How to Become a Travel Nurse


Imagine having the ability to choose when and where to pursue your nursing career. If the prospect of meeting new people, working in various locations across the country, and gaining diverse professional experiences at different medical facilities appeals to you, then becoming a travel nurse may be a career path worth considering. 

However, before making the decision to pursue this exciting opportunity, it's important to understand the requirements for becoming a travel nurse.

7 Steps to Become a Travel Nurse


1. Is a career as a travel nurse a suitable option for you?

Travel nursing is a career path that involves working for independent staffing companies that place registered nurses (RNs) in temporary positions at hospitals and clinics across the United States and abroad. The ongoing shortage of nurses makes it challenging for healthcare facilities to meet their staffing needs, and travel nurses can help fill this gap by filling in when regular nurses take time off, go on leave, or take on new permanent positions. However, travel nursing isn't limited to working in different states, some serve in understaffed hospitals in their own location.

Travel nurses sign a contract to fill a temporary position that can last anywhere from several days to months or even longer, and could include international assignments. When their contracts are up, they have the option to extend their stay in the same location or move on to a new opportunity. These contracts typically range from 8 to 26 weeks, although some travel nurses may find a temporary assignment they enjoy and turn it into a full-time position.

For those who are looking for new experiences, the opportunity to meet new people, and to gain a deeper understanding of healthcare in different communities, a career as a travel nurse can be an exciting option to explore.

2. Obtain your associate degree in nursing (ASN) or associate degree in nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN)

If you have completed a associate degree or bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited program, you are eligible to become a travel nurse. Herzing University provides multiple options to help you gain the credentials necessary for the travel nursing path, no matter where you are currently in your nursing career.

Herzing University provides several options to help individuals earn the credentials necessary for becoming a travel nurse:

- An Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree for entry-level registered nurses (RNs) that can be completed in 20-24 months.

- A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree that can be earned in 3 years or less, depending on transfer credits and prior learning experience. Herzing University also offers an online BSN program for students new to nursing, which is available in select U.S. states.

- An online RN to BSN program that can be completed in as little as 12 months for individuals who are already working as licensed RNs and wish to pursue their BSN.

- An accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree that can be completed in as few as 20 months for individuals who already hold a non-nursing bachelor's degree from a regionally-accredited college or university. Additionally, students may qualify for the online MSN Direct Entry program and can alternatively earn a master's degree in as few as 20 months.

- Bridge options for licensed practical nurses (LPNs), paramedics, military medics, respiratory therapists (RT), and cardiovascular technologists (CVT), which can be completed faster than traditional ASN/BSN programs.

It's important to note that enrollment requirements and availability may vary by campus location.

When considering Herzing University, one of the key benefits is that the school offers six start dates throughout the year. This flexibility means that you can begin classes on a schedule that works for you, and allows enough time to plan and make necessary adjustments to your personal and work schedules to fit your studies, while minimizing the time it takes to become a registered nurse (RN).

3. Pass the NCLEX examination and attain licensure as a registered nurse (RN)

After completing your associate or bachelor's degree in nursing, you will be prepared to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) which is required for licensure as a registered nurse (RN) in the United States. 

Once you pass the exam and meet the requirements set by the state board of nursing, you will be licensed as an RN and can begin to gain experience in your chosen nursing specialty. With enough experience, you will be qualified to pursue opportunities as a travel nurse.

4. Obtain Specialized Experience in your Chosen Field

In addition to state licensure as an RN, to become a travel nurse you will also need to be certified in Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS). If you choose to specialize in a field, you may also need additional certifications. Hospitals typically require that you have at least two years of experience in your chosen nursing specialty. Experience in specialties such as surgical, neonatal, critical care, pediatrics, trauma or multiple specialties will also open up more opportunities for you as a travel nurse.

Your clinical background will determine the specific opportunities you qualify for as a travel nurse, hospitals are always in need of experienced nurses with certain specializations and advanced training. 

The two years of experience in nursing will also give you the time you need to become certified in your area of expertise, and make you more marketable for travel nursing opportunities. You should check with your agency to confirm if additional work experience is needed in your specialized field.

5. Obtain a Compact Nursing License

To practice as a registered nurse, you must be licensed in the state where you work. The Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) is an agreement between states that allows RNs to hold a single nursing license that is valid across multiple states. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing maintains a list of states that have adopted and implemented the NLC.

If you reside in a state that is part of the NLC, you can obtain this multistate license in your state of residence. If you don’t live in a compact state, you will have to obtain your license in the state where you wish to work. However, it’s important to note that the NLC does not include all U.S. states, so you should check the licensing requirements for your state to ensure you can become a travel nurse in that state.

6. Locate a travel nursing staffing agency and submit an application

After completing your education, gaining nursing experience, and obtaining the necessary credentials, the next step is to find a travel nursing staffing agency to work with. There are multiple resources available to assist in finding the right agency for you, such as:

There are several online platforms where former travel nurses can rate the agencies they have worked with. 

- Lead generators: Websites that generate leads by collecting your personal information and selling it to agencies, which will reach out to you based on that data. 

- Colleague referrals: Asking colleagues who have previously worked with a travel nursing agency for their recommendations can be helpful. 

- Professional networking sites: Utilizing professional networking sites to connect with others in the field, you might be able to get more referrals or contact agencies and recruiters directly.

The benefits offered by different staffing agencies can vary widely, as can the specific hospitals or healthcare networks they have alliances with, the geographic locations they serve, and the nursing specializations they focus on. It is important to keep detailed notes about the positions and benefits packages each company offers you during the research and application process.

7. Prepare yourself for your travel nursing career to soar!

After completing all the required paperwork, you can proceed to the interview process. This may take some time, but your agency will assist you in finding a suitable position. Once you are matched with a healthcare facility, you will need to arrange for housing. Some facilities may provide housing at no cost, but it may be limited to small one-bedroom apartments.

Therefore, you may want to consider finding your own accommodation. Be sure to check with your facility and location for available options. If in any case you decide that you no longer wish to continue as a travel nurse, there is no need to worry. 

Some hospitals may offer full-time positions to travel nurses after the completion of their contract. If you find that you are unable to stay at a particular placement, you also have the option to terminate your contract.

How Will Your Workdays be Structured?


As a registered nurse, your daily job duties will be similar to what you would expect in any healthcare setting. However, as you move from contract to contract, the settings may be different. One thing to keep in mind is that different hospitals may have different record-keeping systems, so you may need to learn how to use a new electronic medical record (EMR) system when you begin working at a new facility. In general, depending on your nursing specialization, your shifts will likely involve:

- Collaborating with physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to create treatment plans.

- Educating patients and their families about disease prevention and overall health.

- Evaluating and identifying patients' conditions. 

-Giving medication and fluids.

During your free time, you may spend some time researching and identifying potential job opportunities and working with your staffing agency to align your professional aspirations.

How Much Can You Earn as a Travel Nurse?


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have specific data for travel nurses. However, using data for registered nurses as a reference point, the BLS states that the average salary for a registered nurse is $82,750 per year ($39.78 per hour).* Since travel nurses usually have less stable employment arrangements, their average pay can vary.

What is the Current Job Market for Travel Nurses Like? 


There is a high demand for experienced RNs to fill open positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts that there will be a 6% increase in RN employment from 2021-2031, due to the aging population and a large number of older nurses retiring from the workforce.* According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), 55% of the current nursing workforce is 50 years or older.

When you add in the fact that many nurses who are already employed take vacations, maternity/paternity leave, and paid time off, it is easy to see that there is a need for travel nurses.


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