Travel nursing is gaining momentum. More people are opting to join the healthcare industry as a travel nurse over traditional nursing career options, where the work is always tied to a specific healthcare facility.
Part of this shift is happening because, with a travel nursing job, the nurse has more freedom to choose the places they would like to work. As a traveling nurse, you also have wider exposure and opportunities to learn. As you work with different doctors in different facilities with unique populations, you quickly build up broad experience, gaining deeper insights than stationary nurses.
Travel nursing is now undoubtedly among the best nursing careers that you can join as a healthcare service provider. In this article, we will explore some of the key aspects of travel nursing such as the salary, duties, and responsibilities of a travel nurse, and the education requirements for becoming one.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Travel Nurse
Like in any other career, travel nurses have specific duties and responsibilities. In this section, we will look at some of the main responsibilities of travel nurses to give you an overview of the typical daily life of a travel nurse practitioner.
Benefits of Working as a Travel Nurse
- Gaining Varied Experience Quickly
Since you are constantly on the move as a travel nurse between different geographic locations, different healthcare facilities, and working under different doctors, you are more exposed to many different ways of working and providing patient care. This extra exposure helps you to quickly gain deeper insights into different aspects in the healthcare or nursing industry than a nurse practitioner working at a fixed facility.
- Enjoying the Services of Travel Nursing Bodies
As a registered nurse working as a travel nurse, you have the opportunity to join various travel nursing bodies both for labor protection and ease of finding new assignments. You can apply to join a travel nursing agency in your state by submitting your travel nurse resume and get connected to new assignments once your application is approved. The travel nurse agency takes the guesswork out of finding work on your own since most facilities and potential employers are more comfortable contacting such agencies first rather than reaching out directly to you.
- Multiplicity of Nursing Positions to Take Up
Even if you are starting from the very basic step in your nursing career as a licensed practical nurse, you have a lot of room to go up the ladder by furthering your education and taking up different roles as a travel nurse. Some of the work areas you can take up in travel nursing include geriatric care management, registered nurse, and registered nurse supervision. The roles under these areas include social work supervisor, critical care/staff nurse/family nurse practitioner, and assistant director of nursing/nursing director respectively.
A Typical Day in the Life of a Travel Nurse
While the nature of the day for a travel nurse may largely depend on the exact role you play, some basic activities are common across all travel nursing jobs. Typically, a travel nurse does the following activities:
- Ensuring rooms in which patients are treated are clean and organized
- Sterilizing medical equipment, instruments, and other necessary materials
- Communicating with doctors on patient diagnoses, evaluations, and assessments
- Attending relevant training workshops, conferences, or classes for skills enhancement
- Training or mentoring other nurses.
The daily routine may be more specific depending on the role. For example, the schedule for say, a travel operating nurse is different from that of a delivery nurse or an oncology nurse. The registered nurse in an operating room has to make sure the surgeon promptly gets everything they ask for, discuss the surgery with the patient and assure them the best care will be given, assist the anesthesiologist as patients go off to sleep, document the entire operation on a computer into the specific patient’s record, among other crucial roles.
Length of Assignments of a Travel Nurse
The assignments for travel nurses are usually short because they are often hired to work in a given area on a temporary basis. They are usually contracted to take care of temporary shortages. They may also temporarily travel to remote places where medical facilities are non-existent. As such, the assignments may take just a few hours based on a favorable hourly wage, a few months, or slightly over a year with a suitable annual salary. The most common range is eight to 13 weeks.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Travel Nurse
This section explores some of the main requirements for becoming a travel nurse. It is important to note that some of these may vary depending on the state you are in or the one you want to work in.
What You Need to Know to Become a Traveling Nurse
You’ll need an active registered nurse license to become a travel nurse. If you have completed a diploma program or are a Licensed Practical Nurse, you can take up a job as a traveling nurse.
If you hold a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree in nursing, you can also work as a travel nurse.
While a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree may not be a requirement to qualify as a travel nurse, some facilities or hospitals may require nurses who have done the BSN.
