Traveling nurses are nurses who spend short stretches of time (usually around 13 weeks) working anywhere in the country that has a need for extra staffing. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. You get to see the country while still drawing a paycheck, and places with nursing shortages get an influx of fresh blood.
What do I need to do become a traveling nurse?
You will need to do a little prep work. Make sure that you’re licensed in the state where you’re headed. Right now, 31 states belong to the Nursing Licensure Compact, so if you’re licensed in (and have a permanent residence in) one of those states, you can move freely among them. For other states (including popular travel nurse destinations like California and Alaska), you’ll need a separate license from the state. Be sure to start working on that well in advance.
What can I do as a traveling nurse?
There’s need for all kinds of nurses. Many of the high-need specialties are among the more intensive, like ER, OR, and psychiatric nurses. Women’s health, including NICU nurses, are usually in high demand. From telemetry nursing to assisting with home dialysis, if it’s a nursing specialty, there’s probably a need for it in the travel nursing world.
Why become a traveling nurse?
Traveling nursing isn’t for everyone. There’s a fair bit of instability built into it. So if you need to feel rooted in a hometown or really value routine, it might not be for you. That said, there’s a lot of advantages as well.
1. The financial situation is relatively strong.
Because of the perceived burden of leaving home, travel nurses are often paid more than staff nurses in the same position. There can also be some tax benefits to working more than 50 miles from your home. And even though you’re making more money than your peers, you may have fewer living expenses. Many travel nursing agencies pay for private housing for their nurses. That puts you ahead financially in two different ways at once. Alternatively, it means you can pay for a home base in the town you’re most attached
2. You get to see the country.
Admittedly, some locations (like Hawai’i) are flooded with requests from travel nurses, so there may be a long wait for those assignments. But for the most part, being a travel nurse means going where you want. The United States is an enormous country with staggering diversity of landscapes and people. Exposing yourself to new places and new people is a fantastic way to broaden your horizons (and find incredible things to see and do.)
3. You can broaden your resume and avoid burnout.
Adding locales to your travel diary isn’t the only way that travel nursing improves your life. You get experience in all sorts of clinics and other work environments. You’ll learn a lot of skills very quickly. That means that when someone asks how you’d handle something in a job interview, odds are you’ve already handled it. You get a wide base of experience, and evidence that you’re adaptable.
That constant changing of job requirements and priorities also helps stave off burnout. You’re constantly presented with new environments, new faces, and new challenges. That means you stay fresh and engaged with what you’re doing.
4. You have lots of flexibility.
You don’t have to take any assignment you don’t want. Of course, it pays off to be flexible. For example, you might take a small-town assignment in a region you’d like to visit, instead of being in the most famous city, and then you explore the city on your off days.
But you have the option to decline assignments, and when you’re between assignments, you have lots of time off (and a little extra cash) to spend with family, or on vacation, or on whatever else it is that keeps you working in the first place.
5. You can avoid office politics.
Nursing can be an intense, high-stress field. Sometimes people get caught up in office politics. Most nursing agencies handle administrative work for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. Since you’re not invested, you can show up, do the work, and head out when you’re done.
When the assignment is over and you leave town, you can keep the friends you’ve made on social media, and never worry about the others again.
6. It’s Not Forever
Being a traveling nurse isn’t a lifelong commitment. If you try it for awhile and decide it isn’t for you, or if your life circumstances change, you can always change gears and settle down somewhere.
Considering how short a typical assignment is, it’s something that’s worth trying at least once. What you stand to gain in experiences outweighs the risks by far.
About the Author: Jenny Hart is a health and wellness writer with a passion for travel, cycling and books. So far, she's traveled to Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Austria and Japan. When she isn't writing or traveling, she's traversing NYC with her two dogs Poochie and Ramone.