Travel Nursing: Common Medical & Administrative Specialties
Travel nursing offers the rare opportunity to tailor your professional life to your interests, skills, and lifestyle. You can choose where you work and which nursing specialties are the right fit for you. There are many types of travel nurse specialties available, so think about what area of healthcare is most enticing to you and where you have experience. Keep reading for a look at which travel nursing specialties are in demand.
Which Specialties Are Most in Demand?
As a registered nurse, you can look forward to a 15% job growth rate through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of this increasing demand for nurses, RNs are highly sought after in general, though some nursing specialties are more in demand than others.
One of the most in-demand specialties is an operating room (OR) travel nurse, also referred to as a perioperative nurse. These nurses are responsible for patients before, during, and after surgery, and they’re an integral part of the surgery process.
When it comes to trauma, the emergency room doesn’t turn anyone away. Because of this, ER travel nurses are always needed. Former travel nurse Jessica Legaspi explained that ER staff “are the first responders in the hospital and the community. It’s neutral ground,” she said. “We treat everyone regardless of whatever criteria you can imagine. When the entire hospital is at full capacity, everything filters through the emergency department.”
Similarly, ICU nurses are in high demand considering the need for professionals who can handle complex patient assessment and therapies. More specifically, cardiovascular intensive care unit (CICU) travel nurses are very sought after. They administer care for patients who have undergone open-heart surgery.
Considering how many babies are born every day, it’s no wonder neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses also make the list. These are highly skilled nurses responsible for critically ill newborns.
Travel Nurse Education & Licensing
Because travel nurses perform the same standard duties as registered nurses, the education requirements are largely similar. You must have at least an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), though there’s an increasing number of employers who prefer or require RNs to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).
After earning your degree, you must obtain licensure in the state in which you wish to practice, and you do so by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). In addition, you’re likely to be required to have at least 1 year of practical experience in your area of specialty.
ER Travel Nurse
If you like a fast pace and feel comfortable switching gears in an instant, then the emergency room may be right for you. ER nurses work at the frontline, helping to stabilize patients, sometimes many at a time.
Once you’ve completed your RN education, you’ll need to pass the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) exam given by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN).
Work experience required
The BCEN recommends that you have at least 2 years’ experience in this specialty to sit for the exam, though it’s not required.
ICU, NICU & CICU Travel Nurse
Whether you’re in the general ICU, the neonatal ICU, or the cardiovascular ICU, you’re going to be responsible for critically ill patients who require a very detail-oriented nursing staff.
You can earn certification through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACCN). Regardless of patient location, critical care RNs (CCRN) are responsible for these acutely ill patients’ lives. They can begin care by earning either the CCRN (Adult), the CCRN (Pediatric), or the CCRN (Neonatal) certifications. A neonatal intensive care nursing certification (RNC-NIC) is also available through the National Certification Corporation (NCC).
Work experience required
For any of these critical care certifications through the AACCN, candidates must have completed 1 of the following clinical practice hour requirements:
- 2-year option: You must have practiced as an RN or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients within your specialty for 1,750 hours within the previous 2 years. At least 875 of these hours must have been accrued in the most recent year preceding your application.
- 5-year option: You must have practiced as an RN or APRN for at least 5 years in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients within your specialty for 2,000 hours. At least 144 of these hours must have been accrued in the most recent year preceding the application.
The CCN requires nurses to have 24 months of specialty experience compromised of a minimum of 2,000 hours in direct patient care, education, administration, or research. You must have also had employment in this specialty sometime in the last 24 months.
OR Travel Nurse
Perioperative travel nurses go beyond just helping the patient during surgery. You’ll be responsible for prepping patients for the OR as well as keeping their family in the know during procedures.
The Competency & Credentialing Institute (CCI) offers the CNOR certification exam, which they define as “the documented validation of the professional achievement of identified standards of practice by an individual registered nurse providing care for patients before, during, and after surgery.”
Work experience required
In order to be eligible for the CNOR exam, you must currently be working in perioperative nursing and have completed a minimum of 2 years and 2,400 hours of experience in perioperative nursing, with a minimum of 50% of those hours in the intraoperative setting.
Labor & Delivery Travel Nurse
If having a calm demeanor and the ability to work under stress describes you, consider pursuing a career as a labor and delivery nurse. These nurses are advocates for both the mothers and the babies, and they take patient physical, mental, and emotional health very seriously.
The National Certification Corporation offers the Inpatient Obstetric Nursing (RNC-OB) certification for labor and delivery nurses. Considering the very delicate nature of their work, labor and delivery nurses must also have certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS).
Work experience required
To take the exam, candidates must have 2 years of experience in the specialty, compromised of 2,000 hours of practice time. Employment in the labor and delivery specialty must have been within the last 24 months before the exam.
Oncology Travel Nurse
Oncology nurses, also known as hematology/oncology (Heme/Onc) nurses, care for patients undergoing solid or blood-borne cancer treatments. These nurses support patients through treatment as well as act an encouraging presence.
Often these nurses will need additional coursework or clinical training in their oncology specialization.
You can also show your dedication through certificates offered by the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS).
Work experience required
To sit for the exam, you’ll need a minimum of 1 year as an RN within the 3 years prior to the application. You’ll also need a minimum of 1,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice within the 2.5 years prior to the application. Furthermore, you’ll need a minimum of 10 contact hours of continuing nursing education in oncology or an academic elective in oncology nursing within 3 years prior to applying.
Required Licenses & Certifications
All registered nurses must obtain licensure by taking the NCLEX-RN exam, but if you’re a traveling nurse, you’ll need to be careful of state requirements. If you plan to move to a different state, make sure that your license is valid in that respective state.
The Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) allows nurses to earn a license that is valid in multiple states. Visit the map on the NLC’s homepage to find out which states participate in the compact and see what your requirements are if you’re moving to another state.
No matter which nursing specialty you choose, all types of travel nurses will need to be certified. Like the specialties covered above, each type will have at least 1 certifying body that provides an examination for certification.
You can find out more information through the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC) and the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS).
Education & Certifications That Can Advance Your Career
While some specialties only require 1 type of certification, you can show your dedication to the field by earning additional certificates, like the Basic Life Support or Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certificates.
Like most nursing professions, you’ll likely need to also complete continuing education units (CEUs), which most hospitals and national nursing organizations can spell out in detail. These can include units about domestic violence or HIV/AIDS, for example.
As mentioned in the education section above, it’s best to consider a BSN degree. While a bachelor’s is not necessarily required as a minimum level of education, it can make nurses more competitive in the job market, and New York state now requires bachelor’s degrees for registered nurses.
While an average salary isn’t available for general travel nursing or its specialties, a good reference is the average annual salary for RNs, which most travel nurses must be. The BLS notes this wage to be $73,550, which comes out to be an average hourly pay of $35.36.
Some medical settings might also accept licensed practical nurses (LPNs) onto its travel nurse assignments. These roles do not require a degree, and therefore make a smaller average salary of $45,710 a year.
Alternately, nurses with advanced degrees could earn more. APRNs such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives are reported to make a median wage of $110,930 per year.
If you’re interested in being a travel nurse overseas, you’re in luck. Travel nurse positions are available across the globe, with high demand in Australia, New Zealand, China, and the Middle East. You’ll also have the added benefit of learning from different types of medical procedures and methods of assessment.
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