Other than the nursing license, you also need basic certifications such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Basic Life Support (BLS) to enlist with a travel nurse staffing agency.
If you are specializing in a given unit, it is best to have certifications in such a specialty. For example, a travel nurse interested in critical care should have the Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification. If you are interested in a nursing career in a maternity environment, you need the Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) for labor, delivery, and postpartum care.
Credentials such as a BSN degree can be obtained from reputable US nursing schools since the level of training and institution where you trained are some of the factors that determine the amount of RN salary.
It is important to note that with most traveling nurse agencies, you have to obtain and maintain all your nursing certifications at your own expense.
CEU Requirements for Travel Nurses
CEU is short for “Continuing Education Unit” and refers to further education credentials obtained for a particular type of career. The Board of Nursing (BON) in each state determines the number CEUs a qualified nurse should take to maintain their nursing license. In most states, this number ranges between 10 and 25 CEUs every three years. The CEUs are similar to the worth rating of a given college course given in credits.
The CEUs may be defined in terms of contact hours, meaning 50 or 60 minutes of comprehensive instruction in an accredited activity or class for continuing education in a particular career. Ten such contact hours are equal to one CEU. Different states require a different number of contact hours. Some of these are as listed below:
- 20 contact hours every two years in Florida
- 15 contact hours every two years in Arkansas
- 36 contact hours every two years in Iowa
- 20 contact hours in Illinois every two years
- 30 contact hours every two years in Pennsylvania
As a travel nurse, you need to obtain and maintain the specified number of CUEs if your state license is to hold. You may also have to maintain any additional ones as may be required of you by the healthcare facility you are working in.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) oversees nursing schools and the issuance and maintenance of nursing licenses. It also monitors CEUs for nurses. It is important to ensure that the CEUs you obtain are from a program accredited by the ANCC. Since these vary from state to state, you have to check with the BON in your state what the specific CEUs are required of you as a traveling nurse.
The following are some of the ways to earn nursing CEUs:
- Online modules
The following are some of the courses you might be required to obtain as CEUs:
- Bullying in the Workplace
- Child Abuse (Iowa, New York)
- Communicable Diseases
- Human Trafficking (Michigan)
- Prevention of Medical Errors (Florida)
- Tick-borne Diseases (Texas)
- Mental Health Conditions Common to Veterans (West Virginia)
- Shaken Baby Syndrome (Kentucky)
- Mentorship Nursing for any qualified nurse looking into becoming a nurse mentor.
As of now, thirteen states do not have the CUE requirements for nurses. These include Arizona, Wisconsin, Oregon, Mississippi, Vermont, Indiana, Maryland, South Dakota, Colorado, Tennessee, Maine, and Connecticut.
It’s important to note that the ANCC has updated the continuing nursing education contact hours to nursing continuing professional development contact hours.
How Long it Takes to Become a Travel Nurse
For a traveling nurse career, students have to first obtain a certificate or diploma in nursing, a two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing, or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. You then have to do the 5-hour National Council of Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam for nurse licensing in the US, which you have to take within a year after registering for it.
Expected Salary and Benefits for Travel Nurses
For many nurses, the main appeal of working as a travel nurse is the competitive compensation rates. There are also other benefits and extras included with a travel nurse salary.
Benefits Provided to Travel Nurses
The benefits offered to travel nurses vary depending on the staffing agency. They often include:
- 401K retirement investment
- Free courses for continuing education
- Tax advantage plan
- Weekly or Fortnightly pay
- Non-taxed housing stipend and living expenses
- Medical, vision, and dental health insurance
- Sign-up, referral, and completion bonuses
- License reimbursement
- Life insurance
- 24/7 support
- Worker’s compensation, Disability Insurance, and Liability Insurance
- Scrub reimbursement
- Travel reimbursements
- Free private housing
It is important to check with your travel nursing company to know the specific benefits offered for a travel nursing job in a given geographic location or specific healthcare facility.
What the Future Looks Like for Travel Nursing Jobs
If you are afraid that your travel nursing job may become obsolete soon, take a deep breath and rest assured that your nursing skills will still be useful for so many years to come. For the different types of nursing careers, any registered nurse practitioner shouldn’t be worried about losing their nursing job.
