How to become a travel nurse

Travel nurse in clinic

As a travel nurse you can work around the country or around the world. You’ll be welcomed into communities that will value your expertise and experience, while you enjoy the thrill of visiting new places and build your skills and confidence.

Skilled nurses are in demand in every corner of Australia – from cities to towns, in rural areas and holiday destinations – and around the world. Communities everywhere need the expertise and practical help nurses can offer. To find out about the many roles open to travel nurses and the training required for this work, we spoke with Cath Rogers, Professor of Nursing at Torrens University Australia.

What does a travel nurse do?

A travel nurse does lots of things, but essentially the term ‘travel nursing’ relates to a nurse who is either travelling within or outside of Australia and usually doing short-term contracts in a variety of health settings. That could be in a hospital, in a remote area clinic, or even in a regional GP practice. You take your nursing skills with you as you travel, work and gain new experiences at the same time.

Where do travel nurses work?

I have a student who's completing her master's thesis around her experiences as a volunteer nurse. She worked in a bushfire area after the fires and provided nursing services. She travelled to the location and offered short-term services to help the community recover. My student worked in a voluntary capacity, but most travel nurses certainly do get paid. Travel nurses can be called upon to serve at short notice, like my student, but at other times they can plan well ahead.

How long does it take to become a travel nurse?

A travel nurse needs to be a registered nurse. You must complete a three-year Bachelor of Nursing program at an accredited university in Australia. After graduating, you then apply for registration. As well as being a registered nurse, you also need at least a couple of years of postgraduate clinical experience. And preferably you will have worked in a variety of settings. That experience will prepare you for some of the very different challenges and opportunities travel nursing will provide.

Do travel nurses have to work on their own?

Yes, particularly if you work within Australia. There's a huge demand for travel nurses to go into rural and remote areas, and you can certainly be working independently in those areas. Also, you can deal with any condition, from a little cut on a finger to an acute mental health crisis, a major traffic accident or someone in cardiac arrest. There are so many things you may need to deal with, and you must respond quickly. While that can seem challenging, travel nursing also gives you the chance to learn and build your confidence.

Which nurses are generally best suited to a career in travel nursing?

If they build up their skills and expertise and choose settings that they think they'll cope with, then I believe a wide range of nurses will suit travel nursing and find it rewarding. It's a great opportunity for younger people, but also increasingly for older nurses who might be free of the duties of caring for their children or elderly parents and are ready to take on new responsibilities. I have a friend who bought an RV, or motorhome and travelled around the country, working as a registered nurse in rural and remote health facilities.

How does the Torrens University help students prepare to work as a travel nurse?

I believe the strength of Torrens University’s Bachelor of Nursing is that it has a broad focus and a particular emphasis on primary healthcare and First Nations health. Also, the program requires students to work in a regional or rural community for one of their placements. It recognises that so much healthcare happens outside the hospital environment and therefore we need to prepare nurses to work across the full scope of practice settings. The program also offers strong a clinical focus. My colleagues in Nursing are passionate about ensuring that they graduate clinically prepared registered nurses.

How much can a travel nurse expect to earn?

It is very hard to be specific because often the wages depend on the setting and the number of years of experience the registered nurse would bring to the job. As it is casual work and a nurse might be working in remote Australia, they may earn up to $120,000 a year. Often there are remote allowances that are added to the wage.

By comparison, registered nurses with a year or two of experience might earn around $95,000 a year in a city hospital. So, the wages for travel nurses can be attractive, but of course, travel nursing can come with having to commit to working in a range of locations away from home.

State Health departments have various levels and pay rates. For nurses working within the state system, the level at which you are paid can depend on your capability and the Health department’s needs in a particular setting.

A Nursing degree offers so many opportunities, and you can travel the world with nursing. Once you get your degree and consolidate your skills with a year or two of practice, then the world's your oyster.

If you want a flexible career that allows you to combine your life preferences with your work opportunities, and you want to be able to travel and experience new cultures and new environments, then travel nursing is an excellent choice.

Check our Nursing Courses to learn more
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