One of the most exciting things about a career in nursing is that with the right education, experience and career strategy, a registered nurse can go nearly anywhere in the world. Some nurses enjoy traveling domestically, perhaps to develop a specialty or to work where the culture feeds their interests outside of work. Other nurses simply enjoy a diversity of work settings and choose to travel to a variety of locations for the experience of forming long-lasting professional connections, which they cultivate over the longevity of their career. For others, the call of international travel is similarly appealing. With its sense of adventure and virtually unlimited opportunities, many registered nurses choose the international path. If domestic or foreign travel is of interest in your nursing career, there are several important details to consider.
Travel nurses are typically registered nurses who work on a contract basis to fill short-term employment gaps in a variety of health care settings across the nation. These professionals take on assignments ranging in length from three to four months to a year or more, standing in for full-time nurses on leave or helping to alleviate staff shortages.
Some nurses are trained specifically to respond in emergency situations and may work for the Red Cross or other charitable organizations in times of crisis. The work can range from helping to organize and set-up emergency clinics to working directly with patients. While many Red Cross workers are volunteers, there are also paid workers. Other registered nurses have experience in critical areas, filling specialty positions, or are generalists and travel across the country filling in where needed.
To become a travel nurse, an RN is required to have an associate’s degree or nursing degree diploma, at the very least. Those with bachelors or master’s degrees will typically be the first to fill the best positions. Following successful completion of any degree, professionals must pass the NCLEX-RN nursing credentialing exam. Since nursing licenses are assigned by individual U.S. state, allowing the nurse to work only in that state, the traveling nurse must obtain a Nurse Licensure Compact. This allows licensed RNs to work across state lines, on the condition that their nursing license and continuing education credentials remain up-to-date.
The need for registered nurses, including travel nurses, is expected to increase by 16% from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many areas of the health care industry are currently experiencing a nursing shortage due to changes in technology, the changing landscape of healthcare and the aging baby boomer population.
The average salary of a registered nurse was $67,490, according to the BLS, as of May 2015. However, salaries vary greatly from approximately $46,360 to more than $101,630. Factors impacting the pay of a travel nurse include level of education, years of experience, geographic area and healthcare setting. Job seekers are encouraged to conduct their own research into salary and job growth potential. Connecting with a local chapter of a national or international nursing professional organization can provide interested professionals with the most current statistics on everything from quality of life issues to emerging needs to pay, bonuses and great places to live.
Specialties have been known to help increase a nurse’s opportunities. Experience and education go hand in hand to be eligible for top positions in the most attractive cities. Becoming a travel nurse is generally part of a long-term career plan, as most travel nurse opportunities will require 1 to 3 years, or more for elite positions, of quality experience in a variety of clinical settings. Once the requirements are complete and a nurse is accepted into the pool of applicants, they can travel from location to location as opportunities arise. Online career sites, such as TravelNursing.com and TravelNursing.org, can be particularly helpful when seeking out opportunities and clarifying specific requirements.
The responsibilities and work environment of a travel nurse vary greatly by specialty. While assignments can last anywhere from two months to one year, the average duration is currently between 12 and 14 weeks. Travel nurses are typically provided with a housing package as part of their total compensation. Offers will vary, so it is important to go over all details carefully prior to accepting a contract.
Many travel nurses find their job a rewarding diversion from an everyday professional assignment in one location. Aside from obtaining the right training and experience, it is also important to keep in mind that there are soft skills necessary to be successful as a travel nurse. The best travel nurses adapt well to change, they can remain calm and positive in a rapidly changing environment and can quickly establish an effective team dynamic when working with new people.
While the basic requirements are the same for travel nurses who are traveling internationally, there are some important additional requirements that are necessary to keep in mind. Depending on placement location, additional immunizations, training and documents may be required. In addition to a passport, work visas are generally handled by the organization doing the hiring and new applicants are guided through the process by an experienced liaison.
The International Council of Nurses, as well as a variety of other sites provides a variety of specific requirements and program opportunities that will vary by geographic location. While some international travel provides an opportunity to utilize a specialty or build new skills, other opportunities can involve promoting a specific healthcare issue, such as women’s health or working in an educational capacity to promote certain vaccinations or disease education.
In general, processing all the paperwork can take 6 to 8 months. The pay can vary widely from location to location, so it is important to have specific details in writing before agreeing to a final contract. Many international locations do not pay as well as domestic ones, but there are some exceptions. To locate assignments, nurses can go through a travel nurse organization for assistance or contact the licensing board in the country in which they want to practice. In addition to licensing, immunization, and visa documents, some opportunities may have other requirements such as speaking the language or adhering to local dress restrictions. Working in Canada may be easier for U.S. citizens than other countries and is a great place to start for nurses interested in travel for the first time.
Seasoned travel nurses doing international work use the power of networking to secure the best assignments, get information on the housing situation and track down all the essential details which make an assignment more enjoyable. In addition to understanding the assignment and cultural nuances in a foreign placement, it is also important to keep in mind that while in a foreign country, a person is subject to the host country’s laws. In international locations, travel nurses must be able to demonstrate a high level of professional maturity and have the personality traits conducive to coping with the isolation that may sometimes accompany foreign travel.
While many small-scale humanitarian organizations assist in healthcare overseas, large-scale organizations are also important for raising awareness and opportunities for international nursing. The World Bank and The World Health Organization provide additional resources related to specific nursing information and healthcare trends in areas of the world where nurses are needed most. In addition to working directly with patients, international nursing provides an opportunity to connect with other professionals dedicated to the long-term goals of improving global healthcare. Demonstrating resilience and working effectively under stressful conditions are a must-have for maintaining career longevity as an international travel nurse.
While many professionals enjoy the adventure of working as a travel nurse, the lifestyle isn’t necessarily for everyone. This career path comes with a few considerations, including assignments with unexpected or shifting requirements, frequent night and weekend hours, difficult work-life balance and the solitude associated with being away from the company of long-time friends and family members, due to constantly moving around to new locations.
At the same time, working as a travel nurse comes with countless benefits, including the chance to help facilities and communities that are in need of talented nurses, the ability to travel to new geographic settings, the chance to meet new people and the opportunity to gain well-rounded nursing experience in a variety of settings. With the right strategic planning and career mentoring, the life of a travel nurse can be lucrative and exciting with enough variety and professional growth opportunities to last a lifetime.