What if you had the freedom to decide when and where to build your nursing career? The opportunity to explore the country (or international/overseas) and meet new people along the way? The potential benefit of having someone else pay for your housing, living expenses and transportation? If this sounds interesting, you might love a career as a travel nurse. You’ll need to know the requirements for becoming a travel nurse before leaping into this new exciting career path.
Steps to become a travel nurse:
- Understand the role of a travel nurse
- Earn your ASN/ADN or BSN degree
- Pass the NCLEX and become an RN
- Gain experience
- Get licensed
- Find a travel nurse staffing agency and apply
- Start your career
1. A career as a travel nurse – is it right for you?
Travel nurses work for independent staffing companies that recruit RNs to fill temporary positions across the United States and abroad. The ongoing shortage of nurses is challenging enough for hospitals and clinics to maintain their staffing needs. But what happens when already employed nurses take vacation, go on maternity/paternity leave or get hired away by a different hospital or medical facility? That’s where travel nurses come in to save the day!
Travel nurses sign a contract to fill a temporary position for several days, weeks, months or longer with potential opportunities including international work. When contracts are up, travel nurses either extend their stay at the same location or move on to a new destination and opportunity. Everything’s based on the supply and demand for nurses depending on specialty. Travel nurses can find a temporary assignment they love that turns into a full-time position.
If you have a desire to try new experiences, meet new people, visiting new areas, and continue to develop an understanding for healthcare in other communities, becoming a travel nurse can be an exciting career move!
Is being a travel nurse a satisfying career?
If you like stability and certainty in your career, becoming a traveling nurse might not be the best choice for you. But if you enjoy the idea of meeting new people, living life in different parts of the country or building a resume that documents professional experiences at medical facilities, then it may be time to consider becoming a travel nurse.
Are you a foodie? Put some culinary capitals on your list of cities where you’d like to work. Maybe you’re more of an outdoorsy adventure seeker. If so, seek agencies offering opportunities in locations such as Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii or Alaska..
When you’re a travel nurse, you have the opportunity to decide when you workand how you spend your time in between gigs. Feel like taking a month or two off between contracts? It’s your career, and you’re in charge of the assignments you decide to take!
Where can travel nurses work?
Short answer—just about anywhere nurses are needed! That’s the main attraction of becoming a traveling nurse.
So, where could travel nurses work? Potential facilities include:
- Medical and surgical hospitals
- Outpatient care centers
What will your workdays be like?
Basically, your day-to-day job description will be much like those you’d expect for a registered nurse. You’ll just be doing it in different settings as you move from contract to contract. One thing to anticipate is the variety of record-keeping systems different hospitals may use; you may need to get yourself up to speed using an unfamiliar electronic medical record (EMR) system when you start at a new facility. Generally speaking, and depending on your nursing specialization, your shifts will be spent:
- Working with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to develop care plans.
- Teaching patients and families about disease prevention and overall wellness.
- Assessing and diagnosing patients.
- Administering medication and fluids.
When you’re not actually tending to your patients, you’ll probably spend some time researching where you’ll go next and coordinating your professional goals with your staffing agency.
How much can you make as a travel nurse?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have specific information regarding travel nurses. However, general RN data is a good starting point. According to 2018 data from the BLS, the average salary for a registered nurse is $75,510 per year ($36.30 per hour). Because travel nurses typically have a less stable employment structure, average pay is more highly variable. Ambitious travel nurses who elect to take on more responsibilities have the potential to earn above the average salary.
What is the current job market for travel nurses?
Today’s hospitals, doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics and other healthcare facilities have a hard time hiring skilled RNs to fill open positions. In fact, according to the American Nurses Association (ANA), there will be more registered nurse jobs available through 2022 than any other profession in the United States, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be a shortage of approximately 1.1 million nurses by 2020.
