Frequent Flyers Travel Nursing Creates Far-reaching Opportunities

There is a group of health care professionals in the U.S. that switch jobs every few months.And it’s entirely by choice.They’re called travel nurses – nurses who move from job to job to fill vacancies in hospitals and clinics across the country.

The career option is one way that the nation’s hospitals are coping with nursing shortages and tight budgets, and it’s also a profession gaining popularity among nurses, especially those with expertise in specialty fields, who hope to satisfy a travel bug, gain varied experience within their field, and take advantage of the great salaries and benefits packages that often accompany travel jobs as health facilities actively recruit nurses with much-needed skills.

The field is also open to radiologic technologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and other allied health care specialists, and as visibility of the travel option increases, these professionals are embarking on similar career paths more frequently.

Deborah Morsi, vice president for Patient Care and chief nursing officer at Baystate Medical Center, said travel nurses are widely-used across the country, including in Western Mass., to address those shortages and the need for specialty nurses, such as medical-surgical, intensive care, or labor and delivery nurses, or to train other nurses in several facilities over the course of a year. She said growth in the travel nursing industry is consistent with the level of nursing shortages in the U.S. – at its highest, in the late ’90s and early years of this decade, travel nursing saw its biggest boom.

But Morsi said although the nursing shortage and those in other fields have begun to curb slightly, levels are still not where they need to be, and travel nursing remains a viable career option.

Filling Stations

She explained the various ways travel nurses are used in her own organization to maintain quality of care.

“We use travel nurses primarily in specialty areas to augment staff,” she said, “in areas such as critical care or perioperative units to meet immediate needs of a particular unit.”

Morsi said when vacancies occur in specialty units like critical care, that post must be filled until a full-staff employee can be hired, and travel nurses are often a good fit to fill such gaps.

“We use them almost always when we are looking to hire a full-time person,” she said, “but they become part of that transition.”

In addition, said Morsi, the lure of travel while working is also an attractive one for many nurses, who hope to see the world and try out various locations before settling on a permanent post in one facility.

“It’s an option that fits well into some nurses’ lives during a certain time or at a certain age,” she said. “For those who want to tailor their job to their interests, it’s a great opportunity. Some will even choose ski country in the winter, then go to the beach to work in the summer.”

Mary Tarbell, director of nursing a Springfield Technical Community College, added that travel nurses are used more frequently in parts of the country that welcome ‘snowbirds’ – retirees or seasonal workers who travel to warmer climates during the winter months – such as Arizona, Florida, and California, so the possibility of working in areas known for travel and tourism is actually very real, and accessible.

“In those places, travel nurses can be a better investment than hiring full-time staff, because the need is that much greater during the winter months,” said Tarbell. “So nurses can follow the sun to great jobs.”

Bonus Miles

Travel nurses also often enjoy many financial perks due to the demand for qualified personnel. Tarbell said she has seen nurses accept free medical, dental, and life insurance, large sign-on bonuses, and strong 401 (k) plans, in addition to competitive salaries, free housing, and compensation for travel and moving expenses.

Further, several staffing companies place travel nurses in facilities across the nation; the Web site TravelNursing.com, for instance, which provides information, job postings, and other resources for travel nurses or nurses considering travel, partners with five staffing agencies – American Mobile Healthcare, Medical Express, NursesRx, Preferred Healthcare Staffing and O’Grady Peyton International – through which nurses can apply for jobs.

“In those places, travel nurses can be a better investment than hiring full-time staff, because the need is that much greater during the winter months. So nurses can follow the sun to great jobs.”

The Web site also walks nurses through the typical steps toward securing a traveling job, which include completing a standard application through a staffing company, connecting with a recruiter who assists in placement, choosing an assignment, interviewing with the chosen facility over the phone, usually with a nurse manager, then, if offered, accepting the assignment.

The staffing company working with a nurse also assists with credentialing requirements, the licensure process necessary in a given state, and housing, including utility and furniture delivery. Travel nurses could stay in one location for a few weeks or for up to six months, then move on to a new facility. The average is about 13 weeks.

Tarbell said that there are a number of resources for nurses like TravelNursing.com that make the process of applying for jobs easier. But she did note that there are some down sides to the profession; travel nursing is not, of course, for everyone, as it includes demanding schedules and frequent relocation. She added that travel nurses should also be experienced – they need to become assimilated to new environments, policies, and populations constantly, and unseasoned nurses could find that prospect to be too daunting.

“I would never tell a recent graduate to go into travel nursing,” said Tarbell. “They should be out of school at least a few years.”

Tarbell added that orientation to new surroundings is one of the biggest problems with travel nursing, suited only to certain personalities, and because nurses must become licensed in each state they work in before embarking on their journeys – “a universal nursing license does not yet exist,” she said, “although we are getting there” – the process can sometimes be complicated by the varying requirements in different locations.

Morsi agreed that applying for licensure in every state in which a nurse works can be a time-consuming process, and often there is a delay between submitting an application for licensure and acceptance from a given state.

Still, she called travel nursing one of the more exciting career opportunities open for health care professionals today, and yet another option that is drawing more people into the profession.

Final Destination

“The nurses who do travel seem to love it,” she said. “That’s something that is great about the field of nursing in general; it’s a field that can meet the needs of a lot of different people. The same nurse who enjoys traveling now may come to work here and really like it, and decide to stay.”