How Does Travel Nursing Work? All the Secrets of Travel Nursing and How to Become One

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Blue map of world with airplane routes mapped across countries

Travel nursing has been getting plenty of chatter lately, and for good reason. This unique opportunity for nurses provides many benefits worth exploring. As you think about how to use a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from Concordia University, St. Paul, you may wonder, how does travel nursing work, and what are the benefits?

In recent times, travel nursing has seen an unprecedented demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many nurses are joining in on the action because the rates are so high for travel nurses right now. Let’s look at more details about how travel nursing works and how getting your BSN will set you up to excel in this career path.

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

With travel nursing, a registered nurse is hired to work short-term for a healthcare system. Assignments are generally eight or 13 weeks but can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months or longer. You can choose where you travel, which units you work on, and potentially stay in areas closer to home.

Travel nurses are hired through agencies that contract with the hospital, and these agencies organize many of the details for traveling nurses.

Travel nursing is a necessary role that fills gaps that happen when a hospital is short staffed or has a nurse leave or take maternity leave. The hospital will then have a travel nurse come in and fill in until permanent staffing returns.

Travel nurses do a similar job to what full-time staff nurses do at a hospital. Each opportunity is different depending on the unit and job, but they will care for patients alongside the staff nurses for that hospital.

Qualifications for Travel Nursing

Having a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is the preferred level of education for traveling nurses, so earning a BSN rather than an associate degree will open far more doors for you with travel nursing.

If you want to get started with travel nursing sooner, CSP’s ABSN program can prepare you to be a practice-ready nurse in 16 months. Then with a BSN, you will be able to jump into this lucrative and sought-after field shortly after graduation from CSP.

nursing student using a stethoscope on a manikin

As a travel nurse, you will also be able to pick from countless locations and specialties. Note that some positions such as critical care or emergency department nursing may require extra experience.

Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

Travel nursing introduces a variety of benefits and challenges compared to traditional nursing, and it is helpful to go into this field with a clear understanding.

One traveling nurse, Kallsen, who works with babies in the NICU, describes her first travel nursing experience like this:

Some of the pros of travel nursing include:

  • Ability to travel to new places and meet new people.
  • Gain excellent, well-rounded experience quickly.
  • You can try working in a range of units and jobs, so your work doesn’t get old.
  • It adds valuable experience to your resume.
  • Travel nurses receive earn up to four times the compensation rates compared to traditional nursing.
  • Agencies offer comprehensive benefits and do most of the work for you with applying.
  • Ability to request where you travel and which assignments you take.
  • Opportunity for vacation time between each contract.

Some of the drawbacks of travel nursing include:

  • A steep learning curve as you learn hospital system policies and workflows every time you move.
  • Travel nursing is not conducive for families with school-aged children or people who need to be at home.
  • Relationships are short-term, and it can be hard to get to know coworkers well.
  • You may end up in a less than ideal hospital or position, and you must wait it out and finish the contract before moving.
  • Having travel nurses increases costs for hospitals. When more nurses start traveling away from home, that causes a need for more travel nurses locally, increasing costs for local medical centers.

As you can see, travel nursing is not right for everyone, and it is best for those who have a flexible lifestyle without any major ties to a location. If you are interested in traveling, the field has some major incentives that are worth exploring more.

Salary and Benefits for Travel Nurses

A high salary is one of major perks of travel nursing, especially recently. In a year, travel nurses can earn well into the six figures, according to Indeed. Traditional pay rates were about double the rate for staff nurses. However, now, the travel rates are about four times higher than those for a staff nurse, so this is an incredibly lucrative salary opportunity for a nurse.

Kallsen describes the pay rate as “absolutely insane,” saying that this is “drawing a lot of nurses to travel because it’s hard to ignore that opportunity.”

Travel nursing agencies generally offer comprehensive benefits including health insurance, a 401(k) plan with a match, life insurance and paid sick leave. Some also give financial support for education if you want to continue with your education or get an advanced degree. They offer vacation between jobs, cover travel costs and often provide housing or a housing stipend.

hand pointing at table with stethoscope

The benefits provided by travel nursing agencies often include:

  • High weekly compensation rate
  • Vacation time between each travel position
  • Health, vision and dental insurance
  • Life insurance
  • 401(k) with an employer match
  • Travel stipend for moving costs
  • Weekly housing and food stipend
  • Education support for continuing education or a graduate degree

With travel nurses being such a valuable commodity, agencies tend to take very good care of their nurses and are available to help with paperwork and any necessary challenges as nurses plan each assignment.

When Can I Become a Travel Nurse?

Travel nursing has historically been thought of as a career that is only an option after working as a nurse for a few years. The general rule is that agencies want two years of experience, but with the great need in our hospitals, it is possible for recent grads to work earlier than that.

Each role, healthcare facility and nursing agency has different requirements, but some hire travel nurses after only a year of experience. Even if you haven’t been working as long as they want, they may still work with you and be flexible with your experience. That means a year or two after finishing your BSN from Concordia St. Paul, you may be able to jump into travel nursing.

two Concordia St. Paul ABSN students studying together

How Do I Find an Agency and Apply?

If you are interested in traveling, research the details of many travel nursing agencies before you commit. These agencies contract with a variety of hospitals, so look at what job openings are available with each agency.

You can find social media groups to connect with other nurses and read reviews about different hospitals and agencies, which can be important for helping you decide where to go. If the job turns out to be less than ideal, remember that it is short term, and you can easily move to another hospital and agency next time.

As far as the application process goes, it is quite simple:

  • You express interest with a travel nursing agency.
  • A recruiter will reach out right away and have you submit your resume, references and skills test.
  • After telling the recruiter what jobs interest you, they will send you all the job info, such as compensation, stipend and travel reimbursement.
  • Decide the final jobs you’d like to apply to; the recruiter submits your applications.
  • Have a phone interview with the hospital.
  • Complete paperwork plus a physical, TB test and drug test. If you stay at the same agency, this step can be skipped after your first travel job.
  • For the next job, tell the recruiter which jobs to apply for. You can also request an extension from your current hospital if you like your current assignment.

As you can see, travel nursing agencies put in most of the work with getting you hired and into a job you want, so the process should be low stress for you.

How to Get Started Today

If you have already earned your BSN and have some experience under your belt, you can jump right in by reaching out to a travel nursing agency. Now that you know how travel nursing works, you know how simple it is to get started.

If you have not yet pursued a BSN degree, but you have 60 college credits or you have another bachelor’s degree, then reach out to us at Concordia St. Paul today. We will help you get started on your path to a BSN.

Concordia St. Paul ABSN student standing in front of university logo

With our ABSN program, you can graduate and get started with travel nursing in just a few years. With us, you can earn a BSN in 16 months, plus we have three start dates each year so you can make the most of your time.

Connect with us at CSP today, and we will help you earn a BSN so you can start a rewarding and meaningful career.