Factor into this situation that nurses who are already employed are entitled to vacations, maternity/paternity leave and paid time off, and it’s easy to understand why the demand for traveling nurses is high and will continue to be robust for the foreseeable future. If you’re a registered nurse with a suitcase packed and the desire to experience new roles and responsibilities, it might be an ideal time to put becoming a travel nurse on your professional itinerary.
2. Earn your ASN/ADN or BSN degree
Requirements to become a travel nurse include status as an RN with either an associate or bachelor’s degree from an accredited nursing program. Regardless of where you currently find yourself on the nursing continuum, there’s a path at Herzing University to help you earn the credentials you need:
Note: enrollment requirements and availability are different based on campus location.
One significant advantage of choosing Herzing is that the university offers six start dates throughout the year. This ensures you can begin classes on your own terms, allowing enough time to make adjustments to your personal and work schedules to accommodate your studies.
3. Pass the NCLEX and become an RN
When you graduate with your associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, you’ll be prepared to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which is required to become a registered nurse in the United States. The test focuses on your knowledge of four specific areas of nursing, including:
- Safe, effective care environments
- Health promotion and maintenance
- Psychosocial integrity and how to cope with the stresses of being a nurse
- Physiological integrity and your ability to deliver proper nursing care
Once you pass your NCLEX exam and meet the board of nursing requirements in your state, you’ll be eligible to become a registered nurse. From there, it’s a matter of gaining enough experience in your nursing specialty to pursue opportunities as a traveling nurse.
4. Gain experience in your specialization
According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), 55% of today’s nursing workforce is 50 years or older. That spells opportunity for you as more and more retire and the demand increases for travel RNs to fill gaps in staffing.
You’ll need to have at least two years of experience in your nursing specialty, whether it’s surgical, neonatal, critical care, pediatrics, trauma or a clinical nurse with many different specialties. Your clinical background will determine the specific openings you’ll qualify for as a travel nurse. Hospitals are constantly on the lookout for experienced, in-demand types of nurses with certain specializations and advanced training, but ER, ICU, OR and telemetry are solid areas to explore to ensure your experience and skills will always be in demand.
The two years of experience in nursing also gives you the time you need to receive a specialization in your area of expertise should you choose to take the certification exam. This will also make you more marketable for more opportunities.
5. Apply for a compact nursing license
To be a registered nurse, you need to be licensed in the state where you work. If you’re carving out a career as a travel nurse, that will mean working in a variety of locations.
Fortunately, the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) is an agreement between states that allows RNs to hold a single nursing license valid in numerous states. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing keeps track of what states have enacted and implemented the NLC.
Most respectable staffing agencies will be able to assist you in securing the license you need to practice in the state of your choice—which leads us to the next step in your pursuit of career as a travel nurse.
6. Find a travel nurse staffing agency and apply
Once your education, nursing experience and credentials are in place, you’ll need to find a travel nurse staffing agency that can connect you with your dream assignments. There are hundreds of such agencies across the country and organizations that can help you connect with the ones that best fit your profile and professional goals.
The benefits offered by each staffing agency will vary, along with the alliances they may have with specific hospital or healthcare networks, specific geographic areas or even specific nursing specializations. Keep detailed notes about the available positions and benefits packages companies offer you. Traveling nurses are in demand, and you’re in this to make the most out of the opportunities that are best for you. Be choosy and particular about your choice destinations and job specifications.
7. Get ready for your travel nurse career to take off!
Travel nurses are in demand all across the country, and in many locations overseas. Whether it’s due to a lack of qualified nurses in a particular area, seasonal population increases requiring more RNs to balance nurse-patient ratios or scheduled vacations and paternity leaves of staff nurses, job opportunities abound for those ready to advance their careers while exploring different parts of the country.
Are you an RN ready for a change of scenery and an exciting new adventure? Becoming a travel nurse is a great way to achieve both. With the right background and education, you’ll go far, and we’re here to help you get there and answer any questions you have along the way!