Whenever there’s a staffing need in a hospital or healthcare facility, travel nurses are there to fill the gaps. There are a number of reasons for staffing gaps including seasonal population fluctuations, expected leave of absences (ex: maternity leave), and a lack of experienced nurses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 the U.S. will face a shortage of nurses of approximately 1.1 million. It’s during these times that travel nurses are needed.
Travel nurses are registered nurses who are assigned to various healthcare areas and facilities based on employee-shortage. Essentially, they go where they’re needed. Travel nurses are not all the same – they come from various clinical backgrounds, which helps fill in the different number of needs that a facility has to take care of. They work for independent staffing agencies and work on a temporary basis.
Travel nursing became a specialty when the country had an extreme need for nurses. Healthcare facilities of all kinds (hospitals, clinics, etc.) had an increase in patients but many unfilled nursing positions. In order to appeal to prospective nurses, healthcare facilities started offering several incentives such as covering the cost of relocation, the cost of housing, and a higher salary.
Because the country (and the world at large) often face these shortages, healthcare facilities look to travel nurses to fill in the gaps. Travel nurses can work and relocate to anywhere in the country. However, their role is not limited to their country; they also have the opportunity to work internationally as well. The prospect of travel, along with higher pay than regular nursing, is attractive to many registered nurses (RNs) looking for a career path.
Travel nurses are an essential component of our healthcare system worldwide. Many places have passed laws establishing mandatory nurse to patient ratios. Due to these practices, there has been an increase in patient safety and lower mortality rates for patients. However, as great as these outcomes are, there just aren’t enough nurses to fill in those mandatory roles – which is where travel nurses come in.
Travel nurses essentially bridge the gap between supply and demand when it comes to nursing needs. Thanks to travel nurses, patients can receive the care they need in an efficient manner. They have various clinical backgrounds, educational backgrounds, care backgrounds, and geographical backgrounds. All of these components are beneficial for both patients and nurses alike.
Registered nurses who want to take on the role of travel nurse need to have a number of characteristics if they want to excel in their role. Travel nurses must love learning new things, enjoy flexibility, enjoy experiencing new places, thrive under challenges, and enjoy freedom.
As a travel nurse, you will experience different practices and different levels of technology wherever you go. You must be able to build on your experiences and learn from them on a constant basis. You will experience new workflows and new organizational systems all the time and you must be able to adapt. Travel nurses will choose their own schedules, benefits package, and income depending on the agency they end up working for. As a travel nurse, you can choose when and where you work and for how long.
Travel nurses create new relationships wherever they go, but they should also have a strong, supportive family relationship. As a travel nurse, you will be on the go, packing and moving often. Leaving friends and family behind or moving them across the country is tough, so having a supportive family will go a long way.
In order to become a travel nurse, you must first graduate from either a two-year nursing program or a four-year nursing program. The minimum requirement is an ADN (associate degree in nursing), but it might be a good idea to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program as well. Depending on the healthcare facility, they might only hire BSN-prepared nurses. However, if you only have an ADN, you just have to make sure the staffing agency that employs you matches you up with a facility that will accept your educational background.
In order to be licensed, you must complete an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
Most agencies require their travel nurses to have at least one year of hands-on experience in whatever specialty you chose in nursing. Some agencies will also only hire nurses who have completed BSN programs in order to meet the demands of the healthcare community. If you plan on being an international travel nurse, you must speak the language of the country you plan to travel to. Communication is key when it comes to effective healthcare practices. If interested in the travel nurse role, look into the different agencies and figure out if they meet your needs.
As far as certifications and credentials go, there are no additional exams required for travel nurses (simply the NCLEX-RN). Depending on your specialization, you may need to complete certification. For example, you must complete Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support certification if you decide to specialize in medical or surgical nursing, intensive care nursing, women’s health/labor and delivery nursing, or emergency room nursing. Those specializations may require additional certification such as stroke care, telemetry, pediatric advanced life support, critical care nursing, neonatal resuscitation program, and trauma nurse core certification.
If you want to become an international travel nurse, you may need to complete some additional requirements. You will have to get additional immunizations, learn about diseases that are unique to the area you’re traveling to, acquire a passport and a work visa (which can usually be handled by the agency you work for), and learn a new language if you don’t know it or brush up on it.
While travel nurses will generally have a broad range of duties and responsibilities, the specific tasks you’re assigned will depend on what specialization you’re trained in. Some of the general duties and responsibilities you can expect as a travel nurse are learning different patient care systems and how documenting their history works, educating patients and their families in all areas of maintenance and prevention regarding their health, as well as recognizing and intervening clinically unstable patients.
Travel nurses collaborate with physicians to develop a plan of care for their patients. They review and interpret lab work, imaging, and other types of diagnostic tests. They care for patients in a variety of settings by assessing, diagnosing, planning, implementing, and evaluating the patient and the situation. Travel nurses generally work eight to thirteen weeks at a healthcare facility if inside the country. International nurses usually spend one to two years outside the country.
When there’s a war or natural disaster, travel nurses must be ready to provide immediate medical care for large populations. They provide resources to patients as needed and assess the psychological needs of the patient and their families to provide the best possible care. They monitor and oversee all aspects of patient care. They assist patients with mobility and daily living as well as administer the necessary medications and fluids.
While there are general roles that any travel nurse should be ready for, there are also duties that are specific to domestic and international travel nurses. Domestic travel nurses work within the country, spend eight to thirteen weeks at their assigned location (on average), and can respond and assist areas in the country that are experiencing the effects of a natural disaster or a disease outbreak.
