What Is Travel Nursing?
Travel nursing is a phenomenon that really picked up in the United States during the 1970s and 80s when hospitals began to recruit nurses from across the country to help fill in seasonal gaps in nurse staffing through temporary travel assignments.
However, since the 1980s, there’s also been a noticeable increase in the demand for nurses nationwide; or, a growing gap between the number of actively practicing nurses and the demand for nursing staff in hospitals and facilities.
In an attempt to respond to this increase in nurse demand, medical facilities began offering shorter, more flexible travel nursing assignments to help triage this discrepancy. These travel contracts typically last six to thirteen weeks, and most nurses are placed through travel nursing agencies.
Who takes these contracts? Well, travel nurses!
What Is A Travel Nurse?
By definition then, a travel nurse is a registered nurse—typically with one or more years of bedside experience—that will move from one travel nursing contract to another. For example, say a nurse’s legal residence is Tucson, Arizona, but they spend 13 weeks working on an ICU unit in Los Angeles, California, and then another six weeks working in the ICU at a hospital in Denver, Colorado.
Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that there are more than 40,000 travel nurses practicing around the country, or roughly 2% of all registered nurses in the United States. And this number is growing as supply and demand ratios for nursing staff are changing throughout the country, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
What Do Travel Nurses Do?
Travel nursing responsibilities are not too different from those held by staff nurses in any given specialty. Since travel nurses take contracts focused on their primary specialty, the specialty-specific responsibilities remain fairly constant (unless changing from facility to facility or care demographic).
For example, an ER Nurse that has worked in a local emergency department for two years and then decides to become a travel nurse would most likely select and apply for travel nursing positions within the ER, just in different locations that will typically be outside of their current state.
How Do You Become a Travel Nurse?
If you’re currently a registered nurse and are reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re actually a lot closer to meeting all the requirements to becoming a travel nurse than you think.
So, what are the requirements to become a travel nurse?
For travel nursing, the absolute minimum requirements are to have:
- An active nursing licensure in the state in which you plan to practice as well as any relevant certifications needs given your nursing specialty area
- At least one year, if not two, in the specialty area that you plan to focus your travel nursing experience on from within the last three years (i.e. If you worked as an ICU nurse for three years but then stopped working or switched careers for a year or more, you may find it more difficult to pick up your first travel assignment)
- Current and up-to-date health records, including documentation for flu and TB shots as well as other immunizations; documentation of your most recent physical, titers, blood tests, fit mask test, and PPDs
If you can positively check off the above three requirements, then you’re most of the way toward becoming a travel nurse; congrats!
One of the more challenging steps above can be acquiring a nursing license in the state you’re looking to work within. Since many states have their own requirements (aside from compact states, which work together to provide universal requirements that can be satisfied by holding a multi-state, compact license), it can be difficult to know exactly what you need.
If you need help getting your nursing license in another state, we’ve compiled a comprehensive resource of what different states require nurses to do prior to applying for and accepting a new travel assignment.