See the World as a Travel Nurse


Travel nursing is one of the many sub-specialties available to current RNs. Travel nurse assignments typically last 13-26 weeks and nurses can choose where they work. This high degree of flexibility combined with competitive compensation means it is a role growing in popularity. We caught up with Emily Millman, a current travel nurse, to get her thoughts. Emily grew up in northern Vermont, and decided to become a nurse while enrolled in the Burlington Technical Center’s Medical and Sports Sciences program. She completed her BSN at the University of Vermont while working as an LNA in both long term and acute care settings. Upon graduation she was hired into the ICU/Stepdown in a small rural hospital, where she completed an accredited critical care education program. With 1.5 years of experience, she moved on to travel nursing. Since, she has completed her CCRN credentials and plans on continuing her education within the next two years. As of this writing, she is on assignment in San Jose, California.

Why did you decide to pursue nursing as a career?

I was always interested in medicine – I wanted to be a large animal veterinarian from a very young age (I interned with a large animal practice for several years)! When I was 16 I had a little bit of an identity crisis – I wanted to do something that would impact more people, and very reluctantly began considering politics. Fate stepped in, and a family medical crisis exposed me to nursing. The last nurse who cared for my grandfather before he passed was gentle, supportive, and realistic. She made a huge difference to me and my family, and I was inspired to do the same for others.

What is the hardest/most stressful part of your job?

The hardest part of being a nurse is the unrealistic expectations placed on nurses. Depending on where you work, you’re often expected to care for an unsafe number of patients, without sacrificing customer service. Patients often have the impression that nurses have an unlimited amount of time to spend with them, or that we can take away all of their pain. Doctors are often unaware of the magnitude of our assignments. The media portrays nurses terribly. All in all, there are many challenges in nursing, but the expectations are the toughest for me personally.

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

The most satisfying part of being a nurse is knowing that I’m having a positive impact on the lives of others every day that I work. I love being able to make a miserable experience (being in the hospital) even just a little bit better!

What was your path to becoming a travel nurse? Do you have any recommendations?

I became a travel nurse for two reasons: I felt stuck, and I wanted to try out living in a different area. I spent a lot of time talking to different recruiters and companies before choosing one that was a great fit for me. My recommendation is to do lots of research before you start – understand the tax implications and how to protect yourself in your contract. There are a lot of great resources available on the internet, but the most helpful tool for me has been a Facebook group called The Travel Nurse Network: The Gypsy Nurse.

How many years of education do you need to become a travel nurse?

To become a travel nurse you need a nursing degree (BSN is globally preferred at this point), and a bare minimum of a year of experience. It’s crucial to be 100% confident in your basic nursing skills before you start, because you don’t really get any training when you start as a travel nurse!

What kind of hours do travel nurses work?

The hours you work as a travel nurse depend on the position you accept. I work in the hospital, which usually means 12 hour shifts (either 3 or 4 per week depending on your contract).

What is your typical day like?

My typical day (or night, in my case!) as a travel nurse is essentially the same as it would be for a staff nurse. I clock in, take report, and care for my assigned patients until it’s time to give report to the next shift.

How did you begin to specialize as a travel nurse?

I had some great experience, I worked several years in high-acuity settings and had some phenomenal mentors to prepare me for travel nursing.

What are some qualities you need to become a travel nurse?

Flexibility! Be prepared to roll with the punches– you’re often given the short end of the stick. Being outgoing and friendly really helps as well.

What advice would you give to aspiring nurses in terms of preparing for school?

Be prepared to work really hard! Nursing school is tough, but it’s worth it.

Where can I find more information about travel nursing?

The internet is a great resource. As mentioned above, social media networking was very helpful to me in learning about travel nursing.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

My favorite part about being a travel nurse is not having to be involved with facility politics. I get to care for my patients and go home, rather than being obligated to attend meetings and serve on committees on my days off. I also love being able to choose my own location and (somewhat) my own schedule.

Do you have any other thoughts/tips/ideas for students interested in travel nursing?

If you’re interested in travel nursing, get a solid foundation first! For the hospital, 2 years in your chosen specialty is recipe for success.

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