Travel Nurse Career Overview
About Travel Nursing
Travel nursing is an exciting field in healthcare where registered nurses work temporary positions in hospitals, clinics, and other facilities across the country. A career as a travel nurse provides a challenging, yet rewarding environment for RN's who bring their unique skills and clinical expertise to areas where they are needed most.
Travel Nurse Job Description
Travel nurses share the same tasks and responsibilities as staff nurses. When browsing job descriptions for travel nurses, you can expect to see the following duties:
Travel nurses provide hands-on patient care at the bedside. They are often at the frontlines tending to the physical and emotional needs of their patients. Travel nurses are trained to perform skilled nursing tasks and use critical thinking to provide timely and compassionate interventions. Common patient care tasks you may find in a travel nurse job description are:
- administering medications
- helping patients maintain hygiene and cleanliness
- placing IV catheter access and drawing blood work
- assisting with medical procedures & surgeries
- monitoring vital signs
Travel nurses are among the first responders in an emergency situation and must be prepared to provide immediate medical support as needed. Some tasks a travel nurse might need to complete during an emergency response are:
- assessing airway, breathing, and circulation
- monitoring vital signs
- medication administration
- CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
- securing intravenous (IV) catheter access
Education and Advocacy
Travel nurses often spend the most time with patients and know their physical and emotional needs intimately. This close proximity allows travel nurses to be strong advocates for their patients by anticipating necessary medical interventions, reducing unnecessary harm, and ensuring the highest-quality of care is being delivered. Travel nurses also work closely with the patient's family to educate them about the plan of care and to explain any evolving changes in the patient’s condition.
Communication and Collaboration
Travel nurses collaborate closely with other healthcare professionals to provide the best possible care for patients. As a travel nurse, you will communicate frequently with social workers, physicians, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, and other healthcare professionals to make critical decisions about patient care.
Record Keeping and Documentation
An essential component of patient care that travel nurses excel in is record keeping and real-time documentation. Travel nurses update medical histories and medication lists, document any changes to a patient’s condition, maintain an accurate narrative of events every shift, and record frequent vital signs.
Travel Nurse Salary
As a travel nurse, you can earn between $2,015 and $3,507 per week. There are many factors that can impact your earnings as a travel nurse, including:
- length of assignment
- facility demand
Average Travel Nurse Salary
At Nomad, a travel nurse earns an average of $2,677 per week in gross earnings, or around $71 per hour. For a typical 13-week travel assignment, your gross pay could be $2,441 or more.
Travel Nurse Reimbursements
Many travel nursing agencies provide stipends that cover the cost of food, lodging, and other incidental expenses that travel nurses may incur while working on assignment. At Nomad, we provide our travel nurses with a $1,000 travel reimbursement in addition to reimbursements for licensure, certifications, and scrubs.
Travel Nurse Pay Breakdown
When it comes to travel nurse pay, every nurse’s situation is slightly different simply because there are so many factors that can influence this number. But generally, here’s how the pay breakdown looks for a travel nurse.
Base pay is the hourly rate you earn for your work. This rate is considered taxable and subject to the local tax laws of the state in which the assignment is located. Base pay is also influenced by specialty, location, and facility demands. This, along with the number of shifts worked per week and any potential overtime can affect your total taxable income.
Per Diems are non-taxable stipends for food, lodging, and incidental expenses. The maximum stipend allowed is determined every year by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). Per Diem stipend rates vary due to location and the overall cost of living.
Taxes for travel nurses can be a tricky subject. As a travel nurse, you are responsible for paying taxes on your base pay, along with any potential state-income taxes related to your tax home. However, other expenses like food, housing, transportation, and lodging may be covered by your per diem, non-taxable stipend.
While the gross take-home pay will always vary from one travel nurse to another, it's good practice to carefully review the details of your pay breakdown in your contract before accepting a travel assignment.
How to Become a Travel Nurse
A person can take many different paths to become a travel nurse. Whether you’re starting from scratch, or experiencing a sudden career change, your journey to becoming a travel nurse starts here. Below are the most common routes people take when choosing to become a travel nurse.
