What if you had the opportunity and freedom to decide when and where to build your nursing career? Better yet, what if earned upwards of $100,000 a year in the process.1 If you enjoy meeting new people, spending life in different regions of the world, or building a resume that depicts a variety of professional experiences at medical facilities, you should pursue a career as a travel nurse.
Now you might be wondering: “How can I become a travel nurse?” Well, there are certain requirements that you need to consider before stepping into this exciting career.
What Is Travel Nursing?
Travel nurses usually work for independent staffing agencies that recruit registered nurses (RNs) to fill the positions in the United States and other countries. Due to the increasing demand for healthcare professionals, hospitals face a lot of challenges to manage their staffing needs. Thus, travel nurses can help in filling those gaps. However, these job positions are temporary as positions only open up when a nurse takes a vacation, goes on leave, or gets hired by a different facility.
Travel nurses do not always need to work in different states. Rather, some work at local understaffed hospitals.
Travel nurses must sign a contract for their temporary position that can last for days, weeks, months, or longer — usually between eight and 26 weeks — with potential opportunities. After the end of their contracts, they can choose to stay at the same location or move onto a new place and opportunity. Some travel nurses may receive the opportunity to turn their temporary assignment into a permanent full-time position.
If you have a desire to meet new people, work with new teams, visit new places, and gain knowledge about healthcare in different communities, then you should pursue a career in this exciting nursing field.
How to Become a Travel Nurse
1. Earn your ASN or BSN Degree
Any nurse who has completed an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited nursing college is eligible to pursue a career as a travel nurse. Regardless of where you currently find yourself in a nursing continuum, there are educational paths at several universities that can help you earn the credentials you need and advance your career.
Remember that you do not need a specific “travel nurse” degree to opt for this career. Travel nurses need the same level of education as traditional nurses who work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings.2
2. Pass the NCLEX-RN
After you graduate with your associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, you will be prepared to take the National Council Licensure Exam for RNs (NCLEX-RN). This exam is required to become a RN in the U.S.
Once you pass the NCLEX-RN and fulfill the requirements of the board of nursing in your state, you will be eligible to become a RN. From there, it’s a matter of getting enough experience in a nursing specialty to pursue opportunities as a travel nurse.3
3. Gain Enough Experience
Besides getting a license, you will also need to be certified in Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support before signing on to a travel nursing agency.
If you choose to specialize, then you should have additional credentials. Most institutions prefer at least two years of experience in the relevant specialty, whether it’s surgical, neonatal, critical care, pediatrics, trauma, or a clinical nurse.4
Hospitals usually look for experienced, in-demand types of nurses with certain specializations and advanced training.
4. Apply for a Compact Nursing License
After you get your state nursing license, you can apply for a compact nursing license (NLC), which is valid in many states.
Remember that NLC does not cover all U.S. states. So, be sure to check your state’s licensing requirements to become a travel nurse.5
5. Apply to a Travel Staffing Agency
After you complete your education and gain the required credentials, you will need to find a travel nursing staffing agency to work with.
There are certain resources that can help you find the right agency, such as:
- Joining a Professional Networking Site/Group: You can use your professional networks or social media groups to contact others in the field. You might find good agencies and get referrals to them. LinkedIn is one of the best platforms to develop networks.
- Lead Generators: Lead generation websites use your contact information and sell them to the agencies. As per your details, the travel agencies contact you.6
- Referrals: If your friends and colleagues have worked with any travel nursing staffing agency, you can ask them for their recommendations. They may refer you to relevant agency staff who works there.
- Online Reviews: There are several online services available that many travel nurses have used and reviewed as per their experiences. Take a look at these reviews to find the best agency for you.7
The benefits offered by each travel agency varies according to the alliances they have with the hospitals, their locations, or nursing specialties that they deal in. This is why you should keep detailed notes about the available positions and benefits packages companies offer you.
7. Ready, Set, Go
After all the paperwork is done, you can start with the interviewing process. It may take longer, but the agency will help you find placements.
After you get selected, you have to find housing or other accommodations. Some organizations will provide free housing. However, these are usually small one-bedroom apartments, so you may want to find your own. Be sure to check with your organization and location to explore your options.
If you no longer wish to continue this career, don’t worry. There are several organizations that offer full-time positions after your contract ends. If you feel like you cannot stay at that particular place, you have the option of canceling your contract.8
In general, most of your work responsibilities will be similar to those of a RN. One thing to keep in mind is the different types of record-keeping systems as many hospitals use electronic medical record systems, so you need to get familiar with them when you start working at a new facility.
Some of the common tasks you will perform are:
- Assisting doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to develop care plans;
- Educating patients and families about diseases, medications, prevention, and lifestyle modification;
- Assessing the patients, and;
- Administering medication and fluids.9
Current Job Market
There is a huge demand for skilled RNs in the United States and other countries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be around 194,500 openings for RNs each year over the next decade. This is due to the aging population and increase of chronic non-communicable diseases.10
Additionally, the large number of retiring nurses will create a greater number of vacancies for new nurses. According to an article by Simmons University, 55 percent of today’s nursing workforce is 50 years or older.11
Since employed nurses need time off for vacations, maternity/paternity leave, and paid time off, there will always be a demand for traveling nurses.