Travel social work
Allied Health

Is Travel Social Work the Right Job for You?

Travel social work jobs provide an opportunity to explore the country and do meaningful work with a lasting impact. Whether you’re new to the allied health field or looking for your next career move, travel social work jobs can provide new challenges and an exciting change of pace.

What Does a Travel Social Worker Do?

Social workers help people get through challenging situations. They assess their client’s needs and circumstances and help them find the right resources and support. As the client moves through the process, the social worker monitors their progress and provides ongoing support.

Clinical social workers have additional responsibilities. They’re trained and licensed to diagnose and treat mental illness, emotional disorders and behavioral issues, often through therapy and counseling.

Social workers work with people from all walks of life, including those who are:

  • Living with addiction
  • Managing challenging medical situations
  • Navigating discharge, follow-up care and recovery after a hospital stay
  • Going through a mental health crisis
  • Adopting children
  • Experiencing homelessness
  • Surviving trauma
  • Changing careers
  • Dealing with difficult relationships

As a social worker, you’re an advocate for your clients. You may need to work with other professionals to raise awareness and ensure that clients get the help they need and deserve.

Travel social work jobs have duties similar to permanent social work jobs. However, instead of working in a single facility, you work short-term contracts averaging 13 weeks in various facilities around the country.

Pros and Cons of Travel Social Work Jobs

Social work travel jobs offer the challenges and rewards of a traditional position but come with unique benefits and drawbacks because of their transitory nature. Before you commit to a travel contract in another city or state, consider how the pros and cons might affect your life and career.

Pros:

  • High earning potential: As a travel social worker, you potentially make a considerably higher salary than you would in a permanent position.
  • Opportunity to travel: Travel contracts offer a way to explore the United States without giving up your full-time income. Every assignment is an opportunity to live and work in a new city, so you can take your time and get to know the area in-depth.
  • Separation from office politics: Since travel contracts are temporary, it’s easier to avoid getting involved in lengthy workplace discussions.
  • Wide scope of experience: Each new facility provides the chance to learn from professionals with different experiences and work with clients facing varying issues. The constantly shifting challenges let you gain a broad scope of insight, knowledge and skills that benefit your career.
  • Networking: Travel social workers build an extensive professional network quickly. These connections can lead to jobs and unexpected opportunities in the future.
  • Career discovery: When you’re unsure where to take your social work career, travel contracts help you identify the locations, settings and responsibilities that suit your personality and professional goals.

Cons:

  • Constant onboarding: You must learn the ropes at each new facility while employers expect you to hit the ground running. The constant onboarding can feel intimidating and stressful.
  • Potential for loneliness: Constantly traveling can sometimes feel lonely, so successful travelers learn to live independently and enjoy their own company or make friends quickly.
  • Frequent moves: Travelers endure the stress of moving every few months, which can be challenging for those accustomed to stability.
  • Stressful work environments: Understaffed facilities frequently require travel social workers to cover the gaps, potentially creating challenging work environments. If staff members are unhappy with management’s decision to bring in travelers, you may face animosity or unfriendly behavior.
  • Fewer deep relationships: The temporary nature of travel contracts means you have less time to build relationships with colleagues and friends in the area.

Travel Social Work Salary

Vivian’s salary data posted on October 17, 2022, indicated that the average travel social work salary was $2,420 per week. However, your actual salary varies based on the location of the position and the facility.

For example, Indiana had the highest average weekly salary at $3,405, with a maximum weekly wage of $3,700. Alaska had an average traveling social worker weekly salary of $3,000 per week but a maximum salary of $4,708. Employers in Sitka, Alaska, were offering the highest-paying contracts nationwide based on their average salary of $4,610 per week. During this period, traveling social workers also found lucrative opportunities in Connecticut, Vermont and Nevada.

Travel social worker salary packages often include tax-free stipends that help cover your housing expenses in each new location. You must meet IRS criteria and have a permanent tax home to qualify. 

Job Outlook for Social Workers

The job outlook is strong for social workers, whether working in a permanent position or on a travel contract. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the demand for social workers to grow by 9% between 2021 and 2031. Social workers in healthcare or mental health and substance abuse should see robust growth, as the BLS predicts an employment increase of 11% for both specialties. Overall, about 74,700 openings for social workers should be available yearly throughout the decade.