Step 1: Earn a Degree
Becoming a travel nurse requires a degree from an accredited nursing school. You have the option of obtaining a two-year associate’s (ASN) degree or a four-year bachelor's (BSN) degree, although some hospitals prefer to employ BSN-trained nurses. Those who already have a four-year or two-year degree may qualify for accelerated BSN programs, which take about 12-18 months to complete. Your degree choice will ultimately depend on your career goals, financial situation, educational background, and personal preferences.
Step 2: Pass the NCLEX
After you've completed your nursing degree, it's time to take the NCLEX exam, also known as the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). The NCLEX will test your nursing knowledge and ensure you are prepared for the next steps in your career. Passing the NCLEX is required to obtain your state license. If you fail your first attempt, you can retake the NCLEX every 45 days.
Step 3: Get Licensed
After you pass the NCLEX, you will need to get licensed for the state(s) you want to work in and travel to as a nurse. Remember, each state has its own nurse licensing requirements. Some states are part of the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC), which allows nurses with a compact license to practice in other compact states. It's best to check with the state nurse boards for the most official and updated information on license requirements.
Step 4: Continuing Education and Certification
Passing the NCLEX and getting licensed is a huge milestone in the career of a travel nurse. However, continuing your education and earning certifications can help you increase your earnings and help you become an expert in certain specialties like med-surg, oncology, ICU, and more.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Traveling Nurse?
Becoming a travel nurse takes on average 16 months to four years. Factors that can influence the career timeline include:
- The type of nursing program you enter
- Completing prerequisites and other general education requirements
- Licensing and certifications
- Any prior healthcare or education experience
Whether you can be a full-time nursing student or a part-time nursing student will also impact your career timeline.
Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse
Travel nursing is a rewarding career choice for people who value flexibility, travel, and embrace new experiences. Deciding whether the challenges of travel nursing outweigh the benefits ultimately depends on the individual and their working preferences. Below are some of the pros and cons of being a travel nurse:
Travel nurses earn a higher salary than staff nurses. Plus, travel nurses get their meals, transportation, and lodging paid for while on an assignment.
Exposure to New Hospital Settings
Because travel nurses are always working in new locations, they get exposure to unique medical settings in rural and urban environments.
Working in new settings allows travel nurses to make new connections with colleagues in the industry.
Licensing and Credential Requirements
Depending on the state you're on assignment in, you may have to acquire specific licensing or credentials. It's best to check with the appropriate nurse board in your state to find the most updated list of requirements.
Travel nurses must be extremely adaptable to work in a new setting for every assignment. Some nurses find it difficult to adapt to certain patients and environments.
Because travel nursing assignments can be short-term, it can lead to feelings of uncertainty regarding job security.
Travel Nurse Jobs
Here at Nomad, we want to ensure our travel nurses are cared for. By collaborating with experienced healthcare workers, we’ve built a benefits package that fits the needs of travel nurses today. If you want to become a travel nurse with Nomad, start by browsing our latest jobs.
Understanding Travel Nurse Contracts
Before accepting your first travel assignment, familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of your contract. There are many factors to consider when accepting a travel nurse contract, but the most important things come down to:
Make sure that the location you’re being assigned to is one that is desirable to you and one you will be happy and comfortable traveling to.
Length of Contract
The typical contract length for travel nurses at Nomad is 13 weeks. It's common to receive travel assignments that span eight to 13 weeks.
Travel nurse contracts will include a compensation package. Make sure that your pay rate is competitive.
Your contract will outline any additional reimbursements and per diem stipends for housing, food, transportation, and incidentals. Make sure you understand how this number is calculated and whether or not your expenses will cover it.
Frequently Asked Questions About Travel Nurses
According to Nomad Health, the highest-paid travel nurse is an operating room first assistant travel nurse earning $5,920 per week.
Yes. It’s worth it to be a travel nurse because travel nurses are in high-demand and can earn much more than staff nurses. When hospitals and healthcare facilities face staff shortages, travel nurses are brought in to help fill critical needs.
It takes around three to five years to become a traveling nurse. This includes a minimum of two years of college plus one year of full-time work experience in a specialty.
Midge is a registered nurse with eight years of clinical experience in ER, ICU, and home health. After travel nursing for a couple of years, she transitioned from the bedside to writing full-time. She’s passionate about diversity and trauma-informed care and will write hospital haikus if you ask nicely. Currently, she’s an SEO content writer at Nomad Health.