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Travel nursing has wide appeal
Specialty offers change of scenery to nurses willing to give it a go
Linda Childers
Linda Childers is a freelance writer.
Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Candace White, RN, always dreamed of exploring the U.S. A year ago, she decided to pursue her lifelong ambition by becoming a travel nurse, and she hasn’t regretted it. The specialty has satisfied her taste for travel and adventure — while also keeping her challenged as a nurse.”
Travel nurses work on a contract basis in hospital settings across the country, filling in during shortages at hospitals, or when permanent employees are on leave.
A 2016 survey, conducted by AMN Healthcare
, found that about one-third of hospital CNOs say their hospitals couldn’t function without the services of travel nurses. Two-thirds of CNOs surveyed indicated their hospitals had used travel nurses sometime during the past 12 months to supplement their existing staff. “The clinical workforce in the United States has become increasingly mobile,” said Susan Nowakowski, president and CEO of AMN Healthcare in a news release. “A growing number of travel nurses are considering travel opportunities, filling gaps in hospital staffs caused by worker shortages.”
“I didn’t go on a lot of vacations as a child, so travel nursing has provided me with the opportunity to see different areas of the country, while also making a living.”
- Candace White, RN

Alison Hensel, senior regional director of recruiting for Advantage RN, a West Chester, Ohio-based staffing company that
employs nurses for travel assignments
around the country, said travel nurses typically work 13-week contracted assignments and range in ages and backgrounds. “We attract a wide variety of nurses ranging from empty nesters who are thinking of retiring and want to check out different areas before they relocate, to younger nurses who are seeking a new professional experience,” she said. Agencies such as Hensel’s offer nurses excellent compensation, which varies based on skill level, specialty area and geographic location. According to Shary Price, marketing director at Advantage RN, salary ranges for travel nurses vary, and depends on specialty and location. “For example, a traveling ICU nurse in California will make more than a traveling RN working an ICU unit in Mississippi,” Price said. “ICU nurses most anywhere will make more per hour than a med/surg nurse anywhere. That said, the hourly rates range between $75 and $36/hour. Travelers typically make between 10% and 30% more than the perm staff. “ Nurses also are provided with medical insurance, life insurance, license reimbursement and professional certification insurance, according to the Fastaff Travel Nursing website. Agencies either provide nurses with housing arranged by the agency or stipend pay in which nurses receive a specified amount of money and make their own housing arrangements, whether it’s staying with family and friends, at an AirBNB or even traveling by RV (which some nurses do). Traveling nurses only can qualify for the non-taxable travel expense reimbursement, however, if they can prove monthly payments are being made on two residences (rent and a mortgage, for example). At Advantage RN, Hensel said travel nurses who have been with the agency 39-plus weeks since 2013 and have completed three or more 13-week assignments, are eligible to receive PTO bonuses. The bonus amount is based on a nurse’s specialty and the number of hours worked on their current contract. Not all travel nursing agencies offer PTO, she said.
“The feedback I’ve received from nurses is that travel nursing offers them flexibility and the chance to care for different patient populations and experience different cultures,” Hensel said. White said the only downside to travel nursing that she has experienced has been the inability to advance into more of a leadership role. “If I were in a permanent job, I’d be taking the steps needed to further my leadership options and to be considered for jobs as a charge nurse,” White said. “But when you’re going to a different job every three months, that’s not possible.” And with each new assignment White says there is also a learning curve.
In-demand specialties
Hensel said the demand for travel nurses is high, especially for those with experience in the OR, ICU, med/surg, cath lab, telemetry, NICU and labor and delivery. For White, 29, who is now working in Hollister, Calif., travel nursing has provided the opportunity to explore several states, including New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. White said the process typically begins by nurses selecting an agency to working with, interviewing with the agency and working with them to determine several prospective locations of interest to candidates. The agency proceeds to submit their application to hospitals, and if a hiring manager is interested he or she can
interview nursing candidates
by phone. “As recruiters we meet with candidates to review their expectations on travel nursing, discuss their pay package and housing options and what they are hoping to get out of the travel assignment,” Hensel said. The reasons nurses decide to try travel nursing is as different as the individuals themselves, Hensel said. Some want a change of scenery, others want to be close to family members and still others want to see what it’s like to live in a different part of the country before committing to moving there. Some RNs are dedicated travel nurses, while others are retirees, who choose to only take on several assignments each year. Sometimes travel nurses are accompanied by their partners or family members on assignments. Nurses can take time off between assignments to enjoy extended vacations or to spend time with family and friends who may be in the area they are visiting. “I didn’t go on a lot of vacations as a child, so travel nursing has provided me with the opportunity to see different areas of the country, while also making a living,” White said. “It’s also been interesting to see how nursing is practiced in different areas of the country.” By working 12-hours shifts, travel nurses get four days off each week to explore the areas where they are working. Hensel said some of the more popular travel destinations are Alaska and Florida.
“Travel nurses are usually given 2-3 days of orientation whereas a new full-time nurse will receive 2-3 weeks,” White said. “The biggest challenge for travel nurses is often mastering a different computer system at each new hospital.” To be a successful travel nurse, Hensel said candidates must have 1-2 years of experience in the specialty area in which they are applying. “We work to ensure the assignments our nurses accept are a good fit,” Hensel said. “If a nurse has only worked in small rural hospitals, we aren’t going to immediately send her to a large metropolitan hospital where she’s caring for twice the number of patients.” Since travel nurses typically change assignments every three months, Hensel said candidates should be open to change, meeting new people and working in different environments. “Successful travel nurses need to be able to adapt quickly to new environments and be flexible and confident,” she said. Price says the common reason nurses leave travel nursing is to take a permanent position because they are tired of traveling, want to settle down or desire a more predictable schedule, etc. “Adventure is one of the most common reasons nurses become travel nurses – getting away from adventure is one of the most common reasons nurses stop traveling,” she said. “Another reason nurses stop traveling is because they are retiring. Most travel nurses are 24-35 and 45-65 – so it makes sense that they stop to take some time to settle down or they retire from nursing altogether.”
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