Travel nursing is a growing area of opportunity for nurses, accelerated by the nursing shortage. Travel nursing has always been an exciting opportunity, offering nurses the ability to see new parts of the country and gain experience working in new environments. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, demand for travel nurses has been volatile but still higher than ever.
Whether you’re a new nurse contemplating your future career path or an experienced nurse looking to optimize your potential, this article will provide valuable insights into the world of travel nursing. Understanding the myriad of opportunities that travel nursing offers will help you make the best decision about whether it is for you.
What is Travel Nursing?
Travel nursing is a unique career path for nurses, where nurses take on temporary positions in various locations, typically hospitals or healthcare facilities. These assignments typically last for 13 weeks but can last from just a few weeks to several months. Facilities use travel nurses to fill temporary gaps in their staffing, often paying more for these nurses due to the urgency of their needs.
Travel nursing offers nurses the opportunity to explore new regions, experience different healthcare settings, and develop a diverse skill set. Nurses who travel are often employed by staffing agencies that specialize in placing them in these short-term roles, providing a flexible and dynamic career option.
The appeal of travel nursing lies in its unique blend of professional development, personal adventure, and financial reward. Nurses have the chance to work in a variety of clinical environments, from rural community hospitals to large urban medical centers, gaining exposure to different patient populations and healthcare practices. This not only broadens their clinical experience but also enhances their adaptability and problem-solving skills, valuable assets in the nursing profession.
The Demand for Travel Nurses
While demand for travel nurses isn’t as high as it was at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has seen a significant uptick in recent years and continues to grow in 2024. The nursing field, in general, is growing rapidly at 6% per year. Travel nursing is growing even faster within this overall field. Several factors contribute to this trend, including:
- A growing need for nurses specialized in specific fields
- Hospital or nurse strikes
- A growing population of elderly patients requiring care
- The general nursing shortage that continues to worsen
Hospitals and healthcare facilities turn to travel nurses to fill these gaps, ensuring they can continue delivering quality patient care. While in an ideal world hospitals would eventually never need travel nurses, the growing nursing shortage and variable needs hospitals have almost guarantees that the demand for travel nurses will only expand in 2024 and beyond.
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Demand
The COVID-19 pandemic had a large impact on travel nursing, with the demand for travel nurses spiking tremendously during the pandemic. In some hospitals, travel nurses made as much as $250 per hour due to the extreme demand for nursing skills coupled with the severe strain on the nursing workforce.
If you’re considering travel nursing, it is important to know that the extraordinary demand for travel nurses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. While it was possible to make over $10,000 during the height of demand, you are very unlikely to see travel assignments at even half of this in 2024.
While the inflated wages some nurses saw during the pandemic are no more, it did cause lasting strain and accelerate burnout among nurses. This has led the demand for travel nurses to plateau at a higher level than prior to the pandemic, with travel nurses making more and finding themselves more highly desired than prior to COVID-19.
Navigating the 2024 Travel Nursing Market
For those considering a career in travel nursing, you don’t have to figure out the market for travel nursing on your own. Travel nurses will typically work with a reputable staffing agency that works with hospitals to understand both their needs and the needs of the individual nurses they work with. They will help make nurses aware of potential opportunities and work with them to find the best fit for their plans.
While staffing agencies play an important role in navigating the travel nursing market, understanding the market yourself is also important. The demand for travel nurses varies by location, specialty, and time of year, so staying informed about these trends is key. Networking with other travel nurses and joining professional groups can provide insights into the best opportunities and the most reputable staffing agencies.
It’s important to consider the practical aspects of travel nursing, such as obtaining the necessary licenses for different states and understanding the benefits packages offered by agencies. Travel nursing compensation often differs from most staff nursing positions to offer tax savings. For example, travel nurses may receive a large housing allowance that is taxed at a lower rate than their wages.
The Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing in 2024
Travel nursing in 2024, like any career decision, comes with its set of advantages and challenges. On the positive side, travel nursing offers flexibility and the opportunity for personal and professional growth that cannot be found in most staff nurse positions. Advantages of travel nursing include:
- Higher potential earnings compared to most comparable permanent positions.
- Flexibility in choosing assignments.
- Exposure to diverse clinical settings.
- Opportunity to avoid long-term obligations in suboptimal positions.
- Ability to visit new places without paying for travel.
While there is comparably little downside, the potential cons are worth evaluating before making a decision. Travel nursing can involve a lot of uncertainties and require a high level of adaptability. These potential downsides include:
- The stress of frequent relocations.
- Variable workload and expectations.
- Potential for feelings of disconnection from a stable social circle.
If you’re uncertain if travel nursing is for you, one of the great things about this career move is that you can try it out without any long-term commitment. You can take on a short, three-month assignment to see what it is like, then simply do something else if you don’t like it. Most nurses who start to travel, however, get hooked quickly to the travel lifestyle and benefits traveling offers.
Starting a Career As a Travel Nurse
Embarking on a career as a travel nurse does have some basic requirements that you should consider. It’s important to ensure you have the necessary qualifications and experience, as most agencies require at least a year of clinical experience. Additional clinical specialization can also make obtaining certain positions easier.
The key steps to beginning your travel nursing career include:
- Getting licensed – To be a travel nurse, the first obvious step is becoming a nurse. It is important to remember that you will need to be licensed in every state you’d like to travel in. A compact state license
- Gain experience – Travel nursing requires the ability to “hit the ground running.” You’ll typically have a short orientation and be expected to learn each facility’s workflow quickly. Because of this, having at least a year of experience is almost always required.
- Build a strong resume – Part of travel nursing involves having your experience and background evaluated for each new position. Because of this, it’s important to put some time and effort into building your resume and keeping it up to date.
- Connect with a staffing agency – Travel nursing positions are typically only accessible through staffing agencies. These agencies make money each time they place a nurse and are very incentivized to build good relationships with nurses. They should help guide you through the process and make it easy to get started.
What Does 2024 Hold for You?
2024 is a great time to get into travel nursing. There has never been a better way for nurses to see the country while also increasing their earning potential. This unique career path also offers flexibility, diversity in work environments, and the opportunity for substantial professional growth.
If you’re someone who thrives in dynamic settings and is looking for a non-traditional nursing role that gives you the freedom to see new places, travel nursing could be exactly what you’re looking for! The only way to truly know is to try it out for yourself.
Caleb is a nurse leader and an experienced medical writer. His academic background includes nursing at a State University of New York school and biology and neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. With multiple advanced certifications in emergency, pediatric, and trauma nursing, Caleb’s clinical experience includes supervisory roles within ICU and ER settings and executive roles in healthcare startups. Caleb is a prolific medical writer, having written thousands of medical articles and papers covering a wide variety of healthcare topics. His writing experience includes creating content for dozens of entities, ranging from startups to Fortune 1000 companies. Caleb grew up in New Zealand and emigrated to the United States in 2008. He has settled in Boise, ID, with his wife and two daughters.