Where Do Travel Social Workers Work?

Travel social workers work in a variety of settings. Hospitals are one of the most common employers. They bring in travelers to compensate for staffing shortages or to fill the gap between one employee’s departure and another’s starting date. Schools may also hire travel social workers for standard tasks or to fill an increased need for support after a crisis in the school or community. Other potential employers include clinics, private practices and institutions that focus on mental health treatment.

Social Work Specialties

Travel social worker

If you’re interested in serving a specific audience, you can choose from several specialties within social work. Top specialties include:

  • Hospital and healthcare: Medical social workers help clients navigate the healthcare system. They advocate for clients, educate clients about their options, provide referrals for financial assistance and help with discharge and aftercare. According to the National Association of Social Workers, these professionals may also need to mediate disputes between families, physicians and other stakeholders.
  • Children, family and school: These social workers work with kids in school settings. They may address stress, bullying, crisis response, family issues, truancy and other issues impacting students.
  • Child welfare: Child welfare specialists advocate for children in difficult situations. Specific situations might include children dealing with family issues, legal situations, adoption or foster care.
  • Gerontology: Gerontological social workers primarily work with seniors. They often help older adults find resources for healthcare, personal care, housing and finances.
  • Mental health and substance abuse: This specialty involves clients managing mental health issues and addiction. Depending on their education and licensure, social workers may provide support, diagnoses and counseling.

Licensing Requirements for Travel Social Work

Every state sets its own licensing and registration rules for social workers. When you take a travel job in a new area, you must meet the state’s requirements to practice legally. Check with the state board and the Association of Social Work Boards to learn the licensing requirements for each state.

In most jurisdictions, you must hold a license to practice as a social worker and use the social worker title. In some areas, the licensing process is as simple as filling out an application, paying a fee and submitting documentation about your education. Other states require coursework, certifications and/or examinations.

Unlike compact models used in nursing, you can’t earn your license in one state, then practice in any state that recognizes your compact license. However, most states have a licensure endorsement model that streamlines social worker licensure, making practice mobility much more accessible.

As long as your license is current and in good standing, licensure endorsement agreements usually allow you to apply for your social worker license without undergoing significant training, work experience, assessment or an exam in the new state. To qualify for endorsement, the licensing standards in the state that issued your license must be equal to or higher than the standards of the destination state. You must also fulfill any other jurisdiction-specific requirements.

Continuing Education and Professional Development for Social Workers

Every state also has varying rules on maintaining and renewing your social work license. However, these rules generally include paying a fee and completing a set number of continuing education units (CEUs). Both amounts differ by state. 

CEUs usually range from 20–45 hours per licensing period, depending on your license type. Some states allow you to choose your own CEUs. Others require you to dedicate a specific amount of time to topics such as substance abuse, ethics or cross-cultural education.

Social work is a dynamic field, making it essential to stay current within your profession. Besides acquiring additional education to maintain your license or professional certifications, you must also keep up with the latest research, regulations and training to meet the needs of varying patient populations.

How to Evaluate Travel Social Work Jobs

As you choose between different travel social work job opportunities, assessing how they align with your professional and personal priorities is essential. Some factors to consider are:

  • Salary package
  • Work schedule and job duties
  • Distance from family and friends
  • Travel requirements
  • Local entertainment and recreational opportunities
  • Weather and climate
  • Housing availability
  • Cost of living
  • Opportunity for professional growth

Ways to Grow Your Social Work Career

Professional certifications are one way to expand your skills and enhance your social work career by validating your specialized knowledge and skills. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the National Board for Certified Counselors offer various nationally recognized certifications that can reinforce your abilities to clients and employers, including:

Another way to grow your career is to join professional organizations such as the NASW or the Council on Social Work Education. Members have access to opportunities for professional development, networking and jobs. You might also consider joining an association related to your subspecialty, such as the Clinical Social Work Federation or the School Social Work Association of America.

Tips for Finding Travel Social Work Jobs

If travel social work sounds like the right move for your career, there are numerous ways for you to find jobs, such as:

You can also create a Vivian Universal Profile and take advantage of our automated resume builder so employers can find you. We work hard to improve your job search experience and provide the tools you need to find your next travel social work job in states across the nation.

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