Travel and Nursing are two words rarely used together, yet travel nursing can be a stimulating, exciting, and rewarding career choice for nurses.
Travel nurses are registered nurses and advance practice nurses who accept assignments for weeks, months, or in some cases years, either through nursing agencies or through direct recruitment by hospitals or other healthcare organizations. This means nurses can accept, for example, 13-week assignments at institutions close to their homes. In such cases the only “travel” required is the commute back and forth between home to work.
For those looking for a little more adventure, travel assignments throughout the country and across the globe offer nurses the opportunity to practice healthcare in different and sometimes unconventional settings. Many East Coast nurses escape the cold and take assignments in
warmer states: California, Arizona, Texas, and Hawaii. Some nurses are driven by the need to help vulnerable populations, populations with minimal access to healthcare, or areas with high patient to nurse ratios: migrant farm workers, youth on minority owned farms, urban populations, and areas hard hit by natural disasters such as tornados and hurricanes.
Travel nurses may also take on assignments outside of the United States in both English and non-English speaking countries. According to David Morrison, RN, author of The Wide Word of Travel Nursing: Islands, Cruise Ships, and Foreign Countries, common English speaking destinations for U.S. nurses include Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.
Travel nursing can also take the adventurous soul to more exotic destinations including, according to Morrison. Other worldly destinations with high demands for registered, advance practice, and executive nurses include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Dubai. These countries provide some of the most advanced healthcare in that region of the world and work in conjunction with well-established American medical schools such as Weill Cornell Medical College at Sidra Medical and Research Center in Doha, Qatar; and other institutions of higher educations including Michigan State University in Dubai; and New York University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Nurses who contract for assignments outside of the United States accept contracts for months or years.
Travel nurses often have significant experience in their specialty area, however, “Agencies will accept nurses with as little as 6 months experience,” says Jacklyn Heider, RN, BSN, Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) nurse at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. Nurse Heider received a one-year travel nurse offer to work in another state in the last semester of her nursing program. Although she declined the offer, Nurse Heider recalls that the first four months of the contract were dedicated to her preceptorship and orientation before she would work independently in order to assure patient safety and knowledge of the prospective unit and hospital.
According to Morrison, some foreign countries may require nurses to take a knowledge examination similar to the U.S. State Board examination (NCLEX-RN), and for nurses who will practice in a foreign country where English is not a common language, a language proficiency examination may be required.
Of course, each nurse must have an unencumbered U.S. RN license or advance practice license with all necessary certifications up-to-date in order to practice nursing in a foreign country. That means keeping up with state, national, and certifying board requirements even if living abroad.
In the Know
Before taking on a travel assignment, do your research: know what benefits you will and will not receive and know your pay schedule especially if your assignment will be in a foreign country. Unless you’ve visited your assignment location previously, scope it out before signing the contract even if it means doing so out of your own pocket. Spend an extra day or two if you’ve flown out of the country for an interview in order to get the true vibe of your prospective neighborhood: your daily commute, shopping, leisure activity and other necessary services. Talk to other travel nurses at your prospective assignment and get their take on the institution and the location. If it’s possible, speak to travel nurse colleagues.
Visit a few travel nursing blogs and read what nurse bloggers have to say about their experiences. Travelnursingblogs, Travelnurse.org and American Traveler’s Traveler Times are a few to get you started, but if you plan to work in a foreign country, read what others outside of nursing (e.g., expat-blog.com) have to say in order to get a broader perspective on your potential destination. Keep in mind that there may be vast cultural differences and expected social norms in foreign countries especially related to women.
Travel Nursing Benefits
The financial benefits of travel nursing are inviting: U.S. agencies provide travel nurses with rent-free living in comfortable and safe residences. Agencies also cover the cost of relocation and provide full health benefits. Because of these compensations, salaries may not be top rate, but they will be competitive as agencies vie to place as many nurses as possible. “Agencies also provide additional incentives including sign-on bonuses,” says Staci Moore, RN, BSN, a travel nurse for 5 years before returning to New Jersey where she is now a CTICU nurse at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey.
Some foreign countries offer full benefits for nurses and their families, education for children, and stipends to cover travel home at least once a year. Depending on the country, nurses may not have to pay taxes on their salaries . This, in combination with competitive to higher experience-based salaries and level of education, provides nurses with the potential for significant financial earnings and savings.
An exciting benefit to travel nursing is that nurses have the opportunity to work and to live in locations they may otherwise would have only been able to vacation in for a short period of time.
Travel nursing offers nurses the opportunity to learn about professional nursing in other settings across the country and around the world, but one of the most rewarding benefits is the ability to apply nursing education and professional skills in order to fulfill healthcare needs in the remote corners of Alaska, the warmth of Hawaii, or the bustle of Education City, Qatar. Heider and Moore agree: Travel nursing is a win-win situation.