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Travel Nursing: An Insider Look at Being a Travel Nurse

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As the most trusted professionals in America, nurses are in extremely high demand, and data shows that this demand will persist for years to come.

According to an April 2022 nursing workforce analysis published in Health Affairs, the total supply of RNs decreased by more than 100,000 from 2020 to 2021, the largest drop ever observed in the last four decades. Most of these nurses who left the workforce were employed in hospitals, meaning now, hospitals in smaller U.S. cities are fighting to fill nursing positions so that they can offer patients the quality care they need.

The high demand for nurses, combined with the latest trends in employment—more flexibility and control over when and where employees want to work—makes travel nursing an ideal career for many in the healthcare industry.

Nurses looking for flexible work are in luck, as the exciting field of travel nursing is primed to help meet the employment shortages in hospitals nationwide.

“Soliant has absolutely seen the demand for travel healthcare professionals soar over the last few years,” said Soliant Senior Vice President of Nursing and Allied Health Patrick Dotts. “It’s become very beneficial for healthcare professionals to enter the travel staffing niche due to advantages such as higher compensation, greater flexibility, increased energy and renewed mindset, along with the ability to focus on short-term goals that have visible benefits on the facility.”

What is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses are registered nurses who go to hospitals where they are needed most across the country. They fulfill 13-week contracts before moving on to a new hospital in a new area. With travel nursing comes relocation, often several times per year. While this constant change may seem stressful, the truth is often quite the opposite. Travel nurses rarely question if they’ll have a job at the end of their contract—the demand for nurses is high, and it’s not slowing down any time soon.

Why Travel Nurses are In-Demand

Despite more nurses graduating and entering the workforce every year, the number of available nurses cannot keep up with the country’s demand.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 203,200 job openings for registered nurses are projected each year, on average, over the decade. This increase in openings is due to a variety of factors, with one being simply replacing workers who retired or left the field, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, this current demand for nurses is also fueled by the increasing demand for healthcare services. More nurses are needed due to the increasing emphasis on preventative care, higher rates of chronic conditions, and a growing demand for services from the aging baby boomer population.

This increased demand will mean more opportunities for travel nursing jobs, allowing nurses more control over when and where they work and how much money they can make.

“It’s become so beneficial from a financial standpoint to be a travel nurse given your ability to pick and choose destinations based on specific needs,” Dotts said. “There are instances where travel nurses can earn as much in nine months as a permanent employee can in twelve months.”

Changes in value-based healthcare have also increased the need for nurses. Value-based healthcare involves reimbursing hospitals for results instead of just the services delivered. The goal is to bring costs down while improving the quality of care.

The U.S. healthcare industry costs 2.5 times more than other developed nations. Despite this, the U.S. healthcare industry has lower quality and patient outcomes rates.

Better patient outcomes rely heavily on nurses who spend more time with patients and coordinate care among many care team members. Nurses have long practiced patient-centered care with a focus on holistically supporting a patient and their family’s needs. Nurses do not just administer medicine; they improve comfort, provide support, and connect patients to other resources they need.

As the rest of the healthcare industry shifts to more patient-centered care, nurses will often lead the way—the ones with the proper experience to embrace this change. That’s why hospitals will continue to have a high demand for nurses. They’ll need people who understand how to deliver the level of care now required by the government and many insurance companies.

Travel nurses are uniquely positioned to deal with changing patient demographics. As the U.S. continues to diversify in terms of race, culture, and religion, travel nurses are better equipped to accommodate patients from all walks of life. By having more experience with different cultures, a nurse can better fit a patient’s needs and lifestyle. Studies even show that patients have better outcomes if they are treated by nurses from the same cultural background or have had much exposure to their culture.

Between the nursing shortage and the demand for value-based care, travel nurses are uniquely positioned to help hospitals across the country meet quality standards and improve patient outcomes. Everywhere you go, you not only learn, but you teach others. This sharing of knowledge and experience helps hospitals provide better care for each patient that needs their services.

