The Lure of Travel Nursing

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Travel NursingChances are you’re hearing more and more about travel nursing. Mobile health providers aren’t a new phenomenon — there are plenty of examples, from field nurses and physicians in wartime to nongovernmental or nonprofit agencies that bring health care to underserved areas.

Demand for travel nurses

But travel nursing has really soared in recent years. It first gained popularity in the late 1970s and 1980s, and now, the demand for travel nurses is at a 20-year high, with no signs of slowing down.

A unique mix of factors is responsible for the surge:

  • The booming economy means more jobs and better health coverage for a lot of people.
  • The health care law has also added to the number of people with health insurance, so overall more health care is being accessed.
  • And more patients means an increased need for nurses.

The demand is highest in areas that see seasonal population growth, too. For example, retirees who flock to Florida in the winter means a spike in health care staffing needs.

Alexis Ogilvie, recruitment manager for Onward Healthcare, a national travel nurse staffing company, sees that upswing every day in her role.

“Just with our company alone, job postings have more than doubled,” Ogilvie said. “Currently we’re advertising close to 10,000 travel nurse positions nationwide.”

International travel nursing

The need isn’t just stateside, so nurses who like to visit other countries and cultures in their off time can consider merging their personal and professional worlds. Some travel nurse staffing companies feature international postings, and they’ll generally help with visa and other arrangements.

As in the U.S., different locations have varying needs, and so may be hiring particular kinds of nurses. For example, Nova Scotia faces an ongoing nursing shortage in its critical care and ICU facilities and relies heavily on available travel nurses to help out.

Benefits of travel nursing

For some, the get-up-and-go life is hard to picture. But for those up for the challenge, the perks can be plentiful. For one, the money can be good. Many travel nurses have a higher salary than those in permanent positions, in part because they’re likely to receive a portion of their pay tax-free.

As long as traveling nurses can show that they have a primary residence, or in IRS-speak, a “tax home,” elsewhere, their income can qualify for tax-free stipends. And the tax-free stipends may be applied to housing costs, too. In addition to tax-free stipends, travel nurses are often eligible to earn completion or other bonuses while on assignment.

Another important plus of the traveling lifestyle is the ability to work at some of the best facilities on the planet, including well-known teaching hospitals. By spending time at one of these facilities, a travel nurse may gain access to training in new technologies or procedures.

And forget fears about losing stability completely. Although most tours of duty last around 13 weeks, nurses have the option to stay put and renew if they like a particular location. As a plus, logistics are taken care of. Travel nursing companies have specialists that coordinate housing arrangements, so nurses just need to worry about personal items, like clothing and food.

As travel nursing grows in popularity, there is the concern that temporary staffing will take jobs that otherwise would go to local or newly graduated nurses in a region. And there are some hospital chains that do not use travel nurses to fill staffing needs.

But the reality is, facilities need a mix of nurses with different levels of experience and areas of care, and so they’ll always be hiring local, newer nurses, even if they utilize travel nursing to fill specific needs.

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