As of August 2018, the unemployment rate in the United States has hit 3.9 percent as millions of workers are finding the jobs they want. Additionally, the latest trends in employment reveal that people are looking for flexible work that gives them more control over when, and sometimes even where, they work.
Nurses are seeing an even lower unemployment rate of just 1.2 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report. As the most trusted professionals in America, nurses are in high demand and will be for years to come. This means hospitals in smaller U.S. cities are fighting to fill nursing positions so they can offer patients the quality care they need. Nurses looking for flexible work are in luck, as the exciting field of travel nursing is primed to help meet the employment shortages in hospitals across the country.
According to Patrick Dotts, a managing director at Soliant, “the company has absolutely seen the demand for travel healthcare professionals soar over the last few years. It’s become very beneficial for healthcare professionals to enter the travel staffing niche due to advantages such as higher compensation, greater flexibility, increased energy and renewed mindset, along with the ability to focus on short-term goals that have visible benefits on the facility.”
Travel nurses are registered nurses who go to hospitals where they are needed most across the country. They fulfill 13-week contracts before moving on to a new hospital in a new area. With travel nursing comes relocation, often several times per year. While this constant change may seem stressful, the truth is often quite the opposite because a travel nurse rarely has to question if they’ll have a job at the end of their contract—the demand is high and not slowing down any time soon.
Why travel nurses are in demand
While more nurses are graduating every year and entering the workforce, the U.S. is still not keeping up with the demand for nurses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 400,000 registered nurse positions will be created between 2016 and 2026, bringing the total number of RNs in the nation to almost 3.4 million. This growth is fueled by higher demand for nursing care by aging baby boomers, higher rates of chronic conditions, and a focus on preventive care.
In addition to those 400,000 jobs, more than 1 million nurses are expected to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. Given that nursing schools have only seen a 3.6 percent increase in enrollment, we simply aren’t meeting the demand for all the open positions in the U.S.
Travel nursing positions will grow faster than others in nursing—20 percent expected growth compared to 15 percent projected growth for RN positions overall. This increased demand will mean more opportunities for travel nursing jobs, and more control over when and where you work, and how much money you can make.
“It’s become so beneficial from a financial standpoint to be a travel nurse given your ability to pick and choose destinations based on specific needs,” Dotts says. “There are instances where travel nurses can earn as much in nine months as a permanent employee can in 12 months, sometimes even more so.”
Changes in value-based healthcare also increases the need for nurses. Value-based healthcare involves reimbursing hospitals for results, instead of just services delivered. The goal is to bring costs down while improving the quality of care. In its current state, the U.S. healthcare industry costs 2.5 times more than other developed nations, but it doesn’t have a similar increase in quality or patient outcomes.
Better patient outcomes rely heavily on nurses who spend more time with patients and coordinate care among many members of the care team. Nurses have long practiced patient-centered care with a focus on holistically supporting a patient and their family’s needs. Nurses do not just administer medicine; they improve comfort, provide support, and connect patients to other resources they need.
As the rest of the healthcare industry shifts to more patient-centered care, nurses will often be the members of the team leading the way, the ones with the proper experience to embrace this change. That’s why hospitals will continue to have a high demand for nurses. They’ll need people who understand how to deliver the level of care now required by the government and many insurance companies.
Travel nurses are uniquely positioned to deal with changing patient demographics. As the U.S. continues to diversify in terms of race, culture, and religion, travel nurses are better equipped to accommodate patients from all walks of life. By having more experience with different cultures, a nurse can be a better fit for a patient’s needs and lifestyles. Studies even show that patients have better outcomes if they are treated by nurses who are either from the same cultural background or have had a lot of exposure to their culture.
Between the nursing shortage and the demand for value-based care, travel nurses are uniquely positioned to help hospitals across the country meet quality standards and improve patient outcomes. Everywhere you go, you not only learn, but you teach others. This sharing of knowledge and experience helps hospitals provide better care for each patient that needs their services.
The benefits of travel nursing
Travel nursing does much more than expand your knowledge of different cultures and hospitals; it offers unique benefits not available to nurses in permanent positions. These benefits include:
As a travel nurse, you sign on for your 13-week contract and that’s all you’re required to complete. After your contract finishes, you can take some time off to spend with family or go straight into your next assignment.
For instance, if your contract ends in November, you could take the month of December off to spend the holidays with your family. Most permanently placed nurses, on the other hand, would only get a day or two off for the holiday.
Travel nurses often receive higher pay than nurses in permanent full-time positions. While you are travel nursing, the better compensation gives you the flexibility to really explore the area you are in, pay off student loans faster, or save for your future.
Opportunities to explore and grow
Travelling from place to place lets you to see parts of the country you may have never seen before. Travel nursing positions are available in virtually all 50 states, so you could land a contract anywhere from your home state to a location on the other side of the country.
Being in new places pushes you out of your comfort zone, and helps you learn more about yourself.
