As a result of the COVID pandemic, travel nursing became more popular than ever before. In 2022, the world has adapted to a new normal of living life with coronavirus, and the demand for travel nurses remains high. As a new graduate nurse or a seasoned nurse new to traveling, you may have a lot of questions about how to work your way into this popular and lucrative business. As you learn how to become a travel nurse, weigh the pros and cons and decide if it makes sense for you to pursue it now.
What is Travel Nursing
Travel nursing was developed as a way for hospitals to fill short-term staffing needs.
A typical travel nurse assignment of thirteen weeks could be enough time for the hospital to train a new permanent employee. A travel nurse is a quick albeit temporary fix to a hospital or clinic’s staffing problem. Currently, hospitals are facing severe staffing challenges with no end in sight. Because of this, travel nurses are often given the opportunity to extend contracts and stay in the same facility for longer than thirteen weeks, sometimes for up to a year.
A travel nurse is an employee for an agency rather than the hospital system where they are working. The travel agency is responsible for the new-hire checklist items, such as immunizations and background checks. Orientation with the hospital system will be very short, usually no longer than a few shifts. To be successful in the industry the nurse needs to learn and adapt quickly while being extremely confident in his or her skill set.
Can a New Grad Be a Travel Nurse
That depends on how ‘new’ the new grad is. The ability to succeed in a new facility and work with confidence in your skill set requires experience; there’s really no way around it. Generally speaking, a fresh out of school nurse cannot be a travel nurse — yet. But, a new grad can be a traveler after a year of experience. This means the new grad can start working on the checklist needed to travel when the time is right.
What’s Required for a New Grad to Be a Travel Nurse
In order to work in any nursing job, first you have to earn a nursing degree through an accredited program, pass the NCLEX and hold an active Registered Nursing License in the state in which you desire to work. Typically one to two years of total RN experience are needed, with at least one of those years in the area of work you plan to travel in. The current nursing shortage has definitely made it easier for new grads to start traveling after meeting these minimum requirements.
Where Should a New Grad Work With the Goal of Traveling
If you know you want to travel as soon as possible while searching for your first RN job, seek out positions with a plethora of travel job openings. Medical-surgical, intensive care, and emergency departments tend to have high demands for travelers. If your experience will be in a more specialized unit, your job search may take longer.
Seek out facilities with Magnet designation. These facilities have earned this award for their history of nursing excellence. Hospitals with this designation are your best bet for getting the experience that you need to be prepared for traveling.
How Can a New Grad Build a Competitive Travel Nurse Resume
Build a competitive resume by highlighting your expertise in the area you wish to work while traveling. Start studying to get certified in your specialty. Trust me, studying for certification is a breeze compared to nursing school and studying for the NCLEX! Not only that, but the detailed knowledge you will gain in your specific field will help you in your practice. Check with your manager on hospital policy regarding reimbursement, as hospitals may pay to reimburse certification costs.
Volunteer to precept newer nurses or nursing students, and represent your unit on a hospital-wide committee to highlight yourself as a leader. Being part of a committee outside of your unit also helps you to broaden your perspective on nursing, and an open perspective is something you will need as a traveler!
Build relationships with nurse leaders as soon as you can, and collect positive reference letters from managers, charge nurses, and other coworkers you work with to have stellar reference letters on hand when needed. When asking for a reference letter, give your letter writer adequate time to provide one to you. You don’t want your writer to feel rushed.
When educational opportunities arise through your hospital, make it a priority to take those courses and add them to your resume. Keeping your resume updated as you go along will reduce stress when you need it most. That will also allow time for others to review your resume and provide suggestions for edits.
Pros of Travel Nursing
In my opinion, the ‘pros’ of travel nursing greatly outweigh the ‘cons.’ As a travel nurse, you have the opportunity to travel the country on your company’s dime. You can go places for 13 weeks that most people would only travel to on vacation. You have enough time to really see the area but short enough to not miss home too much. It’s also short enough that you may be able to convince a friend or family member to travel with you. Or, you can stay close to home by taking a local contract. Depending on your schedule you can choose to travel far at certain times of the year and stay close at other times. For example, if you’re a parent with kids in school, you could travel with your family further away during the summer while staying close to home during the school year.
