8 Fast-growing Travel Nurse Specialties
By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
With a nursing shortage compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has driven thousands of nurses from the bedside, many travel nurse specialties are quickly growing, with strong demand and never enough nurses.
Travel nurses, who work short-term assignments, are filling vacancies across the country in a number of nursing specialties.
More than one in four registered nursing positions were vacant in November 2021 and unfilled, according to The Hospital + Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. Many vacancies began before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the nursing profession.
About 18 percent of the healthcare workforce quit during the pandemic and another 31 percent have considered leaving, reported the data and intelligence company Morning Consult.
This has created opportunities for travel nurses as hospitals try to keep their units open and fully staffed. Demand for healthcare is also expected to continue building as the country’s population ages and needs more services for chronic conditions and age-related maladies.
8 in-demand travel nursing specialties
1. Operating Room Nursing
“OR volume is increasing, due to COVID-related pent up demand and the growing number of ambulatory surgery centers which increases volume and the need for more surgical nurses,” said Linda Groah, MSN, RN, CNOR, NEA-BC, FAAN, CEO/executive director of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN). “OR nurses are retiring. And due to COVID, nurses are taking time off and others are seeking opportunities outside the perioperative setting.”
“Additionally, COVID, certainly, impacted all nursing specialties, but it is important to realize nursing students have little or no exposure to the OR in their education,” Groah continued. “The result is a shortage of nurses choosing the OR for their career. That is changing, however. AORN has recently partnered with Chamberlain University to incorporate ‘Introduction to Perioperative Nursing’ into its curriculum on four campuses with plans to expand throughout the system.”
AORN predicts the need for perioperative nurses will grow as surgical volumes increase and the nursing shortage worsens. Perioperative nurses work in the operating room and with patients before and after surgery, caring for patients of all ages.
“Perioperative nursing is a very rewarding specialty,” Groah said, noting that surgical patients are in a very vulnerable state and must depend on the team to provide safe care and to protect the patient from harm.
Find perioperative travel nursing jobs across the U.S.
2. Med-surg Nursing
More nurses practice as medical-surgical specialists than any other specialty, according to the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. More than 600,000 strong, med-surg nurses care for a variety of patients suffering from a variety of conditions or recovering from surgery.
The Academy reported that med-surg nurses “have a broad knowledge base and are experts in their practice. Medical-surgical nurses have advanced organizational, prioritization, assessment and communication skills and are leaders in coordinating care among the interprofessional healthcare team.”
Find medical-surgical travel nursing jobs that fit your lifestyle.
3. Intensive Care Nursing
Intensive care unit (ICU) travel nurse positions are available from Florida to Washington State and everywhere in between. COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on critical-care nurses, driving up demand for these highly skilled clinicians.
Critical care nurses deal “with human responses to life-threatening problems,” according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). The organization also reports “the nursing shortage is more pronounced for critical care nurses.”
AACN estimates the country has more than 130,000 critical care and progressive care nurses.
Find ICU travel nursing jobs across the U.S.
4. PCU/Telemetry Nursing
The progressive care nursing specialty, also known as telemetry or step-down nursing, refers to nurses who “provide direct care or influence care for acutely ill patients who are moderately stable with an elevated risk for instability,” according to AACN. Telemetry nurses are specially trained in the use and analysis of medical monitoring devices.
Again, COVID-19 and an aging population have increased the need for this travel nurse specialty.
Search progressive care and telemetry travel nursing jobs.
5. Emergency Nursing
In 2019, about 167,000 emergency, trauma and transport nurses were working in the United States, according to a Human Resources Research Organization survey. Emergency nursing crosses many lines of care, and involves the application of the nursing process to patients of all ages requiring stabilization and/or resuscitation for a variety of illnesses and injuries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the emergency nursing specialty hard. Many of these critically ill patients enter the hospital through the emergency department, taxing the clinicians who must care for them.
Find emergency travel nursing jobs across the U.S.
6. Labor and Delivery Nursing
L&D nurses assist women throughout the birthing process. It’s a fast-paced environment, and it’s plagued by nursing shortages. In fact, The Future of Obstetrics Industry Survey Report, published in 2021, asked 1,130 obstetrics clinicians about their safety concerns and found their biggest worry was the shortage of nurses.
Many more nurses are needed to maintain the highest level of care for laboring mothers and their babies. Travel nurses can fill those voids.
Find L&D travel nursing jobs in your favorite locations.
7. Cardiac Catheterization Lab Nursing
Interventional cardiologists are performing many more endovascular procedures to open coronary arteries or heart valves. Cath lab nurses monitor the patient and assist the cardiologist during tests and procedures. Typically found in hospital settings, cardiac cath lab nurses may also work in outpatient clinic environments.
Choose from hundreds of cath lab travel nursing jobs.
8. Home Health Nursing
Home health nurses work in the community, traveling from one patient’s home to another. They help ensure patients make a smooth transition from hospital to home and prevent hospitalizations, because they often can spot subtle changes in the patient’s condition and intervene. The services of home health nurses have been in demand during the COVID pandemic due to hospital overcrowding, medical practice lockdowns, mandatory quarantines and precautionary measures to keep vulnerable patients safe.
Find home health nursing jobs with TravelNursing.com
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