Several factors may come into play in determining the future of traveling nurse jobs. For example, the demand for travel nurses has been on the rise across different states in the United States due to COVID-19. As the supply of health workers dwindles in various COVID-19 hotspots, and as the available ones become exhausted, burnt out, or infected with the coronavirus, the demand for travel nurse rns has been rising to cater for the shortages. Not to say that such situations are a thing to bank on or be happy about, but pandemics count as one of the many critical situations that raise the need for travel nursing practitioners.
Across the world, the healthcare market is set to surpass US$ 47.5 billion by 2027 with some of the key regions with the highest projections being the United States and Canada. Out of this figure, the market segmentation by health care service type is shared between nurse staffing positions including travel nursing, per diem nursing, locum tenens nursing, and allied healthcare staffing.
According to this new report by Precedence research, in 2019, North America dominated the world healthcare staff market. It accounted for the largest share in the year. This growth is attributed to the lower availability of skilled staff against high demand for the same, the presence of key players on the market, and the growing geriatric population. As such, key players in the region are coming up with strategic action plans like acquisitions, mergers, and collaborations to broaden their services portfolio and geographical reach, hence creating new demand for people in the nursing career.
Furthermore, the general trend across most sectors is usually an imbalance of labor supply and demand, with most sectors having more labor demand than supply. This is true of healthcare staffing, where the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013 reported a global shortage of about 7.2 million healthcare staff. This shortage is expected to hit the 12.9 million mark by the close of 2035.
If you would like to get into geriatric nursing, you might be surprised that the number of people over 65 years in the United States is expected to be almost 90 million by 2050. As a travel nurse, you can opt to work in rural areas since that’s where most of the older citizens live.
Expected Annual Salary for Travel Nurses
Considering a recent career outlook, the salaries for travel nurses vary the most in all the nursing professions. The salary depends on several factors such as the travel nurse staffing company used, the nature of the department a nurse works in, and the state they work in. For example, a nursing assistant earns much less than an operating room nurse since the latter works in a specialized role.
The hourly wage in a travel nursing job is between $20 and $52, with $36.77 being the average.
The weekly RN salary in the travel nurse sector is between $1,300 and $2,700. In some areas and departments, the registered nurse salary goes up to $3,000 weekly.
The annual salary in a registered nurse job is between $44,727 and $106,985, with $66,234 being the median salary. The highest paying state so far for travel nurse jobs is New York, possibly because it is one of the most expensive states to live in in the United States. North Carolina currently comes in last as the least paying state for travel nurses.
Some of the highest paying travel nursing companies include:
- Host Healthcare
- AB Staffing
- Aya Healthcare
- FlexCare Medical Staffing
- Fusion Medical Staffing
- Ventura Medstaff
- Tailored Healthcare
- Triage Staffing
- Axis Medical Staffing
To secure the most competitive pay rates for travel nursing, it is important to strike a balance between the state you are to work in, the staffing agency you choose, and the department you choose to work in. The annual salaries are subject to frequent changes based on demand and supply.
Factors that Influence Salary and Benefits for Travel Nurses
As seen in our discussion above, several factors influence the salary and benefits for traveling nurses. We will explore a few more factors as we wrap up the article.
How Education Level Influences Your Pay as a Travel Nurse
In a normal economy, the rule of thumb is that as you scale up the education ladder, you attract a higher pay rate for the same amount of work. This is certainly the case in the nursing profession. If you want to raise your base salary limit, you should acquire more education to gain entry into better-paying positions with the right travel nurse agency.
The basic degree requirement in the nursing career in most states is a Licensed Practical Nurse. An LPN attracts lower rates compared to the more advanced levels such as Registered Nurse. The Bureau of Labour Statistics in 2019 listed the median salary for an LPN as $47,480 and the average annual salary for a registered nurse as $73,300. The higher pay for registered nurses can be attributed to the greater complexity of a registered nurse job, as well as the fact that registered nurses provide more direct patient care.
