Interested in learning how to become a travel nurse? A travelling nurse is a very unique and exciting career that is very compelling for many people. This guide is designed to help you assess if you might be interested in becoming a travel nurse and to help you understand aspects of the profession, such as what service the profession provides, what type of person might be successful as a travel nurse, how do you become a travel nurse and how long does it take to become a travel nurse. By the time you finish reading, you should have a good idea if this career could be a good fit for you.
What Does a Travel Nurse Do?
Travel nurses are trained and licensed healthcare providers who are assigned to hospitals or clinics on a temporary basis. Medical facilities often encounter short-term nursing shortages, and the travel nursing specialty was created to offer a solution to these sometimes unavoidable staffing issues. Travel nurses work for independent, private contractors, and must be prepared to travel to any location where their services are required. They may work exclusively in the United States, or they may be required to travel internationally as well, if they’re working for international staffing agencies.
All travel nurses are registered nurses and are eligible to perform the complete range of duties associated with their profession. They take regular shifts and must integrate successfully with existing medical care teams in the institutions that contract them. The amount of time they spend in any particular assignment will be entirely dependent on the needs of the employer. Travel nurses may be generalists, or they possess specialized skills in particular care areas, and their level of expertise in these specialties may be reflected in their assignments.
You might also consider:
- How to become a labor and delivery nurse
- How to become a pediatric nurse
- How to become a neonatal nurse
- How to become a nurse (general introduction)
How Much Does a Travel Nurse Make?
The annual median salary for registered nurses in all categories was $73,300 in 2019. Travel nurses can usually expect to earn more than this, with weekly salaries in the $3,000 range for those who are successful and in demand (with additional perks like free housing, food stipends, and vehicles for transportation often included in their compensation packages). During times of medical crisis, when temporary staffing issues require the quick addition of extra nurses to a staff, compensation rates may even exceed this level.
The rate of growth in the demand for registered nurses is expected to rise by seven percent between 2019 and 2029. This is 75 percent higher than the projected increase for all job categories combined. In the case of travel nurses, the demand is likely to at least match this pace, and could exceed it if nursing shortages prove acute over the next several years. The demand for travel nurses has been running at record levels during the Covid-19 pandemic, which highlights how external circumstances can dramatically affect those who choose this profession.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Travel Nurse?
While it is possible to gain entry-level employment as a travel nurse in a little more than two years, this is rather uncommon and is not the experience of most. This would be getting an associate’s degree and finding employment as a travel nurse shortly after graduation and passing of the NCLEX-RN (see below).
A more realistic expectation for becoming a travel nurse is five to six years. This will include gaining a relevant bachelor’s degree, passing the NCLEX-RN and gaining some experience as an entry-level nurse or in an internship.
So, depending on the path you choose, and your level of motivation, it can take anywhere from 2 to 6 or more years to become employed as a travel nurse.
How many years of college to be a travel nurse depends on if you pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and if you optionally choose to pursue a master’s degree. So in total, you will need between two and seven years of college to be a travel nurse.
To find out which path is right for you, read the step-by-step guide below about how to get into travel nursing.
How to Become a Travel Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Study for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing
The minimum requirement for anyone interested in a career in nursing is an associate’s degree. Nevertheless, most nursing candidates are now choosing to pursue a bachelor’s degree, and this is an especially wise choice for those who are interested in becoming a travel nurse. To gain an advantage in this highly competitive field, you should seek the best academic credentials available at the undergraduate level, with a curriculum that includes advanced coursework and extensive on-the-job training.
There is a need for travel nurses who can perform as generalists. But if you’ve chosen a specialty that is in high demand, and backed it up with the requisite hands-on training, your services will be more highly sought after and you’ll have a more impressive resume to present to potential employers (independent staffing agencies and their clients).
