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How to Start a Career in Travel Nursing

Locum tenens is Latin phrase for “to hold the place of or substitute for.” For nurse practitioners, it also means a unique career opportunity, full of flexibility, travel, and income potential.

Locum tenens work has its roots in the Southwest.  In the 1970s, the University of Utah received a grant to temporarily fund physicians in rural health clinics. Today, the concept of traveling for short-term positions is common practice in the medical field. Dozens of staffing companies and online job boards help connect practitioners to opportunities.

Travel Nursing in Demand

In the nursing field, you may also hear locum tenens referred to as “travel nursing.” While there’s a strong demand for nurses overall nationwide, some regions aren’t experiencing a shortage, leaving many qualified nurses without work. Likewise, others cities have plenty of openings, but not enough qualified candidates living nearby. Travel nursing meets both needs: it gives an employment opportunity to someone willing to temporarily relocate to an area in need.
Aside from long-term staffing shortages, there are other reasons a facility may be looking for a temporary doctor, nurse, or other professional, including:

  • Unexpected, prolonged absence
  • Leave of absence or extended vacation
  • Ramping up a new facility
  • Coverage while seeking replacement for retiring/departing employee
  • Coverage during unexpected or seasonal busy times

Some assignments may be as short as a week; others may start as a few-month contract and renew for up to a year or more.

Benefits of Locum Tenens Work

According to a survey of 500 doctors, 38 percent chose short-term assignments for travel opportunities, 35 percent wanted to earn additional income, and 34 percent desired more clinical experience. A poll of traveling nurses may look similar.

Nurses of all types, including nurse practitioners, may wish to take advantage of this unique employment opportunity for many reasons. For one, it’s flexible: Locum tenens allows you to pick and choose when you want to work and for how long. For instance, you could take summers off, travel more often, or simply work for a certain amount of time per year.

Travel nursing also allows you to discover yourself along the way. If you’re just out of grad school, between jobs, or are seeking a change in scenery, exploring new cities and states via various job placement can help you figure out what you want to do and where you want to do it.

Finally, traveling nurses can earn a good living—often even more than at a full-time, salaried position. In fact, many recruiter websites tout higher-than-average hourly rates for locum tenens work. Staffing Industry Analysts reported that the national cost for travel nurses nearly doubled over the past three years to $4.8 billion and rose another 6% in 2019. And, another study found “the national average travel nurse fee has risen to $78/hr, ranging to $120/hr, pending specialty and geography.” This rapid wage and cost growth illustrates how hospitals are doing what they need to do to provide patient care.

Where to Find Locum Tenens Work & Other Considerations

Contract length, pay, and benefits vary greatly between assignments. Often, though, travel expenses and lodging is covered by the employer.

Some health care facilities and organizations may advertise openings on their websites, but you may also look toward online job search websites and aggregators, such as:

Some staffing agencies specialize in locum tenens positions too, including Weatherby Healthcare, Medestar, and Barton Associates.

Working as a traveling nurse practitioner offers many opportunities to grow in your medical career, earn a respectable income, and serve others as you travel from place to place.

If a career in travel nursing—or as a nurse practitioner in general—appeals to you, we’d love to talk to you more about our Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

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