Do Travel Nurses Really Need Travel Experience?

By Yara Souza

Do Travel Nurses Really Need Travel ExperienceDemand for healthcare services is on the rise, and that’s corresponded to sharply rising demand for healthcare workers. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), about 1.1 million new registered nurses will be needed by 2022 to fill jobs and replace retirees. At AMN Healthcare, this demand is already having a significant effect, with orders for travel nursing hitting record-breaking numbers in recent months. 

With demand rising, a selective hiring process faces off against dwindling supply, and healthcare providers may find that filling slots for travel nurses will become increasingly competitive. Currently, travel nursing accounts for 8 percent of the national nursing market, but those jobs can be critical to a hospital unit staffing.

One recent roadblock to contingent nurse hiring has been that providers turn away nurses who don’t possess a minimum years of travel nursing experience, which can seriously limit the number of candidates for open travel jobs. According to April Knutson, senior director of Clinical Services at AMN Healthcare, the most important aspect of recruiting a travel nurse should be an assessment of prior clinical work, not whether or not the nurse had travel experience. 

“In my experience as a travel nurse, each care environment was different,” she said. “So it’s the skill sets and prior overall experiences of nurses that are the most important determinates of success, not whether or not they’ve been a traveler.” 

Considering all this, why are many facilities hesitant to offer travel nursing opportunities to experienced nursing candidates who haven’t worked as travel nurses? 

Knutson said that while many hospitals have actually loosened their stringent requirements especially in the face of increased demand, they still expect the highest level of self-sufficient quality, and don’t have the time to train travelers for each rotation. 

“Simply put, managers expect travel nurses to just hit the ground running,” she said. 

But, she added, that’s a skill that many nurses possess who haven’t been travelers.

Tonja Brooks, Director for the Heart Center at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, Wis., agrees that the key asset sought is the ability to quickly adapt to a new care environment. 

“What I look for is past overall experience as a nurse and what they have to offer the organization and unit I manage,” she said. “(Managers) pay top dollar for travel nurses and they should know how to function effectively, even with little orientation.”

Rather than solely be concerned with their travel experience, Knutson recommends that hiring managers ask questions that will allow for a more thorough understanding a nurse’s potential for multiple care situations and patient types, such as: 


  • Does this nurse come from a similar unit? Has he/she cared for similar types of patients? 
  • Has he/she worked with our type of equipment and/or protocols? 
  • Has he/she been part of any performance improvement committees that focus on quality outcomes and patient satisfaction? 


“Ultimately, finding the right travel nurse is more about finding the right match for the respective unit,” Knutson said.

Potential to meet growing demand also exists within a previously untapped resource of recently graduated nurses. These graduates have many attributes needed in today’s healthcare environment related to communication, a collaborative team-based approach, native understand of technology and a person-centered focus for care, according to Brenda Fischer, Ph.D., RN, MBA, FACHE, CPHQ, vice president of Education and Professional Advancement and leader of AMN’s Center for Professional Advancement. 

The Center also provides advanced training for existing nurses in new and emerging healthcare roles, which will see growing demand in the near future.