Prolink Travel Nurse Series: What is a Travel Nurse?
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Prolink Travel Nurse Series: What is a Travel Nurse?

November 9, 2022

Travel nursing can be a great option if it aligns with a nurse’s lifestyle preferences away from work. Perhaps you are single or have a partner who can work remotely, and you both love to travel. Or maybe you’re an empty nester who doesn’t want to wait for retirement to explore new horizons. Whatever the reasoning, travel nurses have a place in today’s healthcare landscape.

Read on for an at-a-glance guide to learn more about travel nursing.

The History of Travel Nursing

Travel nursing as a career choice started in the 1970s. Back then, medical facilities were experiencing a high census crisis. That’s when a healthcare facility has more patients than staff can appropriately care for. In other words, the facilities were understaffed, and they needed help.

Travel nurses helped to fill the scheduling gaps. The trend started in warmer states such as Florida. Nurses from northern, colder states became known as snowbirds. These nurses would travel south for the season before returning back home. Hence, the travel nurse industry was born.

These days, travel nurse staffing agencies place temporary contractors at medical facilities around the country. The agencies take a cut of what the facilities would pay a travel nurse. The agencies also help the nurses secure housing, negotiate for competitive salaries, and reimburse nurses for travel expenses each time they take on a new assignment.  

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

As a travel nurse, you would arrive at a new facility and get to work right away, filling in employment gaps in the process. Management at the new facility will expect you to fulfill all the duties a traditional nurse would do with little training required. Because of this fact, travel nurses need to be able to work in fast-paced and chaotic environments while keeping a cool head.

For instance, you may take an assignment at a severely understaffed emergency care unit. The nurses working on staff may not have the time or the mental capacity to explain all the aspects of your nursing duties. That will leave you to figure out charting, medications, and all the rest all on your own. You’ll have to draw on experience and your previous training while picking up the rest as you go.

Before arriving on-site, you’ll sign a contract to fill a temporary position. The contracted assignment may last days, weeks, months, or up to a year or more. When the contract ends, you can extend your stay at the same facility or move on to a new destination and job opportunity. Most contract durations last between eight and 26 weeks. Of course, it is not uncommon for travel nurses to enjoy working at a facility so much that they secure a full-time position by the end of the gig. Just as many travel nurses move on because they enjoy flexible hours, new environments, and higher pay.

What are the Benefits of Travel Nursing?

When you work with a travel nursing agency, you get to work with a dedicated recruiter who becomes your employment advocate. This professional is experienced in travel nursing and can help you navigate all aspects of the job.

Help with Licensure, Work Visas, and Passports

The recruiter will help pave the way for you to begin working immediately. Whether that means helping you secure licensing in another state or extending your work Visa so you can stay working at a facility you enjoy, you can get the help you need, allowing you to better focus on your nursing duties.

Competitive Pay

Another benefit of working with an experienced recruiter is that you have someone in your corner when negotiating for higher pay and sign-on bonuses. This comes in handy when signing new contracts. And if you are going to be working as a travel nurse for some time, you should expect to sign a new contract each time a position becomes available.

Free Housing

Travel nurses get a housing stipend as part of their compensation from the staffing agency. Of course, you also have the option of securing your own housing. This is beneficial because you can select your own price point, potentially putting more money in your pocket.

Choice of Location

You get to choose where you want to go when you become a travel nurse. Want to stay close to home? You have that option. You can also travel around the country to your heart’s content, as long as there are open positions available.

Higher Than Average Pay

Travel nurses tend to earn more than full-time traditional nurses. How much depends on your location, specialty, and the facility where you land a contract assignment. On average, travel nurses tend to earn between $2,160 and $3,560 per week.

Medical, Dental, and Vision Insurance

Not only can you earn higher than the average pay for a nurse, but you get benefits and even sick pay.

Retirement Plans

Many travel nursing staffing agencies allow you to open a 401k account on your first day.

Your Choice of Shifts/Hours Worked

You are free to accept or decline a job offer depending on the specifics of the job. While it pays to be flexible, you also want to stick to schedule timelines that mesh with the lifestyle you hope to live.

Travel Reimbursement

You are reimbursed for a variety of expenses as a travel nurse, including meals, lodging, and transportation.

What Skills and Characteristics Do You Need to Become a Travel Nurse?

In addition to all the skills a nurse needs to do the job well, these other characteristics come in handy.

Ability to Learn on the Fly

Travel nurses need the same skills traditional nurses do to work the same types of jobs. However, travel nurses also need to be able to draw upon their expansive knowledge base to adapt to new healthcare facilities. Some hospitals, physician’s offices, labs, and other facilities have different procedures and technologies you’ll have to learn. You need to be able to adapt to these practices and technologies quickly if you hope to thrive in your new career.

Perseverance in Challenging Scenarios

Moving to a different state and acclimating to a new medical facility can be intimidating. Now, imagine doing all that while also being the new nurse and dealing with difficult patients in a hectic environment. As a travel nurse, you need to be able to withstand these challenges while keeping a positive attitude.

Ability to Find Comfort Working in New Environments

As a travel nurse, you need to be able to adapt to becoming part of new care teams and joining new organizations, even in cases when these teams and organizations lack the resources to run efficiently.


Travel nurses can create their own schedules with the help of their travel nurse agency. For example, you can work eight weeks on and eight weeks off to explore the new city where you’re temporarily residing.

Comfortable Being Alone with a Strong Support Network

Travel nursing can get lonely, as you may need to leave your friends and family behind for weeks or months at a time. It helps to have a supportive person or group of people to turn to when you find yourself working on a long-term assignment in a chaotic environment.

How Do You Become a Travel Nurse?

If travel nursing sounds like a terrific opportunity for you and your nursing skills, you will need to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ASN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree before passing the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse (RN).

Many employers also prefer you to have nursing experience in an accredited facility such as a hospital or physician’s office.

You will then need to sign with a travel nurse staffing agency like Prolink.

Are You Ready to See the Country as a Skilled Travel Nurse?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the nursing profession is expected to grow by 9% through the year 2030. Due to the nursing shortage that was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, travel nurses of all types are needed more than ever.

Prolink can help you get your travel nursing career off the ground. We offer competitive pay, benefits, referral bonuses, and more. We pair you with a recruiter who can pair you with medical facilities around the country. We can even help with licensure and certifications, helping you advance your travel nursing career.

Does travel nursing seem like a good fit for you? Get started now by completing our easy application process.

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