnumbered by those employed in hospitals and long term care centers. By 2014, however, home healthcare jobs had outstripped hospital employment. This trend is expected to continue into the future. As baby boomers age, demand for home health services will increase.

If you’re curious to know if you have what it takes to become a traveler, make sure to think about the six travel nursing qualifications and travel nurse requirements that are a must. This industry has come a long way; only time will tell where it’s headed next! If becoming a travel nurse is on your radar, visit Nurse First Travel to learn more about our agency. We update our job board with available travel nursing jobs across the country. Let’s travel!

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