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Travel Nursing 101: What They Do and How to Get a Job

Travel nursing is a great way to pocket more money, but the benefits of traveling extend beyond the bigger paycheck. Let’s dive into some of these benefits, including travel, personal development, and tax breaks. We’ll discuss what travel nurses do and how their role differs (slightly) from that of a staff nurse. We’ll also examine how nurses can find a recruiter who searches for the most appropriate contracts instead of just selling the nurse a job.

What Do Travel Nurses Do?

Travel nurses tackle a new contract position every three months, on average. Staff nurses are long-term employees who often develop relationships with their coworkers over time and gain intimate knowledge of the inner workings of their unit. This may sound like travel nurses get the short end of the stick, but hospitals work hard to ensure travelers are thoroughly oriented and comfortable in their contract position. The ability to adapt to new surroundings can make the travel nurse an invaluable player on the healthcare team.


Travel Nurses Make Good Money

Without question, the biggest perk of being a travel nurse is the money, sometimes two to three times more money than staff nurses make. A travel nurse can take time off between contracts and still make more money than a staff nurse.

Nurses who work an assignment more than 50 miles from their residence may qualify for a stipend. A stipend is the non-taxed portion of the travel pay package, an incentive for nurses who can’t return home between shifts and need temporary housing. Recruiters who know the area help the nurse find affordable housing and take advantage of location-specific savings. For example, a recruiter in Massachusetts would be aware that the state offers tax-free hotel stays of more than three months. This would reduce the nurse’s housing costs by 12%.

Travel nurses who live within 50 miles of their contract facility won’t qualify for the non-taxed stipend, but the pay is still good. Working closer to home has advantages, especially for nurses who care for children or other family members.


Travel Nurses Fill an Important Role

Travel nurses are hired to fill a temporary gap in staffing. Helping their fellow nurses and providing care to patients during what may be the worst time of their lives is what makes travel nurses superheroes. The travel nurse assignment may be short, but it leaves a lasting impact on patients and staff.


Travel Nurses Gain Valuable Experience

The travel nurse learns to function within different environments, making them adaptable. For example, travel nurses learn to use various medical record systems, making future assignments less stressful and providing a leg up when applying for positions in which the nurse has experience using the facility’s EMR.

Staff nurses may be asked to float to different units but typically stay in their area of expertise because that’s what they were hired for. Travel nurses will often float to other units, gaining experiences that may open doors to other opportunities. For example, a med-surg traveler may float to a progressive step-down unit, or an ER nurse may float to an ICU or CCU unit. This allows nurses to “try out” other specialties while adding new skills to their resumes.

Talk with your recruiter about your career goals. They can act as a career counselor, helping you choose assignments based on your goals. Take for example, a psychiatric nurse currently working in inpatient detox units who would like to gain experience working in med-surg and telemetry. The recruiter can find a contract in a med-surg/psych unit that allows the nurse to use her psych knowledge while gaining experience in med-surg. The facility gets an experienced traveler, and the nurse gains some valuable new skills.


Travel Nurses Travel

If you enjoy exploring new places, like the Oregon coast, sunny southern California, national parks, or the beaches of the Carolinas, travel nursing can make these experiences possible. If you like big cities, travel nursing can take you to some of the best in the country, including Boston, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco. A good recruiter can help you find a position that meets your professional and personal goals.


Finding Your First Travel Nursing Contract

Consider hanging out on travel nurse-specific apps or websites, like Wanderly or, where you can connect with recruiters. Recruiters post jobs that nurses can respond to by asking for more information. The recruiter and nurse can chat privately and anonymously on a call or in a chat room, allowing the nurse to ask questions and determine quickly if the position is worth applying to without giving out any personal information.


Work with a Recruiter

Connect with a travel nurse recruiting agency, like Planet Healthcare. Working with a responsive, thoughtful recruiter removes much of the stress of finding assignments and moving to a new location every three months. Recruiters who know the assignment area can provide tips on activities and restaurants, making your stay more enjoyable. A good recruiter will develop a relationship based on honesty, trust, and professionalism.

For example, if a nurse has been out of nursing school a couple of years and has only worked in med-surg, telemetry, and step-down units, but would love to work with children and doesn’t know how to move into pediatric nursing. A thoughtful recruiter may find a position at a women’s and infant’s hospital, giving the nurse exposure to pediatric nursing and possible float opportunities.

So, don’t be shy when discussing the type of position you’re looking for and the pay you’ll accept. Your recruiter will work to find the best job at the best rate. And always remember – a good recruiter will work with you to meet your needs and not just fill a travel nurse position.

Photo credit: Canva

by Planet Healthcare

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