Catherine Spader is a freelance healthcare journalist in Bailey, Colo.
This article has been updated and adapted from Spader C. Opportunity knocks for perioperative travel nurses. OR Nurse. 2008;2(1):13-15.
TRAVEL NURSING offers unique and nearly limitless opportunities for nurses who want to tackle new challenges, both personally and professionally. Benefits offered by many travel agencies include:
* free housing (with paid utilities or housing stipend)
* 401K contributions
* paid liability, health, and dental insurance premiums
* workers compensation coverage
* an opportunity to earn completion and referral bonuses
* travel reimbursement to and from assignments
* competitive pay rates
* paid continuing education credits and state licensing fees
Travel assignments are typically 13 weeks long, and a traveler who adapts quickly and has good problem-solving skills may have the opportunity to extend a favorite travel assignment—or even turn it into a permanent position.
Points to consider
The adventure of travel nursing sounds exciting, but nurses who are considering this career option should weigh the pros against the cons. For example, travel agencies may not offer sick time or vacation pay benefits, and nurses can be financially penalized if they don't complete a 40-hour work week. In addition, travel nurses are usually expected to stay to complete a patient assignment that takes longer than anticipated, just like the permanent staff. Taking call, working weekends or being assigned to different shifts may also be a part of the job, but for some travel assignments, such as those at outpatient surgical centers, nurses don't take call or work weekends and holidays.
You can do it
Quickly establishing mutual respect and a solid working relationship with new colleagues can be an ongoing challenge. Travelers must stay professional at all times, take responsibility for their actions, and be able to adapt to the workplace culture.
Travel nurses are compensated well, and hospitals and surgical centers have correspondingly high expectations. Travelers are expected to adapt rapidly and function efficiently in an unfamiliar setting, which can be stressful. Because orientation time can vary widely between facilities, nurses should ask potential employers about the type of orientation provided before accepting a travel assignment. Also ask how members of the department work together as a team and what kind of supplies, equipment, and resources are available.
To increase the chances of selecting the right travel assignment, a nurse considering traveling should take advantage of the expertise of travel recruiters. Nurses should let recruiters know why they want to travel, such as for recreation, professional growth, or financial reasons. Be completely honest when completing the skills list that's sent to potential employers.
Once you've chosen an assignment, you'll need the support and cooperation of permanent nurses and staff to help you get your bearings in a new facility.
Be friendly and show new coworkers that you're ready and able to work hard and take care of patients. Permanent staff at traveler-friendly hospitals will try to include travelers in the unit's activities and camaraderie to maximize the entire team's effectiveness.
Travelers should expect to encounter differences in procedures between facilities and even in different departments within a hospital. Understanding and accepting the similarities and differences between healthcare facilities is an important survival skill for travel nurses.
For some, becoming a traveler is a practical decision at first. Taking advantage of the higher salaries can help them quickly pay off debt or save for special expenses. But once they've experienced a few travel assignments, many nurses become hooked on the adventure. Every part of the country has something different to offer so travelers should keep an open mind when considering potential assignments.
Travel nursing can also be a great part-time or semi-retirement career option. Learning and traveling are great ways to stay young!
© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.