Traveling to another country to help others in need of healthcare is admirable. Working in multiple environments that expose one to different modes of handling the myriad of issues within healthcare widens one’s perspective on the topic. Only very few professions afford this type of opportunity, and nursing is one of them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the demand for healthcare professionals, especially nurses. Unfortunately, pandemic impacts have created a situation where more nurses are leaving the field than entering it. This is primarily because they are exhausted and demoralized after the experience of the pandemic. Another reason for the nursing exodus is that many have exchanged well-paying permanent positions for temporary jobs that offer more in terms of compensation – in one instance a nursing job paid $5,000 a week.
This shortage is serious – according to the US Health Resources and Services Administration, by 2030, 33 states will already experience a shortage in licensed practical/vocational nurses, and seven states will experience a shortage of registered nurses, a certification that is increasingly becoming valued by employers. Jobs in the nursing profession are projected to grow faster than in any other profession between 2019 and 2029 to keep up with this demand.
Furthermore, this growth is expected in part because more nursing professionals will be traveling nurses. Travel nurses comprise a growing field of professionals who in the last few years have played a vital role in stabilizing the country’s healthcare system. Below is information regarding what exactly a travel nurse is, its history, what the job entails, and its advantages and disadvantages.
What is a travel nurse?
Travel nursing encompasses serving in healthcare centers, hospitals, clinics and private homes for a short duration (a few days, weeks, months or longer). They can be found working in both rural and metropolitan areas in similar positions as the dedicated staff nurses. Additionally, these nurses engage in international travel. Finally, traveling nurses are typically hired by nurse staffing agencies. Today, they have become an integral and important part of healthcare. These nurses fill in gaps that occur when a healthcare center experiences shortages, and in a sense, they fortify the type of care that nurses can provide to their patients.
Travel nursing emerged in the 1970s under two conditions. The first was when there were too many patients and not enough nurses, and the second was when there were not enough patients to support hiring a dedicated staff nurse. Another trend that contributed to travel nursing during the 1970s was when a large number of senior citizens flocked to warmer states in the US – for example, Florida during the winter to avoid the severe cold temperatures. They were often accompanied by their nurses who traveled with them in an informal arrangement.
In the beginning, these nurses were hired to meet the demand of an aging population who transplanted themselves to warm climes for a season. Depending on the organization, some nurses found themselves becoming permanent employees. In most cases though, nurses had to pay for their own housing, and they were not under contract or any formal agreement, making it possible for healthcare organizations with little means to afford hiring help as needed.
This arrangement has evolved to nursing agencies hiring out nurses to pay for specific needs. These agencies are also advocates for making sure that their nurses get secure housing, all-expenses paid transportation to their new assignments, and competitive compensation. In return, the agency takes a portion of the travel nurse’s salary.
The requirements to be a travel nurse differ depending on the certification level. Licensed practical nurses receive a certificate or diploma in practical nursing and can be a travel nurse, while registered nurses earn a diploma, associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing to be eligible for travel nursing. Additionally, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) at the appropriate level.
Also, the educational prerequisites might be different depending on the level of care required. For example, some nurses might need to earn graduate coursework from an accredited program such as the Marymount University Online post-master’s DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), which prepares them to work in nursing leadership and epidemiology. A travel nurse who works in the intensive care unit must get the Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support, Basic Life Support, and Pediatric Life Support certifications. Ideally, a travel nurse will have enough content knowledge and experience to cover most areas.
Outside of educational degrees and certification, the travel nurse should have work experience serving as a travel nurse or in a similar role. They should also have participated in an apprenticeship or something similar. While these skills are not necessarily required, they are attractive to travel nurse agencies.
In general, traveling nurses’ duties include administering medication and vaccinations and taking blood pressure, glucose and other tests. Other duties involve changing dressings, assessing wounds and monitoring the patient’s overall wellbeing. They might also dispense nutritional advice and engage in educating the patient on health and wellness issues. Moreover, if the patient’s care is a team effort, then they might be required to communicate with a healthcare team.
While the above are the duties required of the position, travel nurses need a few soft skills to successfully navigate their work. The nurse must be able to adapt to new environments quickly, and they must rely on their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Travel nurses usually have excellent organizational skills and report-writing skills.
They should be comfortable with working in both clinical and acute care environments. Because they are not on a ward or in a clinic under the constant purview of the supervising nurse, they must know how to work independently. At the same time, independent work does not provide the same access to professional networking and camaraderie that working in a traditional healthcare setting might, and for this reason, a good social network can provide help during the more challenging moments in this career.