Another ‘pro’ to travel nursing is the schedule flexibility. Staff nursing jobs tend to have set limits of time off, and you have to compete with others in your unit months in advance for highly desired vacation times. In addition, hospitals may have a ‘black-out’ vacation period. These are highly desired vacation times such as during Christmas or Thanksgiving when either no staff nurses or only the most senior staff nurses are allowed time off. As a travel nurse you state the time off you need during a contract prior to signing, and if accepted you are guaranteed to have that time off. Even though you might not know the exact days you will be working when signing, you have the opportunity to know that you are off when you need it most.
One of the most well-known pros of working as a travel nurse is the money. Nursing is known to be a stable job with middle-class salary offerings, but since the 2020 COVID travel nursing boom, travel nurses have been able to earn six-figure salaries. This sudden increase in pay is a huge benefit, especially if trying to pay off loans, save for a house or start a family. In addition, many travel jobs also pay stipends-money for housing and food- which is untaxed. Even though you will be spending at least a portion of that stipend money on your housing and food needs, remember that you were spending money on housing and food before your travel gig, but all of that money was taxed. This way, you can earn a higher salary without having to pay it all back in taxes.
Cons of Travel Nursing
All the ‘pros’ being said, as a travel nurse you are thrown into new challenges daily. Depending on your view, this challenge can be a pro or con. Working through and overcoming challenges in your nursing career will build skills and confidence, making you more marketable in future job searches as well as nurturing your own personal resilience. But any challenge adds stress, and depending on what else is going on in your life you need to decide if the added stress is doable for your life at this time. With the new challenges at work you may have decreased mental and emotional energy left over for home and family life. To be a successful travel nurse it’s incredibly helpful to have supportive people close to you.
13 weeks is not that long in the grand scheme of things, but if you have a significant other or close family who can’t travel with you, 13 weeks is plenty of time to feel homesick. If you find yourself struggling with this, encourage your family to visit even if they can’t be with you for your whole travel assignment. Even a weekend visit in the middle can help break up the longevity of the time away.
Though travel nursing has stabilized since the start of the pandemic and the need for travel nurses remains great, in general, travel nursing is not as stable as a traditional staff nursing job. The pay and job openings for travelers are subject to change with the market. No matter how stable the market is, there is always the risk that the hospital could cancel your contract at any time. This doesn’t happen often - if it did the travel industry would not be booming! However if you’re at a point in your life where you are not able to take a risk it might not be the best time for you to travel. Some nurses may choose to mitigate this risk by staying PRN at their staff job so they have something to fall back on should their travel contract end early for any reason.
Where Can a New Grad Find Travel Nurse Opportunities
When I worked as a staff nurse, I started my travel job search simply by talking to all the travelers I came into contact with. Every travel nurse I had a rapport with was casually interviewed about their travel nursing experience. How long and where did they work before traveling? What company did they travel with? How many assignments had they done so far, and what were the most fun and hardest parts? By asking those few questions I learned so much, and was armed with the basic knowledge I needed before browsing travel companies. Something that became clear to me upon every interview though was that it is incredibly important to work for a travel company that has your back through the ups and downs of your assignment. The quality that Trusted Health possesses makes Trusted Health a fantastic place for new grads to start their travel nursing job search.
How Can Trusted Health Help New Grads Looking to Travel
In your job search with Trusted Health, you will speak with a Nurse Advocate, not just a nurse recruiter. In your shifts at the bedside you advocate tirelessly for your patients, and your Nurse Advocate works for you with the same attitude in mind. The Trusted Health Nurse advocates are available via phone call, message or e-mail so you can communicate in whichever way is most convenient for your unique schedule. Trusted Health is also unique in its plethora of resources they provide for new nurses. All that being said, the most important way Trusted Health assists new grads wanting to travel is they have thousands of job opportunities waiting for the right nurse to fill them. One of those nurses could be you.
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