What is Travel Health Nursing?
Travel health nursing is an emerging specialty that has evolved since the 1980's in parallel with the field of travel medicine. Travel health nurses (THN) promote the health and safety of the national and international traveler. Travel health nursing has a unique body of knowledge and skill set. Like travel medicine, it is an interdisciplinary practice that employs the knowledge and skills of epidemiology, tropical medicine, vaccinology, public health and health education.
Each year more than 67 million Americans and 8.2 million Canadians travel internationally for work, pleasure, study or humanitarian efforts- and that number continues to grow. Included in those who travel are the very young, seniors, pregnant women, foreign nationals, and persons with chronic illness and disabilities. The health risks of international travel vary and depend upon multiple factors that include destination, duration and season of travel, trip accommodations, trip activities, and the underlying health of the traveler. THNs who engage in pre-travel care consider all aspects of travel health care in order to help the traveler prevent and manage injury and illness abroad. THNs also deliver post-travel assessment and management care for travelers who return to their communities with illnesses and injuries acquired abroad.
THNs work in a wide variety of health settings to provide travel health services to individuals, families and groups. In the United States, it is estimated that more than 25,000 nurses now work full or part-time in this specialty in travel health clinics, college health, occupational health, the military, the government, ambulatory care practices, pediatric practices and community health programs. Pre-travel care, with its focus on disease prevention and health promotion, is the cornerstone of travel health nursing care. THNs assess the traveler's health and their destination risks in order to implement a customized plan of preventive care that includes immunizations, travel medications and supplies, health counseling, and referrals for care during travel. In addition to the provision of clinical services, they are educators, researchers, administrators, and policy makers on the local, national, and international level.
Nurses enter this field from many different professional backgrounds and most are self-taught. Travel health nursing is a developing specialty, but one that is not yet formally recognized by the American Nurses Association. Internationally, THNs are recognized by nursing authorities in other countries such as the United Kingdom, Scotland, and the Netherlands. To date, there is no formal course of training offered at U.S. or Canadian schools of nursing, however, continuing education programs and conferences are now readily available. ATHNA publishes an updated calendar of these programs on its website under Courses and Conferences and each year offers its own unique, free continuing education NED (Networking, Education, and Development day) to all its members. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain a website www.cdc.gov/travel that features free nursing CE programs as well. Some THNs also choose to participate in activities of other US and Canadian nursing societies that include select travel health topics in their annual meetings (e.g. American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, American Academy of Nurse Practitioners) as well as national and international interdisciplinary organizations such as the American College Health Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Society of Tropical Medicine, and the International Society of Travel Medicine.
Since it was organized as membership organization in 2004, ATHNA has seen enormous growth in travel, travel health, and travel health nursing. ATHNA is committed to the professional growth and development of travel health nursing in North America. Educational programming is part of our mission and is a regular offering on the ATHNA website.
In addition, ATHNA is now actively working to achieve ANA specialty recognition and certification-by-portfolio through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. (To read more about this effort go to A Request to the American Nurses Association (ANA) on the ATHNA homepage.)
Travel health nursing in North America has come a very long way. With the expansion of global travel and the emergence of global health issues, such as Ebola and Zika, the role of THNs to protect travelers abroad and the communities to which they return is more important than ever.