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Travel Nurse Career Guide

What is a travel nurse?

Travel nurses are like superheroes. They swoop into hospitals that need extra help, staying for a few weeks or months. They’re important because they help balance the number of patients with the number of nurses, which is really good for patient care. These nurses get to work in different places and learn loads of new things, making them super valuable in the healthcare world.

Duties and responsibilities

Imagine a travel nurse as a nurse on the go. Just like other nurses, they look after patients, give treatments, and teach patients and families about staying healthy. The cool part? They’re quick learners. They adapt to new hospitals and rules faster than most, which is a superpower in itself. And they must know the nursing rules for each state they work in.

Work environment

Travel nurses can end up working almost anywhere: big city hospitals, small town clinics, even on cruise ships or mountain resorts. Their job is always changing, which can be exciting but also challenging.

Typical work hours

The life of a travel nurse is pretty flexible. They agree to work a certain number of hours each week, but those hours can change a lot when they work. They could work in the day, evening, or night. Sometimes, they work weekends or holidays, or they might be on call. Since they’re always moving, there might be breaks between jobs.

How to become a travel nurse

Thinking about becoming a travel nurse? It’s like embarking on an adventure where you get to help people and see new places. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

Step 1: Finish high school

First things first, you need to graduate high school or get a GED. This is your ticket to entering a nursing program later on.

Step 2: Get your nursing degree

Next up, head to college for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which usually takes about four years. You’ll learn all the nurse-y things like taking care of patients, understanding diseases, and how different medications work.

Step 3: Pass the big test

After college, it’s time for the NCLEX-RN exam. Passing this test proves you’ve got the smarts and skills to be a real nurse.

Step 4: Gain some real-world experience

Before you start traveling, you need some experience. Work as a registered nurse (RN) for a bit – at least a year. This is when you’ll really sharpen your skills and figure out what you like best in nursing.

Step 5: Get extra certifications (optional, but cool)

Want to stand out? Get some special certifications, like in trauma care or pediatric nursing. These can open doors to more travel nursing gigs.

Step 6: Join a travel nursing agency

Now for the fun part! Join a travel nursing agency. They’ll help you find jobs all over the place and sort out things like where you’ll live and how you’ll get there.

Step 7: Keep your license updated

Travel nurses work in different states, so you’ll need a nursing license that works wherever you go. Some states have a special agreement (the Nurse Licensure Compact) that makes this easier.

How much do travel nurses make?

Travel nurse salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Their ability to handle varying patient cases, adaptability to new healthcare settings, and willingness to relocate frequently can also impact their compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Travel Nurse Staffing Agencies: $104,400
  • Hospitals: $102,800
  • Outpatient Care Centers: $100,500
  • Home Healthcare Services: $98,200
  • Nursing Care Facilities: $96,500

Highest paying states

  • California: $110,620
  • Hawaii: $103,680
  • New Jersey: $101,620
  • Massachusetts: $99,500
  • Oregon: $98,680

Browse travel nurse salary data by market

Types of travel nurses

Travel nursing isn’t just one job – it’s many! You can choose from different types of travel nursing jobs depending on what you like and where your skills are. Each one has its own unique responsibilities and challenges. Let’s check them out:

  • Emergency room traveler: These nurses are the action heroes of the hospital. They work in emergency rooms and handle super urgent medical cases. 
  • Intensive care unit traveler: These nurses are like the special agents of nursing. They work in intensive care units (ICUs) and take care of critically ill patients. 
  • Labor and delivery traveler: Think of these nurses as the welcoming committee for new babies. They help women during childbirth, making sure both mom and baby are safe and healthy. 
  • Oncology traveler: Oncology nurses specialize in caring for cancer patients. They do important stuff like giving chemotherapy, helping manage side effects, and offering much-needed emotional support.
  • Pediatric traveler: These nurses are all about kids – from tiny babies to teenagers. They have to be really good at making young patients feel comfortable and safe. 

Top skills for travel nurses

To rock the travel nurse lifestyle, you need to have a few key skills. It’s not just about being a great nurse but also about being able to handle the unique challenges of the job. Here’s what you need to succeed:

  • Nursing and healthcare knowledge: Obviously, you’ve got to know your nursing stuff inside and out. This knowledge isn’t just for show – it’s what helps you provide top-notch care to your patients, no matter where you are.
  • Adaptability and flexibility: If there’s one thing a travel nurse must be, it’s adaptable. Being able to quickly adjust to new teams, different processes, and unfamiliar environments, all while keeping your care quality high, is essential.
  • Stress management and resilience: Let’s be real: being a travel nurse can be stressful. It’s super important to be able to manage that stress and bounce back from tough situations.
  • Exceptional communication: Travel nurses need to be communication ninjas. It’s all about making sure everyone is on the same page and feels comfortable.

Travel nurse career path options

A career in travel nursing is like a choose-your-own-adventure book. It’s full of opportunities to learn, grow, and take on new challenges. Here are some cool paths you can explore as you advance in your travel nursing career:

Step up as a charge nurse

Think of a charge nurse as the team captain. They manage a unit or department. This job is great for gaining leadership skills and learning how to run a healthcare team.

Become a nurse educator

Love sharing knowledge? As a nurse educator, you can teach future nurses all the cool stuff you’ve learned on your travels. You could focus on travel nursing specifics or general nursing practices. It’s a great way to shape the next generation of nurses.

Specialize and shine

Travel nurses can specialize in areas like intensive care, pediatric nursing, oncology, or geriatrics. Specializing means you’ll need some extra knowledge and skills, but it also often comes with higher pay. Plus, you get to make a big impact in specific areas of healthcare.

