Travel nursing jobs satisfy need for adventure, flexibility |
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Shirley McMarlin

When it comes to work-life balance, Leslie Giesey of Ligonier seems to have it made.

From October to April, she works as a registered nurse at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital. When May comes, she heads west to work as a travel nurse in a clinic near Yellowstone National Park.

She’s loved Yellowstone since childhood, having taken yearly fly fishing trips there with her father.

“When I first started, I thought my dream job would be to live and work for one summer in Yellowstone, then come home in the winter to be with my family.”

One summer wasn’t enough, though, and traveling between Pennsylvania and Wyoming has become a regular routine.

“You pretty much experience every season. I go in May and it’s still spring, then it’s summer and things bloom and babies are born, then it’s fall when I leave,” Giesey says. “I’ll keep doing it as long as it works for me.”

Nursing shortage

It is believed that travel nursing got its start in 1978 in New Orleans, when the city brought in contract nurses to deal with the influx of patients expected during Mardi Gras, according to Colorado-based Fastaff Travel Nursing.

The practice spread during the 1980s to help alleviate a national nursing shortage, according to the American Society of Registered Nurses. One reason that travel nursing took off was to meet seasonal demand in areas of the country that attract large numbers of travelers and retirees during the winter.

As health-care organizations continued to hire temporary nurses, agencies were created to help place RNs in facilities around the country looking to fill short-term staffing needs.

“It takes a special kind of person to pick up and go to different places, an adventurous person,” says Kim Finnerty, Allegheny Health Network vice president of workforce planning for nursing.

Assignments vary in length, but contracts most commonly run in increments from eight to 26 weeks, according to

Most agencies expect travel nurses to have at least a year of clinical experience, preferably in a hospital setting. Additional certifications are useful, since many short-term positions are within specialties that require additional training.

Compact license

A prospective travel nurse must have at least an associate of science in nursing degree, and have passed the NCLEX-RN exam, a nationwide examination nurses take to earn a license, granted by the state where they met the requirements.

But if nurses are licensed by individual states, how are they eligible to practice elsewhere? There are temporary practice licenses and reciprocating licenses, Finnerty says.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing created the Nurse Licensure Compact, allowing nurses to hold one multi-state license, also called a compact license, and practice in participating states without having to pay additional licensing fees.

Currently, 25 states participate in the NLC. In order to be eligible for a compact license, a nurse must:

• Have no restrictions or disciplinary actions against his/her license

• Have his/her primary residence in a state participating in the NLC

• Meet continuing education requirements for their primary state license

• Keep the primary license current and pay applicable licensing fees.

“We use contingent workers to help meet our staffing needs, both local and travel nurses,” Finnerty says. “We use them throughout all facilities when we have difficulty filling a specialty position, for example, or to bridge a gap in filling staffing vacancies.”

Cyclical needs

Increased staffing needs can be both cyclical, as when cold and flu season comes around, or coincidental, if a number of people end up retiring at the same time, Finnerty says.

“The attraction can be for people who don’t have family commitments, have the time to travel and want to experience different types of hospital assignments and nursing from different perspectives,” she says. The pay rate for travel nurses also tends to be somewhat higher than the standard rate and might include housing.

While travel nurses tend to be younger and newer to the profession, that’s not always the case, Finnerty says: “We have some who are older who live in Pittsburgh but go somewhere warm in the wintertime.”

Giesey is a good fit for Excela’s fairly new seasonal nursing position, says Robin Jennings, senior writer for Excela Health Marketing and Communications. The position runs from October to April — coinciding with flu season when hospital admissions tend to be higher — and includes flexibility in work hours and assignments.

It could be particularly appealing to nurses with younger children who would like to have summers free, she says.

“Leslie is the ideal candidate, because she’s not intimidated by new settings and she’s willing to be flexible in her schedule.”

“I love Excela — that’s my home,” Giesey says. “That’s where I plan to work when I’m done traveling.”

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