How does travel nursing work?

July 29, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Rebecca with a newborn after C-section If you are considering becoming a nurse, you may be familiar with the responsibilities of a nurse and various nursing specialties—but you may not know about one exciting nursing opportunity. Imagine working as a nurse, having your rent paid and getting a chance to travel throughout the United States. If that sounds too good to be true, you may not be familiar with travel nursing.

What is travel nursing?

Travel nursing started due to a shortage of registered nurses in various parts of the country. Travel nurses are usually hired through a staffing agency for a specific location for a certain number of months.

Although assignment length can vary, typical travel nursing assignments last about 13 weeks. After an assignment is over, you might be asked to renew your contract and sign up for another 13 weeks or your assignment may just be completed. At that time, you can take another travel assignment somewhere else in the country or go back home.

Getting started in travel nursing

If working as a nurse and traveling the country sounds like something you would enjoy, you need to follow a few steps to get started. Although some travel nursing assignments are available for licensed practical nurses, most jobs are for registered nurses. Some agencies also require a minimum of a year of nursing experience.

Once you think you are ready to hit the road, choose a staffing agency. Complete an application and a skills checklist. You may need to supply proof of your nursing license, additional certifications and references.

After your paperwork has been processed, if you are accepted, you will likely be assigned a recruiter. Your recruiter will be your contact person and help guide you through the rest of the process. Think about where you would like to go, the type of nursing you would like to do and the size of the facility you hope to work in.  Providing all of the above information to your recruiter will help him find the right assignment for you.  

You still have to interview for the position. The interview will likely be by phone or video chat. If you are hired and accept the position, you’re on your way. 

Practical concerns

Housing: You may wonder how you will find a new place to live every 13 weeks. Most travel nursing staffing agencies set your housing up for you before you start your assignment. Agencies vary in the type of housing they offer. For example, you may be provided a private fully furnished apartment. In other instances, you may have shared housing with another nurse traveler.

If you prefer to find your own place to live, some agencies will provide you with a housing allowance to pay for an apartment. Agencies may vary on whether they pay full utilities and expenses for you to get to your travel assignment.

Benefits: Although packages may vary, most staffing agencies will offer some benefits. Benefits may include health and dental insurance and retirement savings. Paid time off may be limited since assignments are usually only a few months.

License Requirements: You will need to obtain a nursing license in the state you will be working. If you will be taking an assignment in a state where you do not have a nursing license, your staffing agency will help you obtain a license and may also cover costs.

Family: It is possible to take family members along on a travel nursing job. Keep in mind that your housing will likely be big enough to accommodate one or two people. In most cases, you will be provided an efficiency or a one-bedroom apartment. You have the option of taking the housing allowance and paying the difference if you want a bigger place that meets your needs.

Pets: Before you pack up your pooch or kitty, make sure you know if pets are allowed where you will be living. Determine if you will be living with a roommate, which may also affect your decision to bring your pet.


Obviously, one of the biggest advantages to working as a travel nurse is the chance to see different parts of the country. Since most travel nursing assignments are only about three months, you probably won’t have the time to get bored. Working in various healthcare facilities and possibly in different departments may keep the job exciting.

Travel nursing may also provide a chance to learn new things. Different hospitals and medical centers use different equipment and have varied protocols. Working at different size facilities can also be interesting.

If you are a people person, having new colleagues and neighbors every few months may also be a benefit. You will have the chance to meet a whole new group of people and make friends all over the country.

Working in travel nursing also gives you the freedom and flexibility to choose when and where to work. If you want a few weeks off between assignments, you can arrange your schedule that way. If you prefer to work in warm weather states during the winter months, go for it.

The downside

It doesn’t seem like there would be many negatives to working as a travel nurse, but there may be a few things some people see as a downside. As a traveler, you will be the new kid in town as you start each new nursing assignment. You will need to learn how each facility operates, learn your way around and get to know your coworkers. Starting over every few months may not be for everyone.  

It is also not uncommon to feel a little homesick when you start work as a travel nurse. You will most likely be leaving friends and family behind, and everything will be unfamiliar. Adjusting to a new city, new apartment, new job and new coworkers can be a lot to deal with all at once. Just remember, working in travel nursing, meeting new people and traveling the country can be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.