Nursing Shortage Lets Travel Nurses See the World

You've been bitten by the travel bug and are now in the advanced stages of wanderlust. Adding to this ailment are your growing interest in medicine and your feverish desire to help people.

Consider a career as a travel nurse.

A travel nurse is more than simply a nurse with luggage. For a variety of personal and professional reasons, nurses opt to practice their profession -- some refer to it as a calling -- in different settings and cities. For many, the lure of travel is the main reason for becoming a travel nurse. For others, it's the promise of personal and professional growth.

For Nikkole Kantola, it was a combination of all of the above. Kantola began her nursing career in 1993 as an operating room nurse. She then moved up the ladder quickly before choosing travel nursing.

"For now, I am traveling to find the right place for me. I would eventually like to settle somewhere but am not ready now. I have the opportunity to experience different cultures, workplaces, attitudes and people. I am using this opportunity to find my way," says Kantola.

Travel nurse Diane Clark echoes Kantola's enthusiasm. "You get to meet new people and you make new friends -- you don't lose your old friends, you're just adding to the list.

"Travel nursing provides you with a learning opportunity. Not only do you experience new and different equipment and facilities, you get the opportunity to be involved with the different cultures. Best of all, you get to be in control of your life."

Usually, travel nurses work in that chosen location for less than a year. In fact, most travel nurses' contracts last about three months. If they especially like the location and working conditions, travel nurses often have the option of renewing their contracts.

Feel Good Salaries

Gwen Darling works for Travel Nurses Across America. She says that salaries vary from place to place, and depend on the nurse's specialty.

"Travel nurse agencies are paid an hourly rate by the hospital, and the nurse's payroll, housing, insurance etc. comes out of that stipend. Ballpark, including housing and benefits, nurses can very easily earn in the $62,000 to $85,000 range."

Passport to Adventure

Right about now, you may be picturing the average travel nurse as a cross between Florence Nightingale and Indiana Jones, brandishing a compass in one hand and a stethoscope in the other.

Gwen Darling sets the record straight. "Our nurses are a demographically diverse group. But they all seem to share a passion for their profession and a unique sense of adventure!"

Shalon Waddington of Travel Nursing Central (an online resource for travel nurses) feels the same way. "Travel nurses must also be flexible and adaptable."

And self-confident, adds Kantola. "The thought of travel nursing has always appealed to me. However, it took me quite some time to feel confident enough in my field to begin. The thought of traveling practically anywhere in the U.S. was exciting."

Darling agrees that travel nursing requires certain basic character traits. "Travel nurses are skilled professionals, ready and able to walk into any hospital setting and instantly become an asset. This ability...requires confidence and a knack for getting along with all types of people, often requiring the nurse to put personal ego aside."

Nurse Jean Courville has worked internationally since the early '70s. "It's really important that we don't come in and say 'this is how it has to be done and this is how we do it in [North America],'" she says. "It doesn't work that way. You have to listen and be respectful of their cultural differences."

"The travel nursing lifestyle is certainly not for everyone, but the nurses who embrace what's wonderful about a nomadic lifestyle really seem to love the benefits," adds Darling.

Shortage Creates Demand -- STAT!

Kalamazoo, U.S.A; Ottawa, Canada; Cork, Ireland: Throw a dart to a world map and it will likely land on a spot that's struggling with a modern medical malady -- too few nurses.

That reality has sparked another demand -- one for agencies specializing in matching nurses who want to travel with medical centers in dire need of such professionals. These agencies act as liaison between employers and employee.

And like any other employment agency, they offer a range of services to their clients. The rate of pay varies, but as with most careers, money should not be the only criteria for choosing one agency over another.

Kantola explains why it's important to choose an agency carefully. "I selected my agency based on the fact that they treat me as a person, not an employee. My phone calls are returned promptly, my questions are always answered, and I am 'checked on' without a prompt from me."

Kantola suggests starting the selection process by first checking out agencies' websites. "After speaking to your recruiter and the staff at the agency, you should be left with a feeling of importance."

Condition: Possibly Critical

Kantola also cautions anyone considering travel nursing as a career to ensure agencies provide adequate housing options. "There are still companies out there that do NOT offer private housing. Beware of that. We are not kids at summer camp and I believe that we should all be given private housing."

Travel nurse Eric Schoolcraft sums it up: "Remember there is a huge nursing shortage and traveling is big business. You make these companies money. They have to sell themselves to you!"

Schoolcraft has managed to avoid a common downside of travel nursing -- namely loneliness. He travels and works alongside his wife Jill, also a nurse. The couple, who has been traveling for two years, plans to continue their adventure until they start a family.

Courville understands the Schoolcraft's desire to share the travel experience. "My husband and I always like to travel," she says. "So we thought this [travel nursing] would be a better way to get to know a country other than being a tourist."

Darling offers the following tips to anyone working to obtain the necessary work experience to qualify as a travel nurse candidate: "Get as much acute care experience as you can...float to as many units as possible. Also try to get a letter of recommendation that outlines your skills in specific specialties."

Prognosis: Good to Excellent

Working and experiencing exotic cultures, languages and food, and trading winter boots for beach sandals aren't the ONLY draws to travel nursing. Just ask Kantola, who's been travel nursing for more than a year now.

"I feel a freedom from all of the politics an individual can be involved in while working for a hospital full time for many years. I am gaining so much more knowledge than I could have before," says Kantola.

Travel nurses also have the freedom to choose the location of their posting, the specific type of nursing they'd like to do (based on their experience of course), and even the duration of their stay.

"If I don't like the area or the hospital, my contracts are only for three months at a time. If I just cannot stand it, I can leave in a few months and move on to the next assignment."

On the negative side, travel nursing also means being away from friends and family. But as Kantola reasons, even that downside can be minimized. "Many of the other travelers I have met travel with a friend or even with their spouse. How fun is that?"

According to Darling and the American Nursing Association, the future looks bright for this chosen profession. "The continued nursing shortage will create a continued demand for all types of nursing, particularly travel nursing," predicts Darling.

And that's fine by Schoolcraft. "This job has definitely opened our eyes to an abundance of possibilities."


Travel Nursing Central
An independent site with news, tips and related links

An online community written for and by nurses, with a special section for travel nurses

Go Travel Nursing
A complete guide to travel nursing

Highway Hypodermics
Profiles of travel nurses, links, personal stories more
Introduction to travel nursing

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