Healthcare Drought & The Travel Nurse Movement

Nurse with clipboardHave you seen headlines such as, “Temporary Nurse Needed Immediately: $3,000/week, plus expenses”? For states such as Arizona, New York and Illinois with critical nurse shortages, these headlines are quickly becoming the norm on job sites.

When the Affordable Care Act kicks in, more than 800,000 new patients are expected to enter the Arizona health care system, according to ABC 15 News. Arizona isn’t the only state struggling. Until medical schools can find solutions to train medical professionals more quickly (without compromising skill acquisition) travel nurses are critical to continuity of care.

While the money is great, and flexibility to choose when and where to work is appealing to many, travel nursing isn’t for everyone. Here are the basics to help you decide.

No Permanent Move Required

Mobile nurses do what they love to do by caring for patients, they just do it on a temporary contract away from their home base. Some call it a dream job, others wouldn’t dream of packing up and moving to the other side of the country or the other side of the world for a few months at a time.

Temporary nurses fill the needs of hospitals that are short staffed. They work on a contract basis for a stipulated period of time (usually 2-3 1/2 months) until the vacancy is permanently filled. Travel nurses apply for each position individually, which gives them the flexibility of choosing which locations they’re most interested in visiting.


To become a freelance nurse, you must first be a registered nurse (RN) with at least one year experience in a hospital setting. Depending on the position and skill level, some hospitals require a minimum of three years. Some positions require ER training/experience or ACLS certification. Don’t forget to think outside the box with your resume, or feel that rich associated experience disqualifies you. For example, if you’ve never worked in a hospital, but was a nurse or caregiver for a senior care facility in New Jersey, this would certainly count toward experience help when applying for a travel nurse position.

A Word About Salary

You might expect travel nurses have to make sacrifices in order to live the travel dream. Some sacrifices do have to be made, but probably not financial ones. A travel nurse makes a very competitive salary: about $75,000 a year, according to That’s well over the median salary for registered nurses reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, which is just short of $65,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $95,000 per year.


Like traditional staff nurses, most travel nurses enjoy benefits that include health and medical insurance, dental plans and retirement packages. Unlike traditional staff nurses, travel nurses also receive compensation for travel expenses and accommodations, so there aren’t huge up-front costs when accepting a job. Many employers also offer generous bonuses at the end of a contract period. Some positions may even become full time if the nurse wants to stay at a location.

Some companies continue insurance and other benefits during non-assignment periods. Normally, there is a limit of 30 days between assignments to keep your benefits active.


In most cases, you can bring your family along. Some nurses home school their children, taking advantage of built-in geography lessons that come from living in a new region. Family expenses are not usually covered or included in reimbursement programs.

As patient numbers increase and aging nurses retire, the gap in nurse-to-patient ratios widens. This might be the time to explore options to join others in the mobile nurse network.

What are your thoughts about the travel nurse industry? Share them in the comments.

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