Historically, the healthcare industry has always been booming. Advancing technology, an aging population, and a global pandemic have increased the demand for more skilled medical professionals in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the health sector is projected to grow 15 percent from 2019 to 2029, adding approximately 2.4 million new jobs for Americans.
Among the healthcare workforce demand are travel nurses. The American Nurses Association (ANA) reported that more than 500,000 registered nurses (RNs) are expected to retire by 2022, creating a significant nursing shortage. To alleviate the shortage, the ANA said more than 1.1 million new RNs are needed and travel nurses are “uniquely positioned to ease the pressure” of these shortages.
What is travel nursing?
Traveling nurses are healthcare professionals who fill in staffing gaps in large and small hospitals, outpatient centers, and other facilities based on short-term staffing needs. Traveling nurses are staffed to cover family medical leaves and vacations, extended vacancies, census fluctuations, new unit openings or service offerings, project implementation, and more. Unlike permanently staffed nurses who work for a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility, travel nurses work for independent staffing agencies and choose their own assignments across the country.
RNs from diverse clinical, educational, and geographic backgrounds with a specific care specialty make up the community of nurse travelers. These particular professionals are responsible for a wide variety of tasks including, but not limited to:
- Administering patient fluids
- Administering patient medication
- Assistance with patient mobility
- Assess and diagnose patients
- Evaluate, plan, and implement each aspect of care
The modern concept of travel nursing began in 1978 when New Orleans hospitals began to increase their staff in order to handle the uptick of Mardi Gras traffic. Travel nursing was born when these hospitals advertised to community members that they needed temporary help.
Throughout the 1980s, this practice became more popular as hospitals in other states recognized their substantial seasonal jump of patients. It wasn’t long until hospitals all around the country started exploring flexible staffing options rather than maintaining full-time staff year-round.
How to become a travel nurse
The road to becoming a travel nurse starts with the desire to explore the country while making a positive impact. Next is education. Travel nurses must be registered nurses (RNs), which you can do a few ways:
- Nursing school in a hospital. This can take up to four years to complete.
- Associate degree in Nursing (ADN). An associate degree typically takes two years to complete.
- Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN). This takes four years to complete.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommends anyone pursuing a career in nursing to hold a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. Once your education is complete, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (N-CLEX), an exam that assesses the essential knowledge, skills, and abilities of an entry-level nurse. Now you can choose and start a specialization to become an expert in a specific field such as pediatrics, the intensive care unit (ICU), and more. Travel nurses must also be licensed in the state they accept a contract and practice in. Most staffing agencies assist with licensing to help streamline the process.
To begin a career as a travel nurse, you must first complete at least one year of experience practicing your specialty. Because travel nurses are already expected to be experts in basic nursing care, facility orientation is meant for RNs to learn the unit, experience the patient population, get to know their coworkers, and review the charting system.
Nursing specialties in demand
Due to their robust skillsets, travel nurses are in high demand, especially with the ongoing need for healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some of the most in-demand specialties for travel nurses include:
- OR nursing. Operating room nurses are wildly sought-after in facilities nationwide. There are usually three job categories that fall under OR nursing: circulating care for patients before and after a surgical procedure, scrub nurse assisting surgeons during procedures, and RN first assistant surgical assistant.
- ICU and PCU nursing. Intensive care unit and progressive care unit nurses care for patients who require close observation. ICU and PCU nurses assess and record each patient’s progress and recovery.
- ER nursing. Emergency room nurses is becoming more and more popular. In the ER, nurses encounter numerous patients with acute injuries and conditions.
- NICU, MBPP, and L&D nursing. Nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit, mother-baby/postpartum, and labor and delivery specialties are in the rise. These medical professionals work primarily with mothers, fathers, and their babies at the most crucial time in their lives.
- Medical surgical nursing. These types of nurses are constantly on the go administering IVs, dressing wounds, monitoring critical patients, and more. From the minute their patient walks through the door until the minute they leave, med surg nurses are responsible for the patient’s care each step of the way.
- Telemetry nurse. Similar to med surg nurses, telemetry nurses work with a myriad of patients. However, tele nurses often care for critically ill patients, monitor changes in condition, record and interpret vital data, and educate patients on home care.
- LTAC nursing. The demand for long-term acute nurses is soaring as Baby Boomers age. LTAC nurses help patients bathe and eat, plus contact and update patient family members.
Julie Miller, BSN, RN, CCRN-K, and a clinical practice specialist with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, told NursingJobs.com that she agrees the highest in demand nursing specialties include “critical care, emergency care, progressive care, and telehealth” due to the evolving industry trends brought on by COVID-19.
In addition, healthcare travelers who specialize in psychiatry and mental health issues are “likely to see increased demand in the future,” said Miller. In fact, Mental Health America reported people’s struggles have “sharply increased” since the pandemic began.
While it’s important to be aware of the specialties on the rise, RNs shouldn’t choose a focus solely on the demand factor.
“New graduate nurses and nursing students need to identify a specialty that aligns with their personality, their tolerance for stress and anxiety, and their ability to assimilate new information and skills,” said Miller. “And all nursing specialties require the nurse to develop great self-care skills.”
Pros to travel nursing
- Enhance nursing skills and diversify resume. Travel nursing allows the opportunities to work with hospitals, clinics, and healthcare facilities all around the country that you may not have otherwise considered.
- Earn an increased salary and other perks. Because of the non-taxable stipends and other monetary incentives offered to travel nurses, there’s a large opportunity to make more money than permanently staffed personnel.
- Travel to new places. Since travel assignments are typically 13 weeks long, there’s time to explore multiple locations across the U.S. throughout the year.
- Personal and professional flexibility. Many travel nurses can take time off between contracts to spend time with friends and family or adventure the great outdoors.
- Make a direct impact. Travel nurses are medical professionals who make a positive impact in our community by saving lives and helping those in need.
Hesitations in travel nursing
- Higher risk of infection. Because travel nurses are going from place-to-place and are often on the medical frontline, they face exposure to diseases, infections, and other conditions.
- Elevated stress. By the nature of their work, travel nurses are constantly adjusting quickly to new workplaces, electronic health records, colleagues, plus policies and procedures. In addition, many travel nurses can experience homesickness while being on the road away from close family and friends much of their time.
- Travel logistics. With moving expenses, time zone changes, language and cultural barriers, and unfamiliar weather, traveling can be a lot to handle. Usually staffing agencies will assist with this process to help make it easier on travelers.
Fusion Marketplace for traveling nurses
Take control of your traveling nurse career with Fusion Marketplace and make your own informed career choices with the freedom to compare benefits, pay packages, and staffing agencies all in one convenient location. A traveler-first approach gives you full control of your healthcare career so you can live the travel lifestyle you desire.
Fusion Marketplace was built to empower travelers and make the unknowns known. This innovative recruitment platform provides healthcare travelers a one-stop-shop to upload and save all certifications, licenses, travel and job preferences, plus browse available job opportunities to make finding your next assignment that much easier.
Whether you’re a health ally or an aspiring travel nurse, traveling healthcare professionals play an integral role in our healthcare communities. Juggling numerous responsibilities and duties, travel nurses exist to bridge the gap between supply and demand in healthcare facilities across the country, and provide exceptional, specialized patient care wherever they go.