“Every hospital, every city does things differently,” says Dotts. “Travel nurses get to learn new skills, new procedures, and get to be exposed to different cultures – the more places they go, the easier it becomes to adapt and seamlessly integrate into any facility.”
You don’t have to hunt down contracts on your own as a travel nurse, because staffing agencies or travel nursing agencies will do that for you. They may also cover your travel expenses, provide access to low-cost housing, or even help pay for your utilities. This makes traveling less stressful and helps retain more money in your paycheck. By partnering with certain companies like Soliant, you may also be eligible for substantial sign-on bonuses.
Grow your professional network
When you’re traveling, you’ll meet and begin relationships with people at hospitals you’ve likely never been to. As a result, your network will expand greatly and potentially open the doors for finding a permanent location if you decide to go that route in the future.
Find your nursing niche
As a traveling nurse, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up working in many types of hospitals or departments. This will help you determine which type of nursing you love most, whether it is labor and delivery at a community hospital or ICU at a Level 1 trauma center.
Highest paying travel nursing jobs
Travel nurses are needed in virtually every hospital department and in each healthcare specialty, but some nursing specialties are in even higher demand. If you have experience in the following specialties, your protected job outlook is even more promising:
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurses
ICU nurses have a broad set of skills that help them deal with many different types of patients. Hospitals need nurses with this great experience to assist others and help lead their staff. ICU nursing can also be stressful, which makes it more difficult for hospitals to fill permanent positions.
Operating Room Nurses
Each year, more surgeries are being performed in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers in the U.S. Hospitals across the country are expanding operating suites, placing a higher demand for nurses who know how to keep an OR running smoothly. You may be even more in demand if you have experience in specialized surgeries, such as STEMI care or interventional radiology.
Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU)/Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nurses
Children and infants require highly specialized care from experienced nurses. They need nurses who understand how to talk to parents, keep children calm, and care for conditions that rarely appear in older populations. This kind of experience can be hard to find, making PICU and NICU nurses an in-demand specialty for travel nurses.
Best cities for travel nursing
No matter which nursing specialty you have experience in, it’s likely that you’re needed in one of hundreds of hospitals across the country. Also, the myth that these jobs only exist in bigger cities couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only that, these smaller cities often allow for a more personal, satisfying role in a facility.
“If you take an assignment in a smaller city, you’ll often find a more comfortable pace with a more flexible staff and set of processes,” says Dotts. “Typically, those smaller facilities have the small-town feel where you get to know everybody.”
“You’re not one small cog in the machine,” he continues. “You’re an integral part of the job.”
It’s true. Whether it’s in a rural area of Alaska or the beaches of Florida, you can find a travel nursing job in any part of the U.S. Consider every travel assignment a 13-week adventure where you can learn about and explore new cities without using vacation days or racking up travel costs.
Based on Soliant’s current openings, the top cities for travel nurses this fall include:
Dayton, Ohio may be a small city, but it offers great diversity for its size. From a world-class aviation history museum to Urban Nights street festivals, NCAA basketball tournaments to the giant Second Street Farmer’s Market, you can find something you love to do when you aren’t working. Also, two major interstates (I-70 and I-75) cross there, so you’ll have easy access to nearby cities like Cincinnati, Louisville, Columbus, and Indianapolis.
Another small city, Albany, Georgia is located in the southern portion of the state and just a few hours from the Gulf of Mexico. Judging by all it has to offer, you wouldn’t think the city was small. It’s home to a zoo, aquarium, museum of art, symphony orchestra, planetarium, and dozens of historic sites for you to explore during your stay.
Atlanta, on the other hand, is one of the biggest cities in the country. If you enjoy more urban living and warmer temperatures, Atlanta is an ideal city for you. It’s full of restaurants, history, and plenty to do. Surrounded by rolling hills and thick woods, it is a growing city that has gone through great revitalization in the last 20 years. You can be part of the city’s ongoing improvement during your time as a travel nurse.
Up north, we have Manchester, New Hampshire, the largest city in the state and commonly listed among the best cities to live in the U.S. It’s home to Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, the Currier Museum of Art, a huge events arena, skiing, and much more. It’s the perfect home base for exploring everything New England has to offer, including beautiful mountains and important locations in American history.
Out west in central California, we have Visalia. This city is close to some of the nation’s most beautiful national parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, as well as the Pacific Ocean. The area is driven by agriculture, including grapes, olives, and citrus fruits, and doesn’t come with the high price tags of many California towns. With its small-town charm, you are sure to feel welcomed and at home during your contract.
It may be a small city in the country’s smallest state, but Warwick boasts 39 miles of coastline. Sitting right on the Narragansett Bay, it is home to many beaches, hiking, and water sports to keep you busy in the warmer months. It’s also a short drive from historical cities like Providence and Boston, allowing you to explore the much of what New England has to offer.
How to Start Your Career as a Travel Nurse