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What is a travel nurse and is it the career for you?

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This story is sponsored by KSL Jobs. Learn more about KSL Jobs.

You’ve heard of nursing? You’ve heard of travel? There you go. End of article.

Just kidding! That makes it sound like travel nursing means walking on the beach wearing scrubs and a stethoscope. Though travel nursing can be a pretty sweet gig in the current healthcare job climate, it usually takes place indoors and can be kind of intense. But if you’re thinking of something in healthcare and looking for really good pay, flexibility and a chance to scope out the perfect location for your ideal work life, travel nursing could seriously be worth looking into.

So, maybe somebody you know has an aunt that’s a traveling nurse and now that you’re looking for a more serious career path you’re curious about what that means. She seems cool. She drives a nice car. She’s very alert and problem-solvy. What does a workday look like for her? How did she get there? Well, if she’s really a travel nurse she’s probably not around right now for you to ask her a bunch of questions so we’ll do our best to break it down for you here:

To start, travel nursing is essentially highly skilled healthcare temp work. You’re usually working for a temporary staffing agency and not the hospital or clinic itself. Medical facilities hire travel nurses for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they are either experiencing a shortage and there aren’t enough licensed people in the area to serve their needs. Sometimes it’s because they want to try someone out on a short-term basis to see if it’s a good fit for a more permanent position.

Why Would I Want to Be a Travel Nurse?

People will often say, “there’s so much money in travel nursing,” and they’re right. So let’s talk about the money first because it’s solid. For example, a quick search for current opportunities shows a Labor and Delivery RN in Pennsylvania. Weekly pay is $2,860 and it starts in two weeks. It’s a night shift job, but come on, right? If you’re not quite ready to hit the road in two weeks you could start a similar 13-week gig in mid-June in Stockton, California, that pays $3,080 a week. (It’s more money, but there might be a little more hoop-jumping for licensure since California doesn’t currently reciprocate with Utah, but more on that in a bit.) The same search shows positions in Alabama, Florida and others with similar pay and a wide range of needed specialties including Intensive Care, Pediatrics, and Hemodialysis. Other commonly needed specialties for travel nurses are case managers, ER, Neonatal, Obstetrics, Oncology and many others.

Flexibility is also a major attraction for those considering this career. Typical assignments average in the 13-week range and in that short period a nurse can make what some people in other professions make in a year. This means a person can take work in shorter intense stretches and then do what they want between gigs.

What Does it Take to Be One?

Your particular personality traits are really something to consider. A good travel nurse is compassionate, confident, assertive, fast-on-his/her-feet, outgoing, patient and a good communicator. A big one though is adaptability. Other than your own schooling and clinical experience (usually requires minimum 1.5 years clinical experience in your area of specialty before you can hit the road) there isn’t always a lot of hospital or practice-specific training. Not everyone likes to be thrown into situations without much in the way of orientation, but some people thrive in this setting. Are you a fast learner? Like fast-paced, dynamic environments? Do you get antsy or bored if you’re in one place too long? Then you might be the right fit. Here is an interesting blog post about how to succeed as a travel nurse.

How Do I Get Started?

Nursing school is the first step. (A travel nurse without a nursing degree is just a traveler.) It usually takes 2–4 years and after you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN to move forward. After this you’ll want to start getting experience in your specialty; plan for at least a year of this. To do the bare minimum to get working you can also get an ASN (Associate of Science in Nursing) degree and see if it’s the right career for you before investing more time in schooling.

We should clarify first that the nurse in traveling nurse can mean a few different things. There are different levels of schooling, certification, licensure and experience needed to be a travel nurse depending on the area you’d like to pursue. A licensed practical nurse (LPN) performs basic hands-on care like checking blood pressure and inserting catheters, reporting status of patients to doctors, etc. A registered nurse (RN) is a nurse who graduated from a nursing program and registered with a licensing body. And there’s also an advanced-practice registered nurse (APRN) a kind of nurse who went to grad school to specialize. (There are others too, but these are the main ones.)

You’re going to travel, obviously, so if you’re leaving the state (which is often the case) you’ll either need to take a position in a state that reciprocates licensure — i.e. they recognize licenses issued by your state and your state recognizes theirs — or you’ll need to take the necessary steps to get licensed in the state you’re going to. Fortunately, Utah is in the NLC, or Nurse Licensure Compact. Basically, it means a nurse licensed in Utah can work in any other NLC state as long as their Utah license is in good standing.

So, think about it. Call that aunt who works as a travel nurse. (Again, she’s busy.) Search healthcare careers on KSL Jobs to see the various opportunities and what they require. Who knows? If you have the right combination of skills, experience, flexibility and personality, travel nursing might be the perfect fit.