This post was written by Kylee Nelson of Passports and Preemies!
Travel nursing is one of the most unique professions you can have, and if you’re someone who is passionate about traveling, it’s one of the best jobs to have with the ability to take unlimited time off and see the world.
As for myself, I spent 5+ years as a travel nurse traveling all around the US, temporarily living in some of the coolest cities like San Francisco and Seattle, and taking months off at a time to see the world.
(I even joined a TBA Escapes tour before jet-setting off to spend two months in Europe!).
While I’m passionate about all things travel and travel nursing has afforded me a unique way to see the world, it should be said that you shouldn’t go into nursing just to be a travel nurse.
However, if you’re passionate about medicine and caring for others, then you’re in luck. Travel nursing jobs here you come!
Here’s all you need to know about travel nursing!
What is Travel Nursing?
A travel nurse is a contracted nurse who is employed by a travel nursing agency and on a temporary assignment at a specific hospital.
Contracts are generally set up by a third party (your recruiter), and typically last for 13-weeks (although you can find contracts that are longer and shorter).
Most importantly, travel nursing isn’t one-sided — there must be a need from the hospital, and you have to want to go there.
How Do You Become a Travel Nurse?
To become a travel nurse, you first must be a staff nurse — sometimes referred to as a “permanent” nurse.
A staff nurse is a nurse who permanently works at one hospital for a specified amount of time. Instead of being employed by a company and working at a hospital, you’re employed by the hospital itself.
While everyone has differing opinions, I firmly believe that to be a travel nurse you first have to have two years of experience on one specific unit (it doesn’t count as two years of experience if you spend one year on X floor and the second year on Y floor).
This is because once you’re a travel nurse you’re expected to jump right in with virtually no orientation, and not a lot of help.
If you think about it this way, you’re being hired because a hospital is desperate to fill positions due to a nursing shortage.
This could be because multiple women have gone out on maternity leave, multiple nurses left at once, the unit is expanding, there is a surge in patients, etc. Because the hospital is desperate to have you, they don’t have the time or resources to spend on making sure that you know what you’re doing.
Instead, you’re thrown in and expected to know how to care for patients off the bat; and you can’t do that well with minimal experience.
Once you’re a staff nurse and you gain your two years of experience on one unit, it’s time for the next steps!
Finding a Travel Nursing Agency and a Recruiter
One of the more overwhelming parts of travel nursing is knowing what company you want to work with.
At the time of writing, there are over 300 travel nurse agencies in the United States alone. That can be incredibly overwhelming and intimidating as a new traveler, especially since not all travel nurse companies are created equally.
My best tips for finding a company to work with would be to first start by asking around. The best sign of a good company is good word of mouth.
Once you connect with a company, you’ll also want to have a list of questions ready so that you can know if it’s a company you’ll want to work with. On my “list of questions to ask,” I make sure to ask if the company staffs in every state, if they have a PTO program, and what kind of health insurance they offer.
But… to complicate matters more, it isn’t all about the company!
What’s more important is finding a recruiter who you jive with, after all, a good recruiter can make a bad company seem great, and a bad recruiter can make a good company seem awful.
To find a good recruiter, follow these steps:
- First, ask around! If you know of any travel nurses, ask them if they would recommend using their recruiter.
- From there I would set up a phone call with the recruiter and make a list of questions that you want to ask (check out this post where a travel nurse recruiter weighs in on the most common questions asked by travel nurses).
- As you start to ask your potential recruiter questions, always make sure to follow your gut. Does the recruiter seem fair and honest? Do you have a good gut reaction when talking with them? Do they take your questions seriously and want to make sure that you understand what travel nursing is all about?
- One of the biggest red flags in working with a recruiter is someone who seems overly pushy or anxious for you to sign a contract. If you don’t feel 100% confident about the recruiter you’re in contact with keep asking around until you find someone that you do feel 100% confident about.
Santa Barbara, California
What Happens After You Pick a Recruiter?
Once you’re set up with a company and a recruiter, the fun begins!
Your recruiter will ask you to fill out a skills checklist form, will ask you to send in a detailed resume with your work history, and will ask you to fill out any other forms the company requires.
At this point, you’ll want to discuss what kind of an assignment you’re looking for.
Are you looking to live in a city or in a rural area? Do you want to live on the West Coast or the East Coast? Do you have a specific state in mind? Do you have a specific hospital in mind? Do you want to work day shift or night shift?