Aim for advanced nursing roles

Thinking about taking your nursing career to the next level? Becoming a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist could be your thing. These roles typically need a master’s degree but offer more independence in patient care and the potential for a better salary.

Lead in nursing administration

If you’ve got loads of experience and know your way around healthcare policies and management, you could aim for roles like director of nursing or even chief nursing officer. These big-shot positions involve overseeing nursing operations in healthcare facilities or entire organizations.

Travel nursing is riding a wave of high demand in the healthcare sector. Here’s a look at why it’s becoming more popular and what the future might hold:

  • Filling staff shortages: Many healthcare facilities, especially in certain regions, are short on staff. These nurses are the go-to solution for this. 
  • Learning from different places: As a travel nurse, you get to work in various healthcare settings. This means you can pick up different skills and knowledge, making you even more awesome at your job.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for registered nurses is expected to grow by 6% through 2032. That’s quicker than most other jobs out there! Why this increase? Well, there’s more focus on preventing health problems, chronic conditions (like diabetes or heart disease) are on the rise, and an aging population means more people needing healthcare.

Travel nurse career tips

Stay adaptable

  • Be ready for change: You’ll hop between different hospitals and clinics. Each place has its own culture and way of doing things. Embrace these changes and adapt quickly.
  • Flex your social skills: You’ll meet diverse groups of patients and healthcare teams. Being able to connect and work well with a variety of people is super important.

Build a professional network

  • Make connections: Chat with other travel and permanent nurses, doctors, and administrative staff. These connections can teach you new things and may even lead to future job opportunities.
  • Join professional groups: Look into joining organizations like the American Nurses Association or the International Association of Travel Nurses. They’re great for staying in the loop and finding support.
  • Attend events: Conferences and online forums are perfect for keeping up with nursing trends and challenges.

Dedicate yourself to continuous learning

  • Stay updated: Medicine and healthcare are always evolving. Keep learning to stay at the top of your game. 
  • Consider special certifications: Think about getting certifications like the Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse or Critical Care Registered Nurse certifications. They can make you stand out and open up more opportunities.
  • Engage in education: Regularly check out seminars, webinars, and online courses on the latest in patient care and nursing techniques.

Manage your finances diligently

  • Plan your budget: Travel nursing can be financially rewarding, with perks like travel allowances. But it’s crucial to manage this money smartly.
  • Seek expert advice: A financial advisor who knows the ins and outs of travel professionals’ finances can be a huge help. They can guide you in budgeting and saving effectively.

Where the travel nurse jobs are

Top employers

  • American Traveler
  • Aya Healthcare
  • Cross Country Nurses
  • Medical Solutions
  • FASTAFF Travel Nursing

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Colorado

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • TravelNursing.org
  • NurseFly
  • NurseRecruiter
  • Nurse.com


What are the typical assignments of a travel nurse?

They typically accepts assignments in various locations across the country or globally, providing healthcare services in areas where they are most needed. Depending on the healthcare facility’s needs, these assignments can last for different durations, commonly ranging from 8 to 26 weeks.

Are there any specific qualifications for becoming a travel nurse?

Yes. In general, they must hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited nursing program. In addition to a degree, they must pass the NCLEX to obtain a nursing license. Some healthcare facilities also require specialty certifications and a certain number of years of clinical experience.

What are the benefits of being a travel nurse?

One of the main advantages is the opportunity to explore different parts of the country or the world while gaining diverse work experience. These nurses often receive competitive pay, housing stipends, and coverage for travel expenses. They generally have flexibility in their schedule and can choose when and where they wish to take assignments.

Is work-life balance achievable as a travel nurse?

Work-life balance can be achievable, but it largely depends on personal management and the specifics of the assignment. They often work long hours but usually have several days off between shifts, providing time for rest, relaxation, or exploring their current location. The ability to select assignments also enables them to take breaks between jobs, offering periods for personal commitments or vacations.

How do travel nurses find assignments?

They often find assignments through travel nursing staffing agencies. These agencies work with healthcare facilities around the country and even overseas to locate available positions. The agencies assist them in finding assignments that suit their preferences in terms of location, facility type, and duration. Some nurses also find assignments by networking or directly applying to healthcare facilities.

What are some challenges travel nurses might face?

Though rewarding, travel nursing presents certain challenges. Constant travel and adaptation to different environments and workplaces can be demanding. They typically need to quickly assimilate into new teams and healthcare systems, understanding their specific policies and procedures quickly. Dealing with different patient care methods and standards across facilities can also pose a challenge. These nurses might encounter feelings of isolation or homesickness due to being away from familiar surroundings and loved ones.

Can a travel nurse specialize in a specific area of nursing?

Yes. Just like other nurses, they can obtain further education and certification in specialties such as critical care, pediatrics, oncology, or geriatrics, among others. Having a specialty expands the number and variety of assignments a travel nurse might be eligible for and can potentially boost their income as well.

What happens when a travel nurse assignment ends?

They can choose to extend their assignment at the current location if that option is available and of interest. They can also choose to take up a new assignment through the same or a different staffing agency. If they want to take a break, they can do that too. The flexibility is one of the appealing aspects of a travel nursing career.

Is job stability a concern for a travel nurse?

While travel nursing doesn’t offer the same job stability as a permanent position due to its temporary nature, finding consistent work isn’t typically a problem due to the high demand for nursing professionals. Staffing agencies can often line up the next assignment before the current one ends, minimizing employment gaps. Additionally, performing well on assignments can often lead to extension offers or repeat assignments at the same facility, further adding to job stability.