Do you feel stuck in your staff nursing job and wonder what it would be like to experience the exciting life of a travel nurse? Becoming a travel nurse is an excellent way to explore new places, meet new people, and expand your professional horizons. By partnering with travel staffing agencies and taking on temporary nursing assignments, you can travel throughout the country, while gaining invaluable experience, building your resume, and increasing your salary potential.
Here are five steps to becoming a successful travel nurse.
Earn a nursing degree: The first step to becoming a travel nurse is to earn a nursing degree. This typically requires completing a four-year bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) or a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) program. A BSN is typically preferred over an ADN by most healthcare facilities.
Obtain a nursing license: After completing an accredited nursing program, you must obtain a nursing license in the state where you intend to practice. This typically requires passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN). Getting an additional state license or being a compact state license RN is very helpful for travel nurses. Travel nurse assignments require RNs to be licensed in the state where the assignment is located. If you are qualified in or have worked in a compact state, you are automatically licensed to work in 25 U.S. states. Don’t let this deter you if you don’t have additional state licenses, your travel nurse recruiter can walk you through the process. Some agencies will even reimburse you after you sign on for an assignment in that state as part of your travel nurse compensation package.
Obtain credentials: Travel nurses must be certified in basic life support. It is also a good idea to become certified in advanced life support (ALS), pediatric advanced life support (PALS), and neonatal resuscitation program (NRP) to enhance your skills and open up more opportunities as a travel nurse. You may also want to consider becoming certified in your specialty. For example, if you are a pediatric nurse you may want to consider becoming a certified pediatric nurse or a certified emergency nurse if you have experience working in the emergency room.
Gain nursing experience: To become a travel nurse, you typically need at least one to two years of nursing experience in a hospital setting. It is helpful to gain experience caring for acutely/critically ill adult patients to increase your opportunities as a travel nurse and ensure you are confident in your abilities to care for patients with very little orientation.
Work with a travel nurse staffing agency: Once you have gained the necessary education, relevant nursing experience, and licensing, you can start working with travel nurse staffing agencies. These agencies will help connect you with job opportunities in your desired locations, coordinate travel nurse housing, and arrange travel nursing pay packages.
What is a travel nurse?
Travel nurses are registered nurses who are hired by travel staffing agencies to work in healthcare facilities temporarily to fill in gaps in staffing. They work in various healthcare facilities throughout the country. Travel nursing contracts typically last 13 weeks, but may range from 8-26 weeks depending on the healthcare facility's needs. Travel nurses receive generous travel nursing pay packages that include travel nurse housing and stipends for travel and incidentals.
Travel nurses have the freedom to decide where and when they want to work. Nurses choose assignments based on travel nursing pay, location, specialty, and other reasons. You can use travel nursing to experience different destinations throughout the country while earning a travel nurse salary. Travel nursing gives freedom and flexibility you usually do not have as a staff nurse committed to one healthcare facility.
What do travel nurses do?
Travel nurses fill in temporary gaps in staffing due to increased patient caseload, staffing vacancies, medical leaves, or any other reason hospitals may need extra staffing. They have the same responsibilities as staff nurses, including providing patient care, administering medications, monitoring vital signs, educating patients on their health conditions, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals.
Travel nursing contracts cover a wide variety of specialties throughout the hospital. Nurses may work with acutely/critically ill adult patients or neonatal and pediatric populations. Assignments may be on medical-surgical units, critical care or intensive care units, labor and delivery or mother-baby units, the emergency room, the operating room, and wherever needs arise. Travel nurses typically stay on the same unit they are assigned to unless floating to other units is written in their contract.
Travel nurses should apply to assignments in units that they have the most recent nursing experience in, or only where they feel confident in caring for the patient population, as they are offered very little orientation.
How to determine if travel nursing is right for you?
Deciding whether or not travel nursing is the right career choice for you can be challenging, as it requires significant flexibility and adaptability.
There are a few key factors to consider that can help you determine if travel nursing is right for you.
1. Flexibility and Adaptability
Travel nursing requires a high degree of flexibility and adaptability. You will need to be comfortable working in various healthcare settings, often in different cities or states, and adjust quickly to new environments and patient populations. Travel nurses also need to be comfortable living in temporary housing and with new colleagues. If you enjoy the challenge of adapting to new situations and thrive in fast-paced environments, travel nursing may be a good fit for you.