Benefits of travel nursing
Travel nursing provides professionals with both career and non-career advantages. They are some of the best-paid nurses in the world, while at the same time they get exposure to a wide range of clinical environments. See below the advantages of working as a travel nurse.
The field of nursing provides professionals with a number of advantages, but travel nursing gives them more flexibility. Usually, a nurse might work assignments of 13 weeks, and afterwards the nurse can extend their assignments or travel somewhere else. Outside of this though, travel nurses choose where they work (healthcare center or clinic), they choose the location (city), and they choose the duration of their work.
As stated above, travel nurses have the option of working overseas. International opportunities present the nurse with the chance to work in a setting outside of what they are accustomed to. On their days off, working abroad offers the individual the chance to explore other cultures, learn about the medical practices, and take in the scenery.
Some experts report that travel nursing is more lucrative than traditional nursing. According to the online publication Host Healthcare, travel nurses make more per hour than staff nurses who work at a dedicated position with a healthcare organization. In acute care, for example, travel nurses can earn up to $110,000 a year when including pay and other compensation benefits, compared with traditional registered nurses who make on average $67,490 a year. However, this figure can change depending on the need. During the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling nurses who signed COVID-19 contracts earned $10,000 a week.
Furthermore, travel nurses receive various types of bonuses. For example, some nurses receive a retention bonus of anywhere between $100 and $2,000 just for staying with the same agency. If a nurse refers another nurse to the agency, they can potentially earn between $500 and $4,000.
Opens career advancement opportunities
Because travel nurses fulfill diverse roles, they are typically seen working in multiple settings worldwide. The travel nurse can find themselves working in clinical settings. Alternatively, they can work in educational and management careers. Being a travel nurse also provides the professional with the chance to preview what it might be like to work in different healthcare settings. The professional works in multiple healthcare environments before settling down and committing to working in a specific field.
Disadvantages of travel nursing
At the same time, traveling to different locations also has its disadvantages. Uncertainty of work location and duration might be one disadvantage. See below for the few other disadvantages that go with working as a travel nurse.
Full-time work without all benefits
Many times, travel nurses are not afforded the same compensation packages as full-time nurses. Dedicated staff nurses receive vacation time and paid time off. Conversely, the travel nurse might receive some or none of the additional perks that go with nursing simply because they are not working for just one organization.
Time away from friends and family
Because a person travels so frequently, they might not have as much time to spend with their family or friends. One publication suggested that travel nursing is ideal for someone who is young or at the beginning of their career because of the extensive time away from home and family. However, travel nursing affords the person the opportunity to earn a substantial wage annually, making it possible to work less, live on less, and spend more time with family.
Earn multiple state licenses
A traveling nurse might need to earn additional state licenses to practice medicine. Again, this requires more time, but it might open the door to a dedicated position in a desirable state or country.
Heavy patient load and isolation
Working independently has its perks. At the same time, this isolation can make getting through a heavy patient load very difficult. This is the reason why having a support network outside of work is important.
Hospital organizations are willing to pay well for a traveling nurse to work in their center. At the same time, however, they can be exposed to pathogens, workplace violence and chemicals. If traveling overseas, there might be geographic challenges related to the country’s laws and customs.
The nursing profession provides those who enter it with multiple pathways to earn a living while caring for others. With demand being so high in all nursing specializations, now is the time to jump in and choose a career that has plenty of career advancement potential and one that exposes the professional to new environments and people. In the case of travel nursing, professionals engage numerous healthcare settings and people, and therefore open the door to other pathways in nursing.
For nurses in the middle of their career, travel nursing only requires the requisite credentials and additional certifications that an individual might want to make their resume attractive to agencies and employers. The job does not require any additional degrees, except if the nurse wants to work in a specialized field. Even with any additional schooling, the investment is worth the compensation in terms of pay and intrinsic rewards.
As is the case with most professions that offer lucrative pay, there is risk in travel nursing. However, whether it is working in a high-pathogenic environment or being exposed to violence, the nursing professional is usually given the tools to work safely. Even with these negatives, it is hard to argue that traveling to other states and countries will make for an interesting, eventful career.
In the next decade, the demand for nursing is expected to rise considerably. Many experts predict that this demand will create opportunities for travel nurses to help both traditional and non-traditional healthcare organizations with filling in the gaps as the number of dedicated nurses leaving outpaces the number entering the field. This provides nurses thinking about making a career switch with a way to stave off the burnout associated with the profession, while creating new pathways to an interesting career.
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