Pack your bags and get on board: Why travel nursing is here to stay

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These days, business is booming for travel nursing agencies. Once a vehicle for nurses who simply wanted to ski in the winter and surf in the summer, travel nursing is quickly becoming the hot trend in nursing. Although not a new phenomenon, travel nursing agencies are actively recruiting nurses in record numbers, largely due to the national nursing shortage.

Currently, California is the largest market for travel nurses in light of its 2005 introduction of a one nurse to every five patients staffing ratio. According to writer/researcher Kathy Quan, RN, BSN, PHN, California's severe nurse shortage is particularly acute with more than 14,000 unfilled jobs to date, meaning additional staffing is in high demand.

Is travel nursing for you?

Travel nurses enjoy the unique opportunity of being able to travel while earning higher than normal salaries. Furthermore, most staffing companies offer medical benefits along with a 401(k) retirement plan, pay travel costs, and provide stipends for housing and food. As employees of these agencies, these nurses receive a salary dependent upon experience, specialty, and location. Generally, hourly rates range between $22 and $35.

According to staffing agencies, travel nurses make about twice as much as they would as a staff nurse at the very same facility. In fact, hospitals typically pay 20% more for traveling nurses than for direct employees, even after benefits are factored in.

One of the greatest advantages for traveling nurses is that they can pick and choose where they want to work and when. Rules about mandatory overtime, weekends, and holidays simply don't apply; these nurses can work as much or as little as they want.

A dose of reality

Capitalizing on the increasing popularity of the traveling nurse industry, Access Nurses, a travel nursing agency, will launch a reality show on the Internet this fall. Set in Southern California, the drama focuses on six real-life nurses, playing out over thirteen weeks at Each week, viewers may tune in to view the adventures of these travel nurses shown in seven-minute broadcasts. The show will feature their lives as they work at local facilities around Southern California, further generating popularity for the travel nurse industry.

Hospitals' take on temporary staff

Desperate to hire nurses, hospitals often use the temporary employment of travel nurses as an opportunity to recruit permanent staff members. However, travel nurses are frequently young nurses without family ties who take advantage of their unique situation to earn higher pay and travel, and thus, are not inclined to take on a permanent position.

Hospitals also express concerns about temporary staff members' lack of familiarity with hospital protocol, the physicians, the culture of the community, and the equipment. Although they may be highly skilled, travel nurses' lack of familiarity with the organization could potentially cost time in the event of an emergency. Furthermore, in organizations where more than 50% of the ICU staff members are temporary, physicians have expressed their displeasure with hospitals for hiring travel nurses.

Filling in the gaps

Despite concerns, for hospitals that have difficulty recruiting and hiring permanent staff, many hospitals view travel nurses as an asset: they allow hospitals to offer quality patient care without being severely understaffed. According to Staffing Industry Analysts, Inc., hospitals employ 15,000 to 20,000 traveling nurses every week.

While other measures continue to be proposed and implemented in an effort to reduce the nursing shortage, travel nursing is a popular alternative for both organizations and nurses alike.