What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

November 2, 2021

Travel nurses venture to different cities, states, and sometimes countries to care for patients and promote healthcare and wellness. A travel nurse is an RN who is hired to work on a contract basis. Most contracts last for around thirteen weeks at a time and have the nurse filling in for medical facilities that face staffing challenges. 

How Do Travel Nurses Find Work? 

When a hospital or other healthcare facility has a short-term staffing need open, management will put the word out that traveling nurses are required. If you are currently looking for an assignment, you have the chance to work in that facility for a short time. To qualify as a travel nurse, you need a minimum of one year of recent acute care clinical experience and an RN license. You will also need to be licensed in the state you plan to work. Once you qualify, you’ll be prepared to travel to wherever you are needed, providing health care to patients in hospitals, clinics, and other facilities.

This means that travel nurses are not employed by the facility but instead they are hired by an independent nursing staffing agency. Once they partner with an agency, travel nurses get to explore new locales, experience diverse working environments, and meet tons of new friends. 

Travel nurses earn competitive pay, excellent benefits, and free housing, among other significant benefits. One thing to keep in mind about travel nurse pay is that your salary is not dictated by how much schooling and experience you have. That means a nurse with two years of experience could end up making the same as a nurse with fifteen years or more under his or her belt. This is good news for new travel nurses who want to start earning higher amounts right away. Doing so will allow you to see more of the world while potentially paying off some of the cost of your nursing education. 

What Qualifications Do You Need to Work as a Travel Nurse?

To become a travel nurse, you need to become a registered nurse (RN) with an active license. Most employers also prefer you to have at least two years of nursing experience. You will need to be licensed in the state you wish to work, unless you secure a compact license, which allows you to work in up to 35 states (and counting) with a single license. No other credentials are needed unless you plan to specialize in certain fields like oncology and intensive care. 

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

Once you secure a position, you will travel to that area to begin work. While on the job, your responsibilities will be akin to working as a permanent nurse. 

Patient Exams: You might find yourself examining patients and talking to them about their health histories and symptoms for the purpose of making critical care decisions. 

Information Delivery: You might speak to patients and their families about ways to improve their health.

Medications: Travel nurses play a key role in the delivery of medication to treat illnesses and disease. 

Research: Your research could play a significant role in improving the lives of your patients. 

Collaboration: You may work with other health care professionals to ensure the highest level of patient care.

How Much Do Travel Nurses Earn for the Work They Do?

Travel nurses typically earn around $3,000 per week. It’s not uncommon for travel nurses to bring home over $50 per hour, not including housing accommodations paid for by the company who hires them. This means that it is very possible for travel nurses to earn in excess of $100,000 per year

How does travel nurse pay differ from staff nurses? With a staff nurse, the hospital hires them directly and pays them a net salary based on their experience and education. Many staff nurses will then earn incremental pay increases at various times after extended service. 

Travel nurse pay is handled differently. Most travel nursing pay packages consist of a series of components, such as hourly pay, non-taxed per diems, non-taxed housing stipends, and travel reimbursements like food, mileage, and gas. 

What is a Non-Taxed Stipend? 

As a travel nurse, you would get paid a taxable hourly rate, but you would also receive non-taxed stipends. The latter are used for certain expenses you may face as a product of accepting an assignment, like housing. That means you could get free or discounted housing on top of your normal hourly fee. 

Some factors can influence how much you earn as a travel nurse. 

Location: Where you work as a travel nurse can affect the salary you are offered. In most cases, the pay rate is calculated based on the cost of living in the area and other regional trends. The states that pay the most for travel nurses include California, Washington, Texas, Massachusetts, and New York.

Specialty: Specializing in a particular field can impact your travel nurse pay. If you manage to specialize in a highly sought-after field like oncology or intensive care, you have the potential to earn much more than a non-specialty nurse such as those in psychiatric care or the medical and surgical fields. 

Shift Times: The shifts you are willing to work can also affect how much you’re paid. Night shifts tend to pay more than day shifts but being flexible is key. 

How to Maximize Your Earnings as a Travel Nurse 

In addition to traveling to a high-income area, getting the right specialization, and working the most lucrative shifts, there are other ways to earn more as a travel nurse. 

Look for Crisis Assignments 

Some travel nursing assignments are designated as crisis or rapid response jobs. These positions boast some of the highest rates in the travel nursing industry. As the name implies, these jobs are desperately needed, and the demand calls for instant placement. These assignments can be short, usually only a few months, but you can get started right away, and the high pay makes the assignment well worth the time and effort. 

Facilities that need crisis nurses include those managing unexpected population spikes, emergency responses, unit openings, and EMR upgrades. 


Some assignments advertise certain bonuses. Many hospitals offer bonuses that are paid separately from the travel nursing bill rate. You’ll usually receive these bonuses at the end of your assignment.

Some agencies offer bonuses that may be taken from the bill rate, which will affect your overall pay. While this sounds like a negative, it can be a good thing. If you like getting a large amount of money as a lump sum, this type of bonus may be right up your alley. 

Retention Bonus

Some travel nursing staffing agencies will pay nurses bonuses after working with that agency for multiple assignments. Retention bonuses differ from agency to agency. 

Referral Bonus 

Referral bonuses are paid by agencies to travel nurses who refer other nurses to that agency. The funds that pay for these bonuses come from a separate budget allotment and shouldn’t affect your pay as a travel nurse. 

Staffing Strike

A strike can occur when a labor contract is up for renewal between a hospital and a union. When strikes happen, hospitals may use travel nurses to prevent gaps in patient care. This gives you the opportunity to get placed quickly for higher amounts to fill in the shortage left behind by the strike. 

Top Tips for Working as a Travel Nurse 

Find Your Own Housing 

Some travel nurses are offered housing by the agency upon the acceptance of an assignment. The alternative is to take a housing stipend to secure your own housing. You may be better off doing the latter. Finding housing on your own lets you choose the price point. The agency may put you in higher priced housing than you would prefer. These are often corporate housing accommodations that come with a higher price tag. Finding your own place to live lets you save while simultaneously putting more of the money you earn in your pocket. 

Be Flexible

Most high paying assignments pay travel nurses more because they are not ideal. The assignment may be located in an undesirable location or you may have to work the night shift. Being flexible lets you go where the higher earnings are and work the times when the earnings are highest. 

Work with a Travel Nursing Agency Known for Transparency 

Now that you know what a travel nurse does and how to maximize your earnings when taking assignments, you have one step left. That’s to partner with an agency that focuses on finding you the most lucrative travel nursing assignments with 100% transparency. 

When you partner with an agency, you get paired with a travel nursing recruiter whose job it is to find you fast placement in accordance with your career ambitions. If you are a travel nurse or you are planning to become one, Prolink can help. Let us be your advocate in your search for the ideal job. We make the process easy. Apply today.

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