International travel nurses are responsible for a number of duties. They should have a strong desire to learn, excellent communication skills, and be open to new experiences and challenges. The specialty that a travel nurse is experienced in will determine the type of tasks they’re assigned. In general, international travel nurses can expect to provide emergency medical services, care for wounds, and administer medication to their patients. They’ll often be in areas where there are shortages of registered nurses. This being the case, one of the responsibilities of an international travel nurse is to educate the patient and their family regarding the appropriate medical care.
To summarize, international travel nurses must work outside the country, wait for the proper documents to be processed before traveling, respond to areas where a natural disaster or disease outbreak hit (ex: the Ebola outbreak in West Africa), be ready to work for one to two years outside the country, and provide the necessary medical care to underserved, rural, and remote populations worldwide.
Just like with any career, there are ups and downs to being a travel nurse. For example, traveling nurses may feel stressed and isolated. This is usually the result of a heavy patient load, multiple critical decisions to make, and having to relocate often as part of the job. Being independent and having a strong support system can help bring some relief.
Travel nurses have to be familiar with the surrounding area they’ll be working in as well as be aware of the safety standards set by the organization they’re working for. They may find themselves in high-risk areas where they may experience chemicals, bloodborne pathogens, and workplace violence.
International travel nurses may experience all of these issues and more. They must acquaint themselves with the country’s laws and any geographic-specific diseases in order to keep themselves safe. A nurse’s overall health and safety should be a priority.
Besides all of the hardships, there are many great aspects to being a traveling nurse. Travel nurses often go to facilities where the nursing department is understaffed. By going to these places, travel nurses help relieve the regular staff from burning out. International travel nurses often help patients and healthcare facilities who are in desperate need. Patients who would otherwise receive no medical treatment are grateful for travel nurses who give them the care they need. International travel nurses also help with relief efforts in disaster areas and war zones, which can be fulfilling and bring a sense of purpose.
As of 2015, according to the American Nurses Association, there were fourteen states in the U.S. with mandatory nurse-patient ratios. Due to the increased pushed in supporting safe staffing ratios by both the community and nurses, it looks like the demand for nurses will keep going up. Travel nurses play a very important role in filling in the gaps as more nurses are in demand but not enough to fill the jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a projected 16% overall growth in nursing until 2024. This rate of growth is much faster than those experienced by most occupations.
Some of the great aspects of being a traveling nurse include competitive pay, choice of workplace location, retirement plans, bonuses, travel reimbursement, higher-than-average pay for RNs, choice of hours worked, assistance in obtaining work visas and passports, coverage for medical, dental, and vision needs, and free housing. Travel nurses can expect to earn an average of $75,109 a year, according to indeed.com. Some travel nurses can expect to earn more, even around $100,000 a year, since pay is competitive in this particular field.
While international travel nurses can enjoy the experience of living abroad, they can also expect to earn less than their domestic counterparts. This is due to nurses abroad making less than nurses in the U.S., with assignments in some middle eastern countries being the exception. A travel nurse’s salary depends on the agency they work for, so we strongly encourage you to research several travel nursing agencies until you find the one that fits your financial goals and provides the benefits you’re looking for.
Operating Room (OR) Travel Nurse: Operating room travel nurses, also known as perioperative nurses, play an important role when it comes to taking care of a patient during surgery. They make sure the patient is taken care of before, during, and after a surgical procedure.
Emergency Room (ER) Travel Nurse: As you may know, the emergency room doesn’t turn anyone away – which is why ER travel nurses are in high demand. They serve as the first responders for people coming in through the emergency room.
Intensive Care Unit Travel Nurse (ICU Travel Nurse): If you are an ICU travel nurse, you will handle complex patient assessments and therapies. Patients in the ICU have acute illnesses that are life-threatening and ICU travel nurses are there to treat them.
Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit Travel Nurse (CICU Travel Nurse): CICU travel nurses have a similar role as their ICU counterparts. The main difference is that their job is to solely focus on patients who have just undergone open-heart surgery. CICU nurses are in high demand.
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Travel Nurse (NICU Travel Nurse): There are millions of babies born each day, and that’s where NICU travel nurses come in. They take special care of babies who are born under critical conditions and need to be looked after.
Any tips on maintaining a healthy diet as a travel nurse?
It’s hard to maintain a healthy diet when you’re always on the move, which is why you have to be prepared. Have a plan, stick to a routine, find a fitness buddy, drink lots of water, and take time for yourself. If you do all this, you can definitely maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, even as a traveling nurse.
What would I do as a Cruise Ship nurse?
You would take care of passengers on a one-on-one basis as well as take of anyone from your crew if they fall ill. If life in the sea calls to you, then this just might be what you’re looking for.
Can travel nurses get a tax-free housing stipend?
It usually depends on the employer. For more details on it, NATHO provides some great resources relating to taxes and being a travel nurse. Click here to find out more.
Is my nursing license valid when I travel and work in other states?
It depends on the state. Some states have signed the Nurse Licensure Compact, which recognizes nursing licenses from other states. Other states offer temporary licenses for traveling nurses. To find out which states are in the compact, click here.
Are all my expenses paid as a traveling nurse?
Agencies generally pay for a number of expenses, including, moving expenses, accommodations, living expenses, and transportation. However, what is and what is not covered depends entirely on the agency you work for. Research different traveling nurse agencies and make sure they offer the benefits you’re looking for.
The following organizations and agencies offer a number of resources for people wanting to enter or currently working in the travel nursing field. They each offer unique help, so click on each one to see how they can help your career move forward.
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