What Do Travel Nurses Do? Your Comprehensive Guide to Travel Nursing


Travel nurses are short-term healthcare employees working on contracts for hospitals when they are facing labor shortages. Those contracts might be as short as 4 weeks or as long as 13 — and they can often be extended for up to a year.

And of course, travel nurses travel! Some travel nurses will work in just one state and travel from one hospital to the next while others will work in a different city and state every few months.

Nurses make up approximately 30% of a hospital’s staff. Because of the strain from the COVID-19 pandemic—and a shortage of professionals able to train new nurses—there has been an unprecedented increase in the need for short-term nursing staff.

Even though hospitals now aren’t as overfilled and understaffed as they were in 2020 and 2021, there is still a huge demand for nurses all across the country.

As a travel nurse, your job will vary from contract to contract depending on what floor or unit the hospital needs the most help in. The work will be the same as staff nurses.

Assessing patients, administering medication, and coordinating with physicians and other healthcare staff will all be part of the daily routine no matter where you find yourself working.

As a travel nurse, you will work with a staffing agency whose job it is to make sure you get the pay and type of work you want. For example, you might only work in the ICU — your recruiter will help you apply for those jobs.

Once the contract is over, the hospital may ask you to renew your contract, but even if they do, you’re still free to look for another contract or take some time off if you need some me time.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Most travel nurses have worked for 1–2 years (at least) in a staff position before becoming a travel nurse.

However, some hospitals might consider you for a travel position if you have as little as 9 months of experience. It all depends on the hospital and the staffing agency.

Once you’ve got that experience, you have to get licensed in the state you’re going to be working in. If you’re licensed in a state that’s part of the NLC, then you’ve got a lot of options, but many states still aren’t a part of the compact.

Just check and see what the state’s requirements are to get licensed there well before you want to start traveling — it might take a while to get licensed, and you’ll have to pay fees on top of waiting, though some travel agencies will cover those fees.

Benefits of Travel Nursing

Travel nursing has tons of benefits that you can’t get as a staff nurse. Here are just a few reasons why medical travel has become such a popular career move.

The Pay

The money is probably the biggest reason nurses start traveling. Not only is the base pay way higher, but you’ll also get stipends for food, travel, and lodging that sometimes can be way more than what you would spend for those things normally.

Some travel nurses even receive signing bonuses, although that’s not a guarantee for every contract.

It’s not uncommon for travel nurses to get take-home pay around $60-$90 per hour (depending on experience).

Remember though that your actual take-home pay (after expenses) depends a lot on the lifestyle you choose while traveling.

Staying in a hotel will be the most convenient, but it takes up more of the housing stipend. Finding roommates on sites like Roomster or Craigslist can allow you to pocket more of your stipend.

Some travel nurses will even buy an RV to travel from city to city.

This definitely costs a lot up front, but if you decide to make travel nursing a way of life, it can pay for itself.

The Travel

Depending on how you look at it, the travel aspect of travel nursing might be the best part. You get paid to travel the country, and you get to stay in places for much longer than you’d be able to on a vacation.

That means you can explore each city for weeks or months and then move on to the next city on your bucket list and do it all over again.

Most nursing jobs require you to work three 12-hour shifts with 4 days off each week. This gives you an incredible amount of freedom to explore the city you’re in and really enjoy your life outside of the scrubs.

The Experience

As a travel nurse, you will find yourself working at many facilities across the country.

Some facilities have older equipment, some have newer, state-of-the-art equipment, but by putting yourself in a situation where you’ll need to learn how to work with all types, you are making yourself more valuable as an employee and setting yourself up for higher pay down the road.

On top of seeing and working with all kinds of cutting-edge medical technologies, you’ll be expanding your professional network far wider than any staff position could offer. Who knows? You might find your new favorite place to live and be able to take a full-time position for a while if you find a floor you really enjoy working on.

How to Know if Travel Nursing is Right for You

Travel nursing has tons of benefits — if you love lots of money and adventure, it might be for you.

If you like:

  • Exploring the country
  • Meeting new people
  • Getting more money
  • Choosing when and where you work

And if you don’t like:

  • Workplace drama
  • Workplace politics
  • Staying in the same place for too long

Then travel nursing might just be for you.

Looking for an Assignment? Let’s Talk

If you’re looking for your first medical travel assignment — or if you’re looking for your next assignment — we’re here to help.

Apply Here


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