More men are going into nursing: What about travel nursing?

As the number of male nurses continues to increase nationwide and the major demand for travel nurses keeps growing at a record pace, it stands to reason that more men are going into travel nursing. The problem is that very little data exists to support that assumption.

Becker's decided to investigate why men are deciding to enter the travel nursing industry, and when data may become available to reveal just how many are making the jump.

In the span of four decades, the percentage of male nurses nationwide rose from under 2 percent in 1977 to 9.6 percent in 2018. That number remained consistent through the most recent comprehensive survey on the topic conducted in 2020.

As nurses deal with burnout amid the pandemic, the travel nursing industry has exploded, which provides more flexibility and exponentially higher pay — largely due to hospitals' dependence on contract nurses during the national labor shortage. In 2020, travel nursing grew 35 percent, and it is expected to rise another 40 percent in the future, Health Affairs reported in January. 

Travel nurse wages rose 25 percent in April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, according to Health Affairs. They can now make between $5,000 and $10,000 a week.

So more men are becoming nurses, and travel nursing nationwide is expected to continue its substantial growth — but does that mean more men are becoming travel nurses?

The data surrounding the potential trend is foggy. AMN Healthcare, one of the largest healthcare staffing agencies in the country, told Becker's its data on the prevalence of male travel nurses was incomplete. RNnetwork, another large staffing firm, said 60 percent of its travel nurses were female in 2019, 14 percent were male and 26 percent did not report a gender. In 2022, 55 percent of the firm's nurses were female, 10 percent were male and 35 percent did not disclose a gender.

"One of the challenges is that we do not have much national public data that provides demographic detail on travel nurses, let alone travelers in other occupations," Bianca Frogner, PhD, said.

Dr. Frogner is a professor at the UW School of Medicine in Seattle. She is also an adjunct professor of health systems and population health and director of the UW Center for Health Workforce Studies.

According to Dr Frogner, there is one dataset that could give some insight: the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The latest data is from 2018, before the effect of COVID-19 and when there were much fewer travel nurses than there are now.

The 2018 NSSRN survey asked nurses how they would best describe their employment position and included the option "employed through an employment agency as a traveling nurse."

The final report, however, does not include summary statistics of nurses that checked yes to the travel nursing question. For workplace settings, the report only said "most nurses reported

working in a hospital (59.9 percent), while others reported working at clinics and ambulatory settings (15.6 percent), other inpatient settings (8.3 percent) and other types of settings (16.2 percent)."

The last NSSRN survey to include travel nursing data was in 2008, meaning the most recent publicly available data on travel nurses nationwide is over a decade old. That report found that 1 percent of the nation's nurses at the time were employed by travel agencies, or just over 26,000 people. 

A 2022 sample of the NSSRN is expected for release next year.

"If all goes as planned, that will provide us more insight into whether male representation of travel nurses is higher than the general nursing population," Dr. Frogner said.

Four male travel nurses told Becker's what made them choose the career track. Their responses are below. 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Deji "DJ" Folami, RN. Intensive care unit nurse employed by Cross Country Healthcare (Boca Raton, Fla.): I had met a few travel nurses during my work in the intensive care unit and was impressed by their large knowledge base, their confidence and their get-it-done attitude. I was happy in my position but wanted to acquire more knowledge while also impacting the world in a wider way beyond where I lived. I was drawn to travel nursing after having heard exciting stories from other travel nurses. Their experiences were dynamic; they seemed satisfied and happy. These travel nurses expressed no regrets — I wanted that same experience and more! So I'm very glad I then followed up on a referral from an experienced travel nurse that I knew, and I haven't looked back since.

Ricky Ironside, RN. A nurse employed by Aya Healthcare (San Diego): I grew up traveling with my family, and I wanted to see the rest of the country from an adult perspective. I absolutely enjoy what I do, and I wanted to see the dynamic of how the country takes care of people from across the country. Being from Texas, I wanted to see how everybody else takes care of people. When you go to college, you want to be well-rounded, but to actually see it firsthand is another story. I like understanding the dichotomy of how we take care of patients across the country. Same patient — not taken care of poorly but taken care of differently — with a similar outcome across the country. Whether it's medications or procedures of how things are touched on or taken care of, it's a very wide and broad spectrum.

Bob Goldnetz, RN. A nurse employed by RNnetwork (Boca Raton, Fla.): My life seemed ordinary, planned out, prewritten; go to college, get a job, buy a house, find a partner and settle down. My mom was a nurse, and she seemed fulfilled, she seemed happy. The plan was fine until the first summer of nursing school. I worked as a hang gliding instructor, and my life changed. I met people who sought adventure, experiences and relationships. Suddenly with a new mindset, focus and a way to get there, I sought a different horizon. I could travel, meet new people, see places I only ever imagined and do things once beyond my grasp. I could save, be a part of my community, contribute to my future and have the flexibility to make it all happen. So, I did. I explored the country, traveled the world and formed countless relationships. And it’s all led here, to now, where I have even more. I have an amazing partner in crime, and we have a little pistol of a 1-year-old. Life is good and I have so many blessings. The big world has gotten a little smaller, and the best is yet to come.

Robert Sniff, RN. A nurse on the mobility team at Christus Health (Irving, Texas): My intentions were to be a travel nurse from the beginning of this career choice. My wife and I are empty nesters and have grandchildren scattered throughout the North and South. Becoming a travel nurse gave us the opportunity to still have an income and visit families. It's always a home wherever you lay your head.

Editor's note: This article was updated May 16 at 1:20 p.m. CT.

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