Travel nursing often requires a flexible schedule, as assignments vary in length and location. You may need to work nights, weekends, and holidays, depending on the specific needs of the healthcare facility. If you desire a stable work-life balance or a set schedule, travel nursing may not be the best fit for you.
2. Strong Communication Skills
Effective communication is essential for success in travel nursing. Nurses must communicate effectively with patients, families, and healthcare professionals, often in high-stress situations. Additionally, you will need to be able to navigate new medical systems and procedures, which requires strong communication and problem-solving skills.
Travel nurses require a great degree of independence. They are away from family and friends for long periods in unfamiliar places. Travel nurses usually only receive a short hospital orientation, and must be independent and confident in their patient care skills. They have to jump right into the flow of the new unit with little time for instruction. Travel nursing can be a great way to push your limits and exercise independence.
If you love exploring new places, meeting new people, and experiencing different cultures, travel nurses can allow you to do so. Nurses will often use travel assignments to check off bucket list destinations. If you have a case of wanderlust but still need the financial stability of working, travel nursing may be the right career for you.
Travel nursing can be an incredibly rewarding career choice for those who enjoy flexibility, professional growth, and new challenges. However, it requires a significant amount of adaptability and strong communication skills. If you feel that you fit the travel nurse job description, possess these traits, and are excited about the prospect of working in different healthcare settings, travel nursing may be a great fit.
More advice from experienced travel nurses
Recruiters with travel nursing companies are great resources for your questions about your travel nurse salary and travel nursing contracts. However, getting advice from experienced travel nurses gives you an inside look into a travel healthcare career.
Additional tips travel nurses have shared with us include:
1. Be Personable
Let that charm shine! Being a travel nurse means needing to quickly mesh with new teams and different patients across the states. Exhibiting a friendly, approachable demeanor when on the job will help you adjust faster and grow your support network. This type of attitude can also help you fit in wherever you work.
Befriend a new neighbor or fellow nurse on your unit to serve as an emergency contact in your new location. Share a family member's phone number for them to contact in an emergency.
Strike up a conversation with your new coworkers by asking them about the best spots to eat, shop, and hang out in your new city. Put yourself out there. You may even make a new friend to accompany you.
2. Be Flexible
The ability to be flexible is critical as a travel nurse. Travel nursing jobs generally span between 13-26 weeks, which can feel like a short turnaround for getting adjusted to your new surroundings before you are off to your next destination to start all over again. Assignments can also be canceled or changed. Having a backup plan, being flexible, and staying calm will help your travel healthcare career go smoothly.
3. Have a registered home address to access tax-free earnings
It is best to have a registered home address or home state but isn’t an absolute necessity to become a travel nurse. However, if you want to earn money on a tax-free basis, make sure you have a tax home. It is unclear exactly how far your home address needs to be from an assignment, but the team at Health Carousel Travel Nursing considers 75 miles the typical minimum standard.
4. Utilize your travel nurse recruiter
Your travel nurse recruiter will be your go-to for everything related to your travel nurse contract. They are well-versed in travel nurse compensation, including travel stipends, housing, taxes, and everything that makes up a travel nursing pay package. Your recruiter will help you find the assignments in locations that best suit your preferences.
Your recruiter will support you if any issues arise with your contract and work to find a solution. Review your contract with your travel nurse recruiter before accepting it to ensure that you know what is expected and that you understand all of the details of your travel nursing pay package. Recruiters hold the relationship between travel nurses and travel nursing companies together.
Health Carousel Travel Nursing provides full circle support for all of our travel nurses. We are here to assist you with all aspects of your travel nurse career and guide you through your travel nursing pay packages and benefits. Check out our travel nursing blog to find the latest travel nursing job tips and information about travel nurse salaries. Contact HCTN today if you are curious about becoming a travel nurse and starting your exciting career.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much experience do I need to become a travel nurse?
Travel nurse staffing agencies and healthcare facilities typically prefer that you nurses have at least one to two years of experience in a hospital setting before taking a travel assignment. Most travel nurses receive very little orientations and need to be able to start working immediately to fill in gaps in staffing. Nurses will need to be independent and confident in their skills to take care of patients right away.
Lauren Rivera is a nationally certified neonatal intensive care nurse with over 15 years of experience. She serves as a nurse expert offering support and educational classes for women from preconception through childhood. Lauren is also a freelance health and wellness writer with works published on several nursing sites. She develops and curates content for various healthcare companies, and writes continuing education modules for other healthcare professionals.
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