The Benefits of Travel Nursing

Travel nursing does much more than expand your knowledge of different cultures and hospitals; it offers unique benefits not available to nurses in permanent positions. For instance, increased flexibility, travel opportunities, reduced living expenses, competitive salary, career growth, and the opportunity of finding your nursing niche.

Increased Flexibility

As a travel nurse, you sign on for your 13-week contract with the schedule of your choice, and that’s all you’re required to complete. After your contract finishes, you can take some time off to spend with family, travel, or go straight into your next assignment.

For instance, if your contract ends in November, you could take the month of December off to spend the holidays with your family. On the other hand, most permanently placed nurses would only get a day or two off for the holiday before returning to work. With traveling nursing, your schedule is in your hands.

Travel Opportunities

Traveling from place to place lets you see parts of the country you may have never seen before. Travel nursing positions are available in virtually all 50 states, so you could land a contract anywhere from your home state to a location on the other side of the country.

Being in new places pushes you out of your comfort zone and helps you learn more about yourself.

“Every hospital and every city do things differently,” said Dotts. “Travel nurses get to learn new skills, new procedures, and get to be exposed to different cultures. The more places they go, the easier it becomes to adapt and seamlessly integrate into any facility.”

Reduced Living Expenses

Another perk of being a travel nurse is having reduced living expenses due to tax-free money like stipends. Stipends allow you to receive a tax-free reimbursement to cover housing, meals, incidentals, and other work-related expenses, which comprise a significant percentage of travel nursing pay.

Competitive Nurse Salary

Travel nurses often receive higher pay than nurses in permanent full-time positions. While traveling, better compensation gives you the flexibility to explore the area you are in, pay off student loans faster, or save for your future.

Additionally, you don’t have to hunt down contracts on your own as a travel nurse. Staffing agencies or travel nursing agencies will do that for you. They may also cover your travel expenses, provide access to low-cost housing, or even help pay for your utilities. This makes traveling less stressful and helps you retain more money in your paycheck. Furthermore, depending on how great demand is at a hospital or healthcare facility, there may also be a sign-on or completion bonus included.

Career Growth Opportunities

When traveling, you’ll build relationships with people at hospitals you’ve likely never been to. As a result, your network will expand significantly and potentially open the doors for finding a permanent location if you decide to go that route in the future. Also, it can even open the doors for exploring different career paths within nursing as you can try out different nursing niches.

Finding Your Nursing Niche

As a traveling nurse, you’ll inevitably work in many types of hospitals or departments. This will help you determine which type of nursing you love most, whether labor and delivery at a community hospital or ICU at a Level 1 trauma center.

Highest Paying Travel Nurse Jobs

Travel nurses are needed in virtually every hospital department and in each healthcare specialty, but some travel nurse specialties are in even higher demand. If you have experience in the following most in-demand travel nurse specialties, your protected job outlook is even more promising:

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurses

ICU nurses help critically ill or unstable patients following an extensive injury, surgery, or life-threatening disease. ICU nurses have a broad set of skills that help them deal with many different types of patients. Hospitals need nurses with this incredible experience to assist others and help lead their staff nationwide. However, ICU nursing can also be stressful, which makes it more difficult for hospitals to fill permanent positions.

Operating Room Nurses

Operating Room nurses care for patients at all stages of operative care—before, during, and after surgery. More surgeries are being performed in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers nationwide each year. Hospitals are expanding operating suites, increasing the demand for nurses who can keep an OR running smoothly. You may be even more in demand if you have experience in specialized surgeries, such as STEMI care or interventional radiology.

Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU)/Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nurses

The PICU unit cares for infants and patients who are up to 30 days old, and the NICU unit cares for patients up to six months old. Children and infants require highly specialized care from experienced nurses. Hospitals need nurses who understand how to talk to parents, keep children calm, and care for rare conditions. This kind of experience can be hard to find, making PICU and NICU nurses an in-demand specialty for travel nurses.

Jumpstart Your Career as a Travel Nurse

If you are ready to start your travel nurse adventure, you can apply online for positions today. Soliant has travel nursing positions across the U.S. available now.

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