Is Travel Nursing For You?

Today's nurses have many career options, with more variety and flexibility than ever before. While some nurses need the stability and routine of working for one organization for an extended period of time, other nurses may crave adventure. For nurses who need a change of scenery, travel nursing might be a good option!

What Is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse works in hospitals, clinics or other healthcare organizations to provide a short-term staffing solution. Gaps in staffing may result from a maternity or medical leave, an influx of seasonal patient populations such as at vacation destinations, or a natural disaster. Travel nurses usually work with an agency for their assignments, which can last from three days (e.g., disaster relief) to two years (e.g., nursing abroad). Most assignments last 12-13 weeks, often with an option to extend the contract multiple times, creating a long-term position.

Where Are Travel Nurses Needed?

Travel nurses are necessary now more than ever — as the Baby Boomer population continues to age and older nurses retire, there are nursing shortages nationwide. Unfortunately, rural areas are hit the hardest and often rely on travel nurses to fill their shortages. Nurses who work in a specialty setting such as an intensive care unit, cardiac catheter lab, operating room, neonatal intensive care unit or oncology are in highest demand.

Travel nurses also help with natural disasters. Nurses are often the first to respond, and travel nursing agencies can quickly place traveling nurses in a crisis situation to provide relief to overworked full-time staff. Some agencies specialize in rapid response nursing, which often pays more than regular travel nursing assignments.

Do You Need Multiple Nursing State Licensures?

In the past, nurses would need to get licensed in multiple states before taking a position, delaying placement. Fortunately, there is a solution that states are slowly adopting — the enhanced nursing licensure compact, or eNLC. The eNLC is "an agreement between states that allows nurses to have one license but the ability to practice in other states that are part of the agreement." As of January 2020, 32 states have adopted the eNLC program with two more pending legislation, allowing nurses to practice across state lines and respond to patient needs.

Does your state not participate in the eNLC program? You can lobby your state government to pass legislation to recognize the eNLC, or work with your agency.

Your agency will help you navigate the requirements to work across state lines. Most agencies will help you fill out the paperwork to become licensed in a specific state — particularly helpful if your home state or your destination state aren't participants in the eNLC or even a specific country.

How Much Can You Expect to Make As a Travel Nurse? reports that many travel nurses can earn over $3,000 per week, plus company paid accommodations — this amounts to over $100K per year! Specific travel nursing sites quote pay at up to $75 hourly/$90 hourly overtime. This amount varies by assignment and depends on a nurse's specialty skills and location (hint: specialized nurses earn more).

Many agencies add in highly competitive benefits packages that include medical, dental, vision, retirement plans, free educational hours with paid travel, and relocation and housing. In addition, some travel agencies offer discounts on phone plans, computers, scrubs and gym memberships.

Travel nursing provides great benefits. Not only are you going to new and exciting places, but you may have the opportunity to work at your dream location. Additionally, serving within different healthcare organizations can help you grow as a nurse. The needs of patients in rural Nebraska may be very different from those in downtown Miami.

Most agencies require at least one year of nursing experience, and many prefer nurses with a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) since they are more marketable. Don't have a BSN? The University of Rhode Island online RN to BS in Nursing program provides flexibility that fits perfectly with the travel nurse's needs.

Learn more about the University of Rhode Island online RN to BS in Nursing program.


Journal of Nursing Regulation: Four Challenges Facing the Nursing Workforce in the United States What Is a Travel Nurse? Updated Map: Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) Jan. 2020

NCSBN: Nurse Licensure Compact Biennial Report Now Available How to Make the Most Money As a Travel Nurse: 10 Tips for Higher Pay What Is a Travel Nurse?

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