Seven Easy Steps to Become a Travel Nurse

Health Carousel Travel Nursing
June 10, 2015
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With the demand for experienced nurses increasing by the day, many hospitals are relying on less conventional methods of acquiring nursing talent. Staffing strategies like international recruitment are growing in popularity, but the use of travel nurses is regaining its seat as the No. 1 trick of the human resources trade. In fact, according to reputable analysts in the industry, travel nursing demand has reached a 20-year high.

That means real opportunity for nurses considering life on the road. If you’re unfamiliar with travel nursing, here are the hot takes worth knowing:

  • On average, travel nurses are paid more;
  • Travel nurses enjoy flexible contracts, most are just 13 weeks;
  • Travel nurses are privy to all sorts of bonus compensation (depending on agency); and
  • Travel nurses get to explore the country and get paid to do it.

It’s a good life. And if you want a piece of it, the following are seven easy steps to become a travel nurse:

Step. 1: Get Educated

You’ll obviously need a high school diploma or a GED to get started. Once secured, you can opt for an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) – either will qualify you to sit for the The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Both would take you about two-three years, depending on your program.

For those wanting to continue their education, you can complete a four-year degree and earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). It’s more expensive and demands more time, but it may be necessary to work at certain facilities or in certain nursing specialties.

Consider which route you want to pursue, because your road to registered nursing may depend on a couple of variables. Where are you located? Are you in a bigger city, or somewhere in the vicinity of one or multiple nursing schools? Depending on the demand for nursing in your area, you may need to get that BSN and make yourself more marketable than other nurses competing for the same jobs.

Step 2: Pass NCLEX

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc (NCSBN) administers the NCLEX, which you must pass to get licensed in the US as an RN or Licensed Practical Nurse (PN). For more questions on the actual exam, visit the NCSBN’s FAQ section on their website.

According to data derived from the NCBSN, just over 71 percent of NCLEX-takers have passed so far in 2015. For US-educated new BSN graduates, the number climbs to just over 88 percent and 82 percent for those with an Associate’s degree.

Two surefire ways to succeed at this test:  get an NCLEX-prep book and enroll in an NCLEX prep-course. The NCLEX-prep book is going to familiarize you with how NCLEX questions are worded, while the prep course is going to teach you best practices in NCLEX success. Many prep courses offer reimbursement if you fail the NCLEX, so if your program isn’t offering this, turn to Google and find one that does.

Step 3: Get Experience

Remember those variables mentioned in Step 1 about location and nursing schools in your vicinity? They come back into play when it’s time to get the experience you need. First know this: for travel nursing purpose, you won’t be considered without at least two years in your specialty. Chief Nursing Officers (CNO’s) expect travel nurses to walk right in and assimilate. You aren’t doing that as a new grad.

So you need to get your experience. If you’re in a bigger city with more than one nursing school nearby, this is easier said than done. But that’s why education was the first step, because based on where you are, you’ll know what you need to do to get hired where you live.

Many nurses will benefit from living in a compact state. There are 24 states that participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact. So if you get licensed in a participating state, that license is good in 23 other states! Unfortunately, you have to be a resident of the compact state, so this option isn’t plausible for all. Click the link above to see if your state participates.

A compact license is a huge advantage, particularly in the travel market, because hospitals need verification of your valid state nursing license before they’ll even interview you. And as a travel nurse, that’s a no-brainer.

Step 4: Find a Good Travel Nurse Agency

As soon as you start filling out applications and make your intentions of travel nursing known, get ready, because your inbox and voicemail are about to incur a stampede of correspondence. And that’s awesome – who doesn’t like feeling wanted? But now it’s on you to vet these agencies and find the best one.

There are plenty of reviews out there on almost any travel nursing company, but take reviews with a pinch of salt. Many reviews are left by dissatisfied former travel nurse contractors and it’s really hard to understand all sides off the situation — and in the case of travel nursing there are three — the agency, the nurse, and the hospital to which they were assigned. Conversely, many companies solicit their best nurses to leave sterling reviews. And while there may be a degree of truth to them, it’s ultimately not helpful to the person who wants an honest depiction of the agency.

Do your due diligence. Check out the bonuses offered. Inquire about insurance packages – these will vary by agency, so be sure to press hard and find out everything you need to make the best decision. Some insurance packages cost very little but cover very little if anything should go wrong — these are sometimes referred to as catastrophic plans.

We recommend building a short list of reputable travel nursing agencies then going from there. And if Health Carousel Travel Nursing doesn’t make the list –  I thought we were friends? But really, we’ll be here if and when you decide to look elsewhere.

Step 5: Create a Travel Nursing Submission Profile

Application, skills checklist, clinical references – you’ll need all three every single time you apply with a new travel nurse agency. Speak to any travel nurse and they’ll likely tell you the same – the paperwork upfront when applying to a new agency is ridiculous. It’s long, it’s redundant and it’s cumbersome, but it’s absolutely necessary.

For recommendations on how to create a good travel nurse resume see our previous blog post Eight Resume Secrets for Travel Nurses.

Veteran travel nurses save all of their materials in a zip drive that’s routinely updated. So when it’s time to apply elsewhere, you have everything in spot and ready to send.

Step 6: Herd Your Paperwork

It’s virtually an extension of step 5, but this refers to the other documentation you’ll need to become a travel nurse. That includes medical records, licenses and certifications. In travel nursing, timing is critical. That open job you found in the perfect destination isn’t staying open forever, and when you’re competing with other qualified nurses, it’s often the quickest draw that lands the assignment.

Know what you’ll need, have it accessible, and the paperwork is going to go a lot smoother.

Step 7: Accept a Position, Hit the Road 

By the time you finish loading your car, there should be no doubt about your decision. You’ve done everything you can to become a great nurse. You’ve researched all of the travel nursing agencies and have chosen one that you genuinely feel has your best interest in mind, (like HCTN). Now it’s time begin your journey, taking care to hospitals with patients most in need of it.

There are some tax issues you’ll want to nail down. Establishing your Tax Home will be critical to receiving tax-free stipends. You’ll want those because most travel nursing companies offer some form of untaxed compensation that Uncle Sam will want to talk about.

Health Carousel Travel Nursing

Find the Travel Job that’s Right for You

Interested in how the pay stacks up in other states not on this list? Our trusty Super Nurse sidekicks are standing by to answer any questions you have. Click below to get information on opportunities in other states!

Woman standing with suitcase looking out at the city