Ask a Travel Nurse: What specialty should I choose if I want to be a traveler someday?

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travel nurse deciding what shoes to wearA recent email asked what specialty someone should choose when entering into nursing if they are later considering a career as a traveler.

Obviously, you would want to find a specialty in demand. However, going forward the next ten years, you might be hard pressed to find a specialty that is NOT in demand. Here’s a sample of the needs I was sent by one of my travel companies in the last week:

  • Phoenix, AZ   CVOR 8 hr. nights
  • New York City, NY  ICU 12 hr. days/nights
  • Alexandria, VA   PACU 8 hr. days
  • Las Cruces, NM  M/S Adults & Pediatrics 12 hr. nights
  • Carmichael, CA  Trauma ICU 12 hr. nights
  • Tampa, FL   M/S Oncology 12 hr. shifts
  • Park City, UT   OR 8 hr. days
  • Fayetteville, NC  ER 12 hr. days/nights
  • Santa Ana, CA   ER 12 hr. nights
  • Olympia, WA   OR 12 hr. days/evenings

As you can see, there are opportunities in a wide range of specialties. However, there will be specialties that are more prevalent than others. In my experience, ER and ICU are two specialties that always seem to be available in most locations. So, if you like a fast paced environment, I would always encourage these two if you have your sites set on traveling.

Within the realm of critical care, you are probably better off in a setting that will allow you a broad spectrum of patients rather than a narrow scope of practice. For instance, if you work in a CVICU (cardiovascular intensive care), and your facility does open heart surgery, you will probably find most of your assigned patients are fresh post-ops (because many facilities that do open heart surgery have a full schedule of these patients on any given day).

However, if you were to work in a medical ICU setting, especially in a hospital that might have only one intensive care unit, you might care for vented pneumonia patients, traumas, intracranial bleeds, and even those that might be in need of open heart surgery. Your varied experience would make you a good candidate for many “ICU” travel positions.

If you are not into critical care, then just about every hospital will also have general medical floors and telemetry units which might also be good choices for a specialty when considering travel nursing.

Another possibility is labor and delivery or obstetrics. However, you will start to limit yourself somewhat with these specialties as not every hospital will have units dedicated to these specialties (which is actually the case with the hospital where I am presently working).

Pediatrics is another specialty that might be even more limiting. I know that back home in Columbus, most of the hospitals did not have pediatric areas and anything below a certain age went to our local children’s hospital. But, if you prefer children to adults, even facilities specializing in children will have travel assignments on occasion.

While the more mainline specialties will be your best bet (ICU, med-surg, tele, OR, ER), that doesn’t mean you should write off travel if you are in a focused field. A recent trip to the website of one of my travel companies found positions in endoscopy, dialysis, and even home health.

So, while some fields might offer more opportunities to travel, even positions in very specific specialties are not impossible to find.

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About the Author:

Hello everyone. I’m a travel nurse originally from Ohio who graduated in 1993 from Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus. I completed a critical care fellowship at Riverside Methodist Hospital in 1994 and started traveling in that specialty a year later. My first travel assignment was in Maui and since that time I have completed close to 40 different contracts in various states with multiple travel companies. I am the author of Travel Nurse’s Bible (A Guide to Everything on Travel Nursing), in addition to my writings here and in the pages of Travel Nursing publications such as Healthcare Traveler Magazine and American Nurse Today. I am presently on assignment in Phoenix, AZ and travel anywhere from six to eleven months of the year.

1 Comment on "Ask a Travel Nurse: What specialty should I choose if I want to be a traveler someday?"

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  1. Senior Homes says:

    Another possibility is labor and delivery or obstetrics. However, you will start to limit yourself somewhat with these specialties as not every hospital will have units dedicated to these specialties (which is actually the case with the hospital where I am presently working.)

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