What Is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurse in front of subway

A travel nurse is someone who takes temporary nursing assignments at healthcare facilities in various locations, traveling wherever there is a need. Many nurses are attracted to this kind of work because they enjoy meeting new people and exploring new places. Travel nursing also typically offers greater flexibility than other nursing roles. If you are thinking of going into nursing and you love to travel, here's how to decide whether becoming a travel nurse is right for you and, if so, what your next steps are.

What Is Involved in Travel Nursing?

A travel nurse can choose from available assignments based on his or her interests and qualifications. Assignments vary in length. The average is 13 weeks, although an assignment may be as short as eight weeks or as long as 26 weeks.* There may be an opportunity to renew the contract toward the end of the term if the nurse wishes to stay on longer.

Travel nurses work virtually anywhere they wish where there is a need for temporary nursing staff. This can range from major cities like Los Angeles and New York City to remote rural areas like Ninilchik, Alaska. Since these nursing professionals are in one area for weeks at a time, they have a chance to explore the region more thoroughly than a typical vacation would allow.

How Would I Find Nursing Assignments?

Travel nursing professionals work through travel nursing agencies. There are several hundred such agencies in the United States. Many of them hold Joint Commission certification. If you wish to work for a Magnet hospital or a major academic teaching hospital, it is best to choose a certified agency.

Once you are signed on with an agency, the agency staff works with you to help you find an assignment that fits your qualifications and preferences. Expect an application process for each assignment, including a remote interview. As you prepare for your interview, bear in mind that you are interviewing the healthcare facility staff just as much as they are interviewing you. In other words, you should ask specific questions designed to help you determine whether the assignment would be a good fit for you. You may wish to ask about the ratio of patients to staff, for example, or whether there will be mandatory overtime.

Will I Have to Find Housing?

It is customary for travel nursing agencies to offer housing options close to healthcare facilities. These are typically one-bedroom apartments that you may choose to rent. If you opt to find your own housing, you can expect to receive a housing stipend. If you rent a place that costs less than the housing stipend, you can bank the difference.

How Does a Travel Nursing Career Affect Taxes?

Many travel nurses maintain a full-time residence. They live there whenever they are not working on a contract elsewhere. This is not strictly necessary, however. If you would rather jump right into the next assignment as soon as the current one ends, the IRS will classify you as an itinerant worker. You will not have the expenses of maintaining a full-time residence. However, as an itinerant worker, your housing stipends, meal allotments and any other “extras” are considered taxable income.

Who Is Qualified to Be a Travel Nurse?

Any qualified registered nurse can become a travel nurse. There is no specific travel nursing degree you are required to earn. Rather, you should be a licensed registered nurse, ideally with at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. A nursing degree is required when you apply for a position as a travel nurse.

There is a demand for registered nurses with all types of specializations, including NICU, ER and orthopedic nurses. Note that travel nursing agencies typically require their nurses to hold basic certifications, such as the Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and the Basic Life Support (BLS) certification. If you are a specialist, such as a critical care nurse, then you are also expected to hold an appropriate certification and have completed the nursing education for your specialty.

It is easier than ever to become a travel nurse, thanks to the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) initiative. The NLC is comprised of states that have passed legislation recognizing the licenses of nurses who obtained their original licensure in other member states. For example, if you are licensed in Arizona—an NLC state—you can also practice in any other NLC member state. If you wish to take an assignment from a non-NLC state, you will need to obtain appropriate state licensure first.

What Are the Benefits of Being a Travel Nurse?

Being a travel nurse offers unique advantages. Arguably, the top perk of travel nursing is the opportunity to explore new places. Although you can take a vacation anywhere you wish, most vacations typically last for only a week or less. Since a travel nursing assignment is much longer, you have time to see more sights and engage in more activities when you are not working. Furthermore, travel nurses may enjoy the immersion in a different regional culture.

Beyond the opportunity to travel, this job path offers perks for one’s career. Travel nurses are in a position to learn from many different colleagues. They can work with varied patient populations and explore the differences in procedures from one hospital to the next.

Lastly, this career offers a high level of flexibility. A travel nurse does not have to accept a contract that does not appeal to him or her. Nursing professionals can choose the hospitals in which they prefer to work. Furthermore, they can take as much time off between contracts as they wish.

Your path to a rewarding career begins at Grand Canyon University, where you can choose from a wide range of nursing degree programs. Apply to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure) program if you’re new to nursing, or enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) program if you’re actively working as a nurse. Click on Request Info above to learn more about our dynamic learning community.

*Retrieved from TravelNursing.org, Travel Nursing FAQ in February 2021.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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