How to Become a Travel Nurse
Do you want to work as a travel nurse? In this article, we review the skills, education, licensing and accreditations travel agencies look for in travel nurse candidates.
The field of nursing has many sub-specialties and becoming a travel nurse is an alluring option. Nurses are in high demand, and with the right skill set, they can travel year-round, earning premium pay and seeing new places.
What is a Travel Nurse?
Travel nurses are hired by agencies to fill nursing openings at hospitals, long-term care facilities and other care settings around the country. There are even some agencies that specialize in international assignments.
These nursing assignments vary in length, but the most common contract schedule is for 13 weeks. This length of time allows the nurse to become acclimated to the facility and gives the facility time to train someone to fill the spot. Some nurses may really like their particular location and choose to extend their contract, while others may want to move on to a new location.
Qualities of a Travel Nurse
Successful travel nurses have a few qualities that are valuable in this career field. The first is adaptability. Starting a contract is essentially starting a new job every 13 weeks. Travel nurses typically get a brief orientation to the unit and are expected to hit the ground running.
Highly adaptable nurses thrive under this type of challenge and are not afraid to ask questions, learn new routines and function in different types of work cultures.
Travel nurses, although usually solo, need to have a teamwork mentality. When coming into an existing team that is understaffed, building rapport can be difficult. Communicating well and being a team player adds value to the team and confidence in the traveler’s nursing abilities.
Flexibility is also a requirement for travel nurses. Typically, travel nurses can expect to take various assignments, within the nurse’s skill level, in different units of a hospital to help where needed. It is important to remember travel nurses are hired to support the facility’s needs and it is important to be ready to do that on a daily basis.
Sense of Adventure
Finally, a sense of adventure is required! Whether you prefer vibrant cities or natural wonders, every day off can be an adventure. To make the most of your traveling days, make sure you have the drive to explore, make new friends and seek out new experiences.
Types of Travel Nursing Jobs
Travel nurse jobs are extremely varied, encompassing many specialties. RN travel nurses are usually more in demand than LPN travel nurses.
Some examples are:
When looking for a great fit, consider your previous experience, comfort level with the care setting, desired shifts and what you love! Nursing agencies will verify that you have the skills and any specialty certifications needed before assigning you to a specialty unit.
How Does Travel Nursing Work?
Part of what makes travel nursing so lucrative is the number of side benefits and perks. Travel agencies offer full-time travel nurses much of the same benefits that a hospital would offer, like health insurance and a 401K.
In addition, travel nurses receive a housing stipend and a meals and incidentals stipend. In most cases, travel expenses to and from a contract location are reimbursed as well. These stipends and reimbursements often fall under non-taxable income, which is also helpful.
How to Become a Travel Nurse
Becoming a travel nurse is a great goal, but this career course will require some hard work. Nursing school to become an RN typically takes three to four years to complete, depending on what type of program you choose. A BSN (bachelor’s) nursing degree is preferred over an ASN (associate) nursing degree in most cases and can demand a bit more pay. BSN nurses also have more opportunities for advancement and specialty roles.
Preparation for a nursing program starts with health and science coursework – including courses like anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology and nutrition. Nursing courses each have a classroom component and a clinical component, which involves hands-on nursing skills training and taking care of patients while under supervision.
After graduating from an accredited nursing program, RN candidates are required to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The exam assesses each nurse’s knowledge and skill necessary to function as a safe and competent nurse. Many nurses undergo an NCLEX prep course and spend a lot of time studying and preparing for the exam.
After graduation and licensure, the real work begins. First-year nurses often go through an intensive orientation period and preceptorship, learning to put together the critical thinking skills and time management necessary to care for a patient assignment. The experience that nurses gain in that first year or two is valuable to the process of becoming highly competent and confident.
Travel nurse agencies generally seek out nurses with at least one or two years of full-time experience in their area of choice. This is necessary to develop the adaptability, flexibility and other skills that travel nurses should possess to be successful.
Travel Nurse Requirements
Requirements will vary somewhat by the travel agency, but there are some core requirements that will always be in place.
A nurse must be licensed to practice in the state to which he/she is traveling. Some states are part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), which allows nurses to work within any of the compact states on a temporary basis. If the nurse resides in a non-compact state, they will be required to apply for an individual state license, which typically requires approval by that state’s board and a paid fee. These fees are reimbursable.
Travel agency degree preference is mostly for BSN nurses. ASN nurses can still find travel jobs, but the choices will be much more open for a BSN-prepared nurse.
Nurses will need to have current certifications in place for the contract they are accepting. All travel nurses are required to maintain Basic Life Support (BLS) certification and ICU nurses will also need Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) at a minimum.
ER nurses will typically need ACLS, Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) and Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC). Nurses that are even more specialized, such as NICU nurses, would be required to maintain their specialty certifications for that area.
Health Records/Vaccination Requirements
Travel nurses must also keep their vaccination records up to date, as well as a health history. Typically, nurses are required to be vaccinated for the usual assortment of childhood illnesses, annually against the flu and maintain current COVID-19 boosters. It is also recommended for nurses to be vaccinated for Hepatitis B.
In addition, a current Tuberculosis skin test is recommended to be on file. These provisions help to maintain the nurse’s safety in any care environment and ensure that the facility is not inadvertently spreading infection.
Continuing Education Requirements
Continuing education requirements for each state licensure must be maintained by the nurse. When working with a travel agency, they usually have educational requirements in place for nurses to maintain competency on subjects such as HIPAA, restraint use, infectious disease and emergency procedures.
Travel Nurse Salary
Travel nurse salaries vary widely depending on location and specialty as well as external circumstances that sometimes influence the market. For example, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel nurse salaries were quite high because it was considered a crisis situation. Nurses were taking on additional risk, working in difficult conditions and expected to work extra hours. Those expectations came at a premium.
Average travel nurse pay, exclusive of crisis situations, ranges from $37.71 to $82.06, with an average hourly pay of $56.49 for 2022. This figure excludes stipends and reimbursements. For a better look at average salaries, see the figure below:
(Source: NP Editorial Assessment)
In addition to the base pay rates listed above, travel nurses can expect:
- Insurance coverage including health, vision and dental
- Retirement (401K) options
- Tax-free travel reimbursement
- Tax-free housing stipend
- Sign-on, completion or retention bonuses
- Continuing education and certification reimbursement
Travel Nurse Job Outlook
As the general population lives longer, the need for qualified nurses continues to grow. As a result, nursing is ranked as the third most in-demand job of any profession in the US. A national shortage of over half a million nurses is predicted by 2030. The demand for flexible staffing solutions via travel nurses is increasing each year. This high demand for qualified nurses means that incentives and pay will continue to remain competitive and travel nurses will have many positions to choose from.
Closing Thoughts on How to Become a Travel Nurse
Travel nursing is not for everyone – but it is a great solution for those with an eye toward the horizon and confidence in their skills.
Many travel nurses are also motivated by the amount of good they can do serving in areas with a healthcare shortage. Whether this is in the middle of a pandemic or in an inner city with severe needs, nurses can gain fulfillment in their careers in many ways.
Nurses can also feed their thirst for knowledge by learning the newest skills at cutting-edge research hospitals, continually improving their practice and taking those skills with them to the next location.
Find Your Next Travel Nurse Assignment
Interested in learning more about the top cities for travel nursing? Read our article Best Cities to be a Travel Nurse.
Are you ready to find your next adventure? Here are some tips for sprucing up your nursing resume in our resource section. Or you can jump to searching travel nurse jobs at Soliant by clicking the button below to find your perfect career home base and personalized support system for the journey.