To raise your prospects of earning more, you should consider joining quick programs to upgrade from an LPN to an RN.
While a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is not a must-have requirement for a career in travel nursing, some hospitals and healthcare facilities opt to enlist the services of registered nurses who have the BSN training. Recently, the Institute of Medicine has been encouraging employers to have at least 80% of the RNs they enlist to have the BSN degree by the end of 2020. The institute also calls for more nurses to obtain doctorate degrees.
Other than a pay rise, a higher nursing degree offers extra benefits such as more freedom of choice on the facilities and departments to work in, greater credibility where you work, preparation for higher nursing degrees, and a generally more holistic healthcare education and experience.
You may want to consider this pay guide for deeper insights into the factors that determine the salary range for travel nurse jobs.
How Travel Nurse Salaries Compare to Permanent Nurse Salaries
Typically, travel nurses earn more than permanent nurses since their contracts involve a different base salary system and benefits like travel reimbursements and housing stipend. Just like the level of education and specialty determine the salary rate for permanent nurses, they also determine the same for the travel nursing jobs. Travel nurses with better education credentials make more than those with lesser qualifications such as Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA).
The higher salary rates for travel nurses compared to those of regular nurses can be attributed to the kind of labor organization the nurse is in, the liberty to choose where to work and in what facilities, and the extra benefits like reimbursements and tax advantages enjoyed by travel nurses.
In some cases, permanent nurses earn the same amount despite their level of experience if they are in a labor union that levels out the pay rate for all nurses across the board. This is usually not the case for travel nurses since each travel nursing agency negotiates its own pay rates with potential employers to offer the member travel nurses some of the most competitive rates based on their experience and education.
While the permanent LPN makes an average annual salary of $47,480, a travel nurse in the same position gets an average salary of about $66,234 annually.
Incentives such as tax advantage plans and reimbursements for travel and scrubs also lead to a rise in the travel nursing pay compared to the permanent nursing pay rates where these incentives are either lesser or totally non-existent.
Bonuses are the other factor that makes the travel nursing salary rates go higher than those of the permanent nurses. Most travel nurse staffing organizations offer extension, rebooking, and referral bonuses. Although these are taxed more, there is still a lot left over for the travel nurse such that they end up winning against the regular nurses both on the number of instances for bonuses and the amount of money received.
Extension bonuses are offered when you prolong your assignment by staying on for an extra contract period. Rebook bonuses are given if you are an agency-loyal traveling nurse while referral bonuses are offered for nurses who refer other nurses to join the staffing agency they are working with.
How Much Housing Stipends Travel Nurses Receive
The amount of housing stipend that a registered travel nurse receives depends on factors such as the state they are working in, healthcare facility, and the travel nursing agency they choose. The housing stipends are usually non-taxed, which means that more money lands into the nurse’s account.
Housing systems for travel nurses may include temporary stays in hotels, travelers’ partnerships, and apartment services. Travelers’ partnerships are arranged by some staffing agencies to include utilities like furniture and rent requirements all rolled into one package for ease of payment. Temporary hotel stays usually last about two weeks and attract payment assistance.
You can also take the stipend and get your own housing so that you end up pocketing most of the money if you find a cheaper housing solution.
Travel nurses also receive payment assistance for moving. Since moving is expensive with costs such as cleaning fees, rent, utility connection fees, security deposits, and relocation fees, some staffing agencies offer qualified travel nurses relocation assistance. The payment is made directly to the landlord by the company and is then deducted from your paychecks in the first three to six months depending on the amount issued.
There is no average housing stipend for traveling nurses. This is because of two determining factors – the location of the assignment and staffing agency rates vary widely. The location you are to work in determines how much housing stipend you should get. If you take up an assignment in a highly expensive city like New York, you will qualify for a bigger stipend than someone moving into a place like South Carolina for the same position.
The time of the year may also be a key factor when determining the housing stipend. The stipend is usually less in the summer and more in the winter across most states.
To put a figure to all these dynamics, we have observed that most staffing agencies offer travel nurses a monthly housing stipend of $2,000 to $3,000.