Once your recruiter knows what you’re looking for, he or she will start submitting you to jobs that meet your requirements. Once you’re submitted to a job, it’s a waiting game.
You’ll want to make sure that you’re always available and have your phone with you in case a manager calls for an interview.
When this happens make sure to speak with confidence, be honest about your experience, and remember that you’re interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
What Happens Once You Get a Job
Once you get a job, the work isn’t over quite yet. You’ll then be expected to sign a contract agreeing to your pay package, dates of work, any PTO you’ve requested, and more.
It’s imperative that you’re reading your contract before signing to make sure that everything looks okay. If you don’t understand something, ask your recruiter to explain it to you before you sign on the dotted line.
Once you’ve accepted your new job, you’ll then be required to complete a series of medical examinations like a physical, a TB test, a drug screen, making sure your vaccines are up to date, getting an N95 fitting, and any other relevant hospital requirements.
You might also be asked to complete onboarding before you start which can include computer modules and light training. (Please note, the company should be responsible for paying for all medical costs that are required before starting your new job).
What about travel nursing housing?
At this point, you’ll also want to be searching for a place to stay. As a travel nurse, I’ve found the most luck with Airbnb, Furnished Finder, or joining specific Facebook groups for travel nurses.
Quick Tips from Staff Nurse to Travel Nurse
- Finding a recruiter you click with is more important than finding a company you like
- Keep all your receipts — if you apply for a new license, this is something that should be reimbursed
- Make sure to ask what the “travel stipend” is and make sure you’re reimbursed for your travel expenses
- Any required medical examinations should be paid for by the company
- Don’t sign a contract until you’ve thoroughly read through it
- Everything is negotiable
Is Travel Nursing Right for You?
Pros and Cons…
When all is said and done, travel nursing affords you more pay and more time off to see the world. But that doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone.
And while travel nurses get paid more and have more flexibility, it’s about more than just the money. Travel nursing can be incredibly isolating and stressful at times.
If you’re wondering if travel nursing is the right career for you, I encourage you to think about the following things and thoroughly read over the pros and cons list below.
If you find that you’re worried too much about the cons, it’s okay to rethink becoming a travel nurse. Again, it isn’t for everyone!
- Unlimited time off to see the world — Between 13-week contracts, you can take as much or as little time off before signing your next 13-week contract
- Higher pay — Travel nurses usually make 2x+ the salary of a staff nurse and get paid every week
- Getting to move to different cities — Especially good if you don’t know where you want to permanently live or settle down
- Learn from different places — The ability to experience different hospital systems and learn a little bit from every unit
- The chance to make friends in a multitude of places
- Traveling alone and often — this can sometimes feel lonely, especially if you choose to travel nurse solo instead of with friends
- Health insurance — It can be difficult to find health insurance especially if you plan to take breaks between each assignment (find more on health insurance here)
- Stress of moving every 13-weeks — It can be difficult and overwhelming to pack your bags and search for housing every 13-weeks
- Floating — As a travel nurse you’re the first to float so you’re oftentimes working on a different unit than the one you’ve signed up for
- Always being the “new” nurse — Working at a new hospital every 13-weeks means that you’re constantly the new person not knowing where supplies are, the other team members names, and this usually means you’re stuck with the easier patient assignments
My Personal Experience Travel Nursing
Travel nursing changed my life for the better and truly afforded me the most incredible experiences. While it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies, (I did get scammed out of $4,600 once), a majority of it was.
I had the chance to live and work in incredible places like Omaha, Santa Barbara, Phoenix, Austin, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco.
I had the chance to take unlimited time off of work oftentimes working only six months out of the year and traveling the other six months. This means I had time to become a volunteer nurse in Skopje, North Macedonia.
I had the time to travel solo for 17-weeks as I visited 10 countries in Europe and four countries in Southeast Asia. I had the time to take long road trips after each assignment was finished so that I could further explore the state that I was currently living in.
And one of the best parts was being able to schedule myself off for the holidays and go home to spend time with my family from November-December.
So, while travel nursing isn’t for everyone, at the end of the day it’s an incredibly unique way to be able to work and see the world.
If you’re looking for more support or next steps in your journey from staff nurse to travel nurse, purchase The Ultimate Travel Nurse Bundle which lays out everything you need to know in detail about taking the leap from staff to a traveler.