America's Nurses: My Life as a Travel Nurse

NursingFebruary 11, 2014


Don't get me wrong. I went to nursing school because I desired to help people and make a difference in their lives, but when I saw my friend's nursing magazines full of beautiful images of beaches and mountains in the travel nurse ads, I knew I wanted to be a travel nurse. The moment I became a registered nurse (after working four years as LPN), I signed up for a travel agency and found myself on my way to Kansas.

This was in 1997, and things have changed considerably since my first assignment. Back then, almost all travel nursing assignments were in hospital settings, and my first experience was no exception. Even as an LPN, I had worked for local staffing agencies, filling in as a temporary employee for shifts in hospitals in my home city. This developed my ability to go into a unit with little to no orientation and survive until I got my feet on the ground. It's a critical skill you'll have to possess if you want to work as a travel or temporary nurse.

I found that the acute care environment wasn't really my cup of tea. I managed to do well enough and got good reviews, but I found the stress to be a bit much. So, I went back to conventional nursing positions and temporary staffing at the local level for many years, but then travel nursing began to expand to encompass a broader range of nursing positions.

These days, nurses have the option to travel with many specialties of nursing other than those found in hospitals. These new alternatives include long-term care staffing and administration, home health and hospice nursing and case management or MDS nursing. I've even done private duty care on the Navajo reservation for former uranium workers with a special government benefit for this kind of care.

Travel nursing is a great way to see the whole country and also scope out potential places for your permanent residence. If you're serious about getting into travel nursing, try to set up permanent residence in a compact license state, where the states involved have a mutual practice agreement that allows you to work there on a temporary basis without getting a license in every state.

Keeping up with your licensing is challenging in this line of work, but a minor concern when weighing the benefits. It can be pretty hard on your personal life if you have trouble making friends locally and are not comfortable traveling on your own, or trying to travel with family. You also have to be able to tolerate temporary housing, which can be a hotel room of varying quality, depending on the agency and the contract with the client. Some offer apartments that you may either share with another nurse or have to yourself.

Despite the challenges, I would not trade the experience of working as a travel nurse for the world. I've seen New Orleans at Mardi Gras, broken bread with a traditional Navajo family and lived in the mountains of rural Colorado. I am confident that someday I'm going to use that New Zealand practicing certificate I worked so hard to get. Your options as a travel nurse aren't limited to the borders of this country, but span the globe.

Photo Source: Flickr