Andrew Wettengel / Wednesday, December 22, 2021 / Categories: Health


Travel nurses have become valuable assets for many healthcare facilities. Without these useful staff members, hospitals wouldn’t be able to regularly fill temporary nursing positions to accommodate staffing shortages and an abundance of patients.

Many nurses also choose to travel for the many benefits that travel nursing offers. Besides taking advantage of seeing different places and meeting new people, travel nurses tend to make more money, have more flexible schedules, and even get stipends for daily expenses. They also gain new skills and experiences that can be added to their resume, both professionally and personally.

Travel nursing is a profession that has gained popularity in the last few decades. Yet, the job itself has been around for much longer and has a deep history tied to it. OneStaff Medical has put together an in-depth history of travel nursing to illustrate why this profession has become so important and what the future looks like for traveling nurses.

How Travel Nursing Started

For the past couple centuries, nurses have traveled to different places, including different countries, to help those who are sick or in need of medical care. In the 1800s and 1900s, it was common for women to volunteer as nurses and travel to different countries to care for the soldiers or other war personnel who were injured, sick, or dying.

Although these were volunteer nursing positions that didn’t require a contract, they kickstarted the idea that nurses can travel to other places when they are truly needed in crisis situations. This idea still resonates today with nurses who travel to fill nursing shortages in other states or fill other temporary nursing positions.

The modern concept of contract-to-hire travel nursing began in 1978 in New Orleans. During the week of Mardi Gras, there were an influx of patients in the city that needed to be cared for. This is the first time that hospitals decided to hire nurses from around the country to fill the staffing demand.

Afterward, travel nursing continued to become a growing trend in the 1980s and 90s, especially as nursing shortages became widespread across the country. Other states began to take on similar models, where they would hire traveling nurses seasonally to accommodate more patients during certain times of the year.

Since then, advancements in technology have allowed for nursing staffing agencies to take on a larger role in travel nursing by placing nurses in temporary positions across the country. Mobile technology and the internet make it easier for traveling nurses to maintain communication with their home base while they work in different places, allowing for more flexibility in their careers.

How Travel Nursing Has Changed Over Time

While the modern concept of travel nursing is a fairly young movement that’s only been around for a little over 40 years, nursing itself has been around for much longer. Women such as Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton have appeared in history books for being two women who revolutionized nursing in their day and for years to come.

In 1854, the Crimean War was well underway between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire. The Ottomans were backed by England and France, making the war a widespread European effort. During the war, conditions were awful for those who ended up wounded or sick.

For the British, especially, the war brought on challenging situations as they were unprepared to deal with the soldiers who needed medical care. They lacked supplies and sanitary conditions to care properly for the sick and injured. Florence Nightingale, a woman who is credited for pioneering modern nursing, traveled with a group of 38 female nurses to a British camp in the Ottoman territory to help care for patients.

Although doctors at the camp site were initially unwelcoming of Nightingale’s arrival, they eventually found the group of women to be of tremendous help, especially as the number of patients continued to drastically increase. These nurses were able to bring food, supplies, and sanitation, as well as individual support and care to the soldiers.

Nightingale’s efforts allowed for the death rate at the camp to decrease from 40 percent to two percent. While her efforts were voluntary, it does paint a picture about how important traveling nurses are in crisis situations.

Another example of early travel nursing efforts can be seen through Clara Barton. During the United States Civil War, Barton helped the Union troops by providing supplies and nursing care. While she initially helped from afar with her job at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., Barton eventually traveled to the battlefields to support the soldiers.

During many major U.S. Civil War battles, Barton was a vital resource. She helped cook and care for the wounded and ill. Barton is also credited for founding the American Red Cross in 1881 in an effort to bring universal care and treatment to those who needed it.

In our modern day, travel nursing is a contract-to-hire position where nurses are paid to fill in where they’re needed across the country. What started out as a voluntary position two centuries ago has become a popular career choice for nurses today.

Although the modern travel nursing movement didn’t exist in the 1800s, it’s easy to see some roots of travel nursing in history. The concept of traveling to a different place to help others was not a new concept and has only progressed over the centuries.

The Future of Travel Nursing

The demand for traveling nurses will only continue to grow. Many factors in the last few years have contributed to the higher demand in healthcare, such as an aging population, longer life expectancies, the Affordable Care Act, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many people in the Baby Boomer generation live with chronic illnesses, making nurses more important than ever. The Affordable Care Act allowed for millions of people to sign up for health insurance in 2014. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a huge strain on the healthcare system, affecting the number of nurses needed in hospitals.

Traveling nurses are vital for filling staffing gaps and shortages at healthcare facilities that can’t keep up with the nursing shortage. The shortage of nurses is only projected to continue until at least 2030. Although the Registered Nursing workforce is also expected to grow, traveling nurses will be highly valuable for filling gaps when other nurses leave or retire.

If you’re considering becoming a traveling nurse, OneStaff Medical is here to help find the perfect assignment for you. Browse our current list of positions, or contact us today at 877-783-1483.

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