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.
Jump to Sections
- What is travel nursing (and what does a travel nurse do)?
- Travel Nurse Salary
- Travel Nurse Requirements
- Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse
- How to Find Travel Nursing Jobs
Offering a mixture of adventure, hard work, excitement, and even a little chaos, working as a travel nurse is definitely only for some. But, if traveling to new places and learning new skills is at the top of your bucket list, this type of work is 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 (and what does a travel nurse do)?
Travel nurses are medical professionals who are hired on short-term contracts to work at hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and more to support the existing staff during worker shortages better. These contracts typically last anywhere from a few weeks to multiple months at a time.
Depending on their preferences and willingness to relocate, a travel nurse can work in medical centers in a different state, country, or even continent if needed.
In most cases, the positions offered to travel nurses are in locations 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.
Currently, getting an assignment in states with the most need is the best way to lock in a higher-paying contract — while warmer and more destination travel nursing positions in states 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 try your hand at travel nursing.
How long does it take to become a travel nurse?
Becoming a travel nurse requires completing the education and licensure requirements to become a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN), which typically takes two to four years. Once you have obtained your nursing degree and passed the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN exam, you can begin working as a nurse.
To become a travel nurse, you will also need to gain at least one year of experience, preferably in a specialized area such as intensive care or emergency nursing. After gaining experience, you can begin researching travel nursing agencies and applying for assignments.
Most travel nursing agencies require a minimum of one year of nursing experience, which can take a year or more to obtain.
Travel Nurse Salary
Depending on the location and their experience level, a travel nurse has the potential to make an average of $2,271 per week, or $124,123 a year, at a given assignment (according to Indeed). With the ability to earn an average of $53 an hour, 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.
Travel Nurse 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.
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 that their applicants have at least one to two years of experience working as a nurse before applying.
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 the work environment and expectations.
- Confidence in your skills (and in yourself).
As you move from assignment to assignment, you’ll likely only receive a short orientation to each unit 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.
Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse
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 still deciding whether to transition 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.
Pros of working as a travel nurse:
- 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
Cons of working as a travel nurse:
- 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 decide 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 you can find, we recommend doing some extra research to ensure that you are signing up to work with the best 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.
- 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 some of these questions are a bit forward, it is important to note that advocating for yourself to ensure that you are working in a supportive and safe environment is incredibly important. So, get ready to interview a few agencies to feel them out and see what is the best match for you!
Begin Your Travel Nursing Career on the Right Step
While travel nursing is not new, 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 because travel nursing is a lucrative way to expand your nursing skills, it does not mean it is necessarily the best fit for you and your career.
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