How To Become a Travel Nurse

how to become a travel nurse

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As global healthcare systems continue to adapt and change to our “new normal” following the events of recent years, staffing shortages are being felt across the country and around the world. But, as difficult as this time has been for many medical staff, it has also opened the door to nurses looking to diversify beyond their primary unit and expand their current skill set.

If you are looking to work in a variety of different fields of medicine and nursing, while meeting new people and traveling the country or even the world, travel nursing may be a career choice worth exploring. Offering a mixture of adventure, hard work, excitement, and even a little chaos, working as a travel nurse is definitely not for everyone. But, if traveling to new places and learning new skills is at the top of your bucket list, you may find this type of work incredibly rewarding and fun!

In this article, we will deep dive into how to become a travel nurse — so you can find out if this exciting and challenging role is truly a good fit for you. Covering everything from travel nursing requirements to our top tips for finding job postings, this is your ultimate guide to starting a successful and lucrative travel nursing career.

What is travel nursing?

Travel nurses are medical professionals who are hired on short-term contracts to work at hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and more to better support the existing staff during worker shortages. These contracts typically last anywhere from a few weeks to multiple months at a time.

Depending on their personal preferences and willingness to relocate, a travel nurse can work in medical centers in a different state, country, or even continent if there is a need. In most cases, the positions offered to travel nurses are in locations that are experiencing nursing shortages, which is one of the primary reasons why travel nurses can earn higher salaries than nurses working in other areas of the industry.

Depending on the location and their experience level, a travel nurse has the potential to make $2,000-3,000/week ($96,000 – $144,000/year) at a given assignment. With the ability to earn $50/hour or higher, working as a travel nurse is one of the most lucrative ways to improve your nursing skills while exploring a new unit, meeting new people, and living in a new place. 

Currently, getting an assignment in areas with the most need (like New York, Texas, California, and Washington) is the best way to lock in a higher-paying contract — while warmer and more destination travel nursing positions in states like Florida and Hawaii are more likely to pay a lower (but still higher than average) annual salary.

Offering positions in just about every nursing specialty, working as a travel nurse is a great way to explore your options before deciding to commit to one specific unit or area of care. From med-surg units and intensive care to smaller rural isolated clinics, you truly do have an ocean of choices to sift through if you decide to try your hand at travel nursing. 

Travel nursing requirements

Just like every other nursing specialty, there are certain requirements that you need to meet to be a viable candidate for travel nursing. While specific requirements may differ from state to state and facility to facility, some generalized travel nursing requirements that you need to meet include:

  • Having a valid nursing license — In order to work as a travel nurse, you must hold a valid nursing license. Currently, both licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) are in demand for travel nursing, though it is more common for RN positions to be posted. Proof of graduation from an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and proof of passing your NCLEX-RN exam are often requirements to apply for any travel nurse position.
  • Documented proof of all your certifications — On top of your nursing license, you also will need to provide your potential employer with a copy of all of your other certifications. This can include mandatory certification like CPR, first aid, and N95 mask fitting sizes, as well as elective training like ACLS, PALS, and more. Depending on your experience level and the number of certifications, you may or may not be eligible for working as a travel nurse in high acuity areas like the ICU and rural emergency settings.
  • Experience working as a nurse — Due to the nature of travel nursing jobs, most employers prefer for their applicants to have at least one-two years of experience working as a nurse before they apply. Because travel nursing involves moving to different units and working in a variety of specialties, having work experience and comfort with basic nursing skills is a must to be able to handle the change in work environment and expectations.
  • Confidence in your skills (and in yourself) — As you move from assignment to assignment, it is likely that you will only receive a short orientation to each unit that you are on. Having confidence in your basic nursing skills, never being scared to ask questions, and being open to meeting new people are all essential qualities for any travel nurse to have. 

Travel nursing — A pros and cons breakdown

Now that we have taken some time to meet the criteria to become a travel nurse, it is now a good time to assess if travel nursing is a good fit for what you are looking for. If you are unsure about transitioning into becoming a travel nurse, we suggest that you make a pros and cons list to sort out your priorities before starting to apply. While these lists will look different for everyone, these lists can help you sort out which way you are leaning before you put in the effort to find available travel nursing jobs.

Examples of some benefits of working as a travel nurse include:

  • The ability to explore and try out other areas of nursing with a long-term commitment
  • Meeting new people and working with different medical professionals
  • Getting paid a higher salary than traditional nurses
  • Having the opportunity to travel to new places for work

Some potential drawbacks to travel nursing include:

  • Having to sort out housing for each new placement (if it isn’t provided for you)
  • Feeling isolated or lonely working in a new environment
  • Searching for new contracts as your current assignment ends
  • Spending time away from your home, family, and friends

How to find travel nursing jobs

Once you have come to the decision that travel nursing is something you want to pursue, it is time to start the job hunt!

While an individual can apply for a travel nursing position on their own, most nurses choose to work with an agency instead. Able to offer more job stability while also pairing nurses with assignments that better meet their skills and timelines, this is the most common way that travel nurses find their working assignments.

Before committing to the first agency that you can find, we recommend doing some extra research to ensure that you are signing up to work with the best possible agency for what you are looking for. Like interviewing for a job, we strongly advise new travel nurses to ask any potential agencies a series of questions before agreeing to work for them. Examples include:

  • What locations do they offer travel nursing positions in?
  • How are the nursing assignments decided?
  • Can you decline an assignment that you don’t want to take?
  • Do they offer paid time off, and can you take time off in-between assignments?
  • What level of health insurance do they offer?
  • Is housing provided for your assignment?
  • How do they organize their payment structure?
  • Do they offer signing bonuses or other incentives?

Though it may seem that some of these questions are a bit forward, it is important to note that advocating for yourself to ensure that you are working in an environment that is supportive and safe is incredibly important. So, get ready to interview a few agencies to feel them out and see what is the best match for you!

Putting it all together

While travel nursing is not a new area of nursing, the recent demand for short-term nursing staff has made working as a travel nurse a more viable and enticing opportunity than ever before. But just because travel nursing is a lucrative way to expand your nursing skills, it does not mean that it is necessarily the best fit for you and your career. With this in mind, we hope this article has been a helpful resource for any nurse who is on the fence about whether to give travel nursing a try!

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