3 Things You Must Know About Medical Surgical (MS) Travel Nursing

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Like most specialties found in acute care hospitals, there is demand for Medical Surgical travel nursing candidates. Medical Surgical nursing was once considered an entry-level position where nurses could hone the basics before entering a more specialized field. However, Medical Surgical nursing evolved to require the mastery of so many skills that it is now considered a distinct specialty.

Despite the fact that Medical Surgical nursing jobs represent a significant percentage of all nursing jobs, Medical Surgical travel jobs can sometimes be sparse and are often quite competitive to land. Understanding the factors at play will help medical surgical nurses set their expectations and formulate a game-plan to get the most out of their time as travel nurses.

Medical Surgical Travel Nursing Job Outlook

Medical Surgical (MS) nurses represent the single largest group of practicing professionals according to the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson estimates that MS nurses represent almost 1/6 of the entire nursing profession. However, Healthcare Traveler Magazine did not list MS as one of its 7 leading specialties for travel nurses in 2013. Despite this, there is still solid demand for MS travelers.

There are a couple of reasons for the disconnect between the MS nursing job market at large and MS’s absence from Healthcare Traveler Magazine’s list. First, MS is still a specialty that many hospitals hire and train New Grads for despite the increased specialization and advanced skill set. Second, hospitals tend to have greater success filling their contingent MS staffing needs with PRN staff than they do with other specialties. This is because other specialties maybe more apt to step-down to the unit. But perhaps the biggest reason for the disconnect is the ongoing transition between MS and Telemetry nursing.

Medical-Surgical Travel Nursing Licenses and Certifications

Hospitals are increasingly seeking Medical Surgical travelers with Telemetry skills. In recent years, agencies are receiving more and more requests for MS/Tele jobs and fewer requests for straight MS and straight Telemetry jobs. This is one of the reasons that Healthcare Traveler Magazine listed Telemetry as one of its 7 leading specialties for 2013.

While there are certainly sill positions available for straight MS nurses, having Telemetry skills significantly increases the pool of potential travel jobs for MS nurses. For this reason, it is highly recommended that MS nurses to obtain ACLS certification. In fact, ACLS certification has come close to becoming a standard requirement for MS travel nurses in recent years. While this trend may subside as the economy recovers and the labor market tightens, ACLS certification will continue to increase the pool of jobs available for those who have it.

There are several other considerations pertaining to licenses and certifications for MS travelers. First, a very small number of hospitals require their MS nurses to have PALS certification. For example, the medical facility at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California requires PALS due to their age diverse MS unit. Again, the number of facilities that require this is very small, but MS nurses should be aware nonetheless. Second, BLS certification is a standard requirement for all travel nurses. It’s important to note that ACLS, BLS, and PALS certifications must be obtained through the American Heart Association (AHA). The vast majority of hospitals require AHA and those that don’t will accept it.

Finally, like all travelers, MS travel nurses should obtain a state nursing license prior to attempting to land a job in the state in question. There are very few facilities that will accept a submission profile without a license verification from their state’s Board of Nursing. Deciding where to start can be difficult for those new to travel nursing. Our article on the subject, Deciding Where to Travel as a Travel Nurse, can help you formulate a strategy.

Medical Surgical Travel Nursing Pay

The contracts between agencies and their client hospitals typically categorize nursing specialties for billing purposes. For example, one common categorization method is to assign nursing specialties to a “Standard” category or a “Specialty” category. The bill rate for the Standard category is typically $2 to $8 per hour less than the bill rate for the Specialty category.  Medical Surgical nursing is classified under the “Standard” category in the vast majority of cases.

Bill rates for MS travel nurses can range from roughly $48 per hour on the low-end to roughly $68 per hour on the high-end depending the state and/or hospital in question. Crisis rate MS jobs can have higher bill rates and other MS jobs, like Correctional travel nursing jobs, can have even lower bill rates. As you can see, there is a huge gap between the highest and lowest paying jobs for MS travel nurses. This is true for all travel nurses. For information on how agencies determine pay based on the bill rate you can review our article on the subject here.

The important issue to note here is the distinction between MS and Telemetry. While virtually all hospitals classify MS in the “Standard” category, many hospitals classify Telemetry in the “Specialty” category. Therefore, it’s not a bad idea for travel nurses to inquire with their recruiter if the bill rate is higher for Telemetry than it is for MS at the hospital in question. It would be best to make this inquiry prior to signing a contract. That way, if you shows up for a MS job and end up spending significant amounts of time working Telemetry, you will have a good case for requesting a pay increase. In this case, the agency may have to contact the hospital to seek approval to bill at the higher rate before agreeing to increase the pay rate.

It’s important to note that all of these factors are fluid with the job market. Medical Surgical nurses can expect to see demand for their services increase along with potential pay increases when the labor market is tight. Meanwhile, stringent requirements on licenses and certifications may relax in a tight labor market. In any case, flexibility can be a huge advantage for MS travel nurses. Maintaining licenses in multiple states and being able to accept assignments on short notice will ensure that MS travel nurses are consistently able to land good jobs.

As always, please share your questions and feedback with us in the comments below!

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