How Does Travel Nursing Work?

Travel Nursing

Over the last few years, travel nursing has surged in popularity, prompted by overwhelming hospital nurse staffing shortages. For nurses, travel roles promise generous pay, flexible locations, and adventure. For healthcare employers, travel nurses help fill pressing workforce gaps.

But even as demand booms, many still wonder – how does the travel nurse industry actually work? Who arranges the contracts? How do nurses get matched to facilities? How are travel nurses different than staff nurses? This post breaks down the key aspects of travel nursing.

Travel Nursing

Contracting Structure in Travel Nursing

The travel nursing industry relies on a centralized matching structure connecting nurses to facilities needing temporary workforce [1]. Travel nurses don’t independently find and negotiate limited hospital contracts themselves. Instead, staffing agencies take on that role.

For hospitals, contracting with staffing agencies allows efficiently tapping wider talent pools to fill temporary workforce gaps, without absorbing HR burdens internally. Agencies assess overall market trends, then place contracts where mutual nurse and hospital needs overlap around timing, skills, and location.

Nurses indicate availability windows, ideal pay rates, desired geo-areas, specialty units, job duties, housing parameters and other needs to their staffing agency, which scans for fitting contract opportunities. Hospitals provide detailed staffing requests to agencies listing exact competencies, dates and shifts required of incoming travel nurses.

Throughout active contracts, agencies continue providing payroll, licensing, compliance, travel, and extension support. Nurses focus on patient care duties, while staffing agencies handle the surrounding logistics to keep nurses and hospitals optimally matched.

How Assignments Get Matched

The process of matching travel nurses to suitable facilities is multifaceted. Staffing agencies weigh a spectrum of variables on both the nurse supply side and hospital demand side, including [2]:

Travel Nurse Tools

Nurse Preferences

  • Desired pay rates and guaranteed hours
  • Locations – Geographic regions, city size, rural vs urban
  • Facility types – Teaching hospitals, community clinics, university medical centers
  • Specialty units – ER, ICU, Pediatrics, Oncology etc.
  • Hospital culture and ratings
  • Housing support needs – Stipends, furnished units
  • Start date timing and assignment lengths

Hospital Needs

  • Specialty requirements – Surgery, critical care, mother-baby
  • Seniority levels – Years of RN experience
  • Necessary certifications – ACLS, PALS, TNCC
  • Specific systems expertise
  • Pending staff vacancies by shift
  • Patient census projections

Optimized matching requires assessing multidimensional fit across both nurse readiness and hospital demands over current and upcoming months. Peak seasonality further influences planning.

Leveraging experienced advisor teams intimately familiar with seasonal ebbs and flows, agencies rapidly filter options to pinpoint where needs strongly intersect, allowing contracts to be finalized expeditiously [3]. The right match ensures nurses have the competencies and specialization to readily integrate while hospitals obtain optimized workforce support.

Key Travel Nurse Responsibilities

While on assignments, travel nurses may take on bedside care duties closely resembling those of staff hospital nurses. Core responsibilities typically encompass [4]:

Travel Nurse Responsibilities

Direct Patient Care

  • Performing admissions assessments and ongoing reassessments
  • Monitoring vitals, stats, and symptoms
  • Administering medications, treatments, and IVs
  • Assisting with ADLs like ambulation and hygiene
  • Communicating care plans to patients and families

Health Record Keeping

  • Maintaining detailed notes on assessments and delivered care
  • Updating patient medical histories
  • Recording administered meds and treatment response
  • Ensuring chart accuracy and completeness

Care Team Collaboration

  • Relaying changes to assigned patients’ conditions
  • Providing briefings during shift changes
  • Consulting specialty departments like physical therapy
  • Updating whiteboards and care plans

A distinguishing hallmark of travel nurses is the adaptability to quickly acclimate to unfamiliar facilities as they rotate across vastly different hospitals. Each workplace change requires rapidly grasping new EHR systems, specialty equipment, reporting protocols, and institutional processes under tight timelines to deliver safe continuity of care.

Travel Nursing – A Rewarding Path

While travel nursing necessitates great flexibility, the career offers nurses attractive incentives such as above-average pay, wide-ranging locales, enriched skills, and scheduling freedom to balance work and life priorities.

For hospitals, travel nurses provide a flexible way to meet patient needs during periods of high census and staffing fluctuations. And communities benefit from expanded health access and improved care quality when travel nurses can reinforce strained local care teams.

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  1. Modern Health. (2023, October 1). Reimagining Healthcare Staffing: Partnership-focused, d=Data-informed and Nurse-centric.
  2. National Library of Medicine. Nurse Staffing and Patient Care Quality and Safety. Center for Biotechnology Information
  3. The Hackett Group. (2023, September 19). Workforce Strategy: Leveraging Contract Staff and Managed Services. Business Acceleration Podcast
  4. National Library of Medicine. (2019, April 24). The Role of Medical Data in Efficient Patient Care Delivery: A Review. Center for Biotechnology Information.