Some of the most in-demand nursing specialties or job categories include:
- Neonatal Nurse
- Oncology Nurse
- Pediatric Nurse
- Emergency Room Nurse
- Cardiovascular Nurse
- Cardiac Catheterization Nurse
- Labor and Delivery Nurse
- Operating Room Nurse
- Intensive Care Unit Nurse
- Certified Dialysis Nurse
Aspiring travel nurses who gain undergraduate experience in these areas as interns or externs will be well-positioned to meet the needs of potential employers.
Step 2: Take and Pass the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX-RN) for Registered Nurses
To become a travel nurse, you’ll need to take and pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses ( NCLEX-RN). Only as a registered nurse will you be allowed to accept employment assignments in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare service facilities, regardless of your chosen field of nursing or special area of focus.
Graduating from an accredited university with an Associate or Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing will automatically qualify you to sit for the NCLEX-RN.
Step 3: Find Entry-Level Employment as a Registered Nurse
Your primary goal after graduating from college and passing your nursing exam may be to find a position as a travel nurse, and you may succeed in this mission. It is not unheard of for prospective travel nurses to find employment relatively quickly, if they have relevant practical experience and come highly recommended by instructors or by those they’ve worked with in their internships or externships.
But it’s more likely that you’ll have to gain some experience working in a medical facility first, before a travel nursing staffing agency will hire you. Employers generally favor travel nursing candidates who have at least one year of experience working as a nurse in a hospital, clinic, specialized facility, or private physician’s practice. This is based on the preferences of their clients (medical facilities facing personnel shortages), which usually specify their interest in registered nurses who’ve already demonstrated their ability to handle all the duties involved with the job.
Entry-level nursing positions may involve additional training, meaning you may start out as a nursing resident. While your preference may be to find employment in your specialty, your initial nursing job may not offer you this option.
With one or two years of actual working experience added to the four years you spent studying for a nursing degree, your chances of landing a position as a travel nurse will be significantly enhanced. This means it will likely take you five or six years before you can begin your career as a travel nurse.
Step 4: Gain Required and Recommended Certifications
Certification is vital to the career prospects of all nurses, including travel nurses. Virtually all nurses are required to gain certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), and those who will work with children must obtain Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) certification as well.
In most instances, nurses aren’t required complete the classwork and exams required for these types of certification before being hired. But they will have to become certified in these areas within a few weeks or months of starting their first entry-level nursing position.
In addition to required certifications, nurses can obtain additional recommended forms of certification that relate to their area of specialty, or to advanced medical practice in general. You’ll need to take and pass some type of exam to qualify for these extra credentials, and you’ll have to complete specialized coursework or have equivalent on-the-job experience before you’re qualified to sit for certification exams.
These certifications will attest to your knowledge and skill, and possessing multiple certifications will prove to potential employers that you’re dedicated to self-improvement and serious about your profession.
Step 5: Complete One or More Graduate Degree Programs to Qualify to Become a Nurse Practitioner
You won’t need a master’s degree or a doctorate to break into the nursing profession, and they certainly aren’t required of travel nurses. But if you do have an advanced degree, it could qualify you to become a nurse practitioner, which is also known as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
Nurse practitioners take on additional responsibilities in caregiving environments, and enjoy pay raises that reflect their more extensive duties. Like physicians, they can make diagnoses, prescribe medications, and develop comprehensive care plans for the patients in their charge. They take a more active role in the treatment process, and because of their advanced knowledge and proven abilities APRNs are highly coveted by travel nurse staffing agencies and their clients.
To advance to this level, you must complete a master’s degree program in nursing that will focus on preparing you to assume the duties of a nurse practitioner. After obtaining your degree, you then must pass a nurse practitioner certification exam to verify your standing as an advanced practice registered nurse.
Starting in 2025, the requirements to become a nurse practitioner will change. From then on, you’ll only be eligible to achieve this status once you’ve completed a doctorate program in nursing.
Pros and Cons of a Career as a Travel Nurse
The career of a travel nurse is filled with novelty, as they have the opportunity to work in different locations and experience diverse working environments. Because their skills are so badly needed, travel nurses are always in demand, and once they begin practicing they should have no shortage of work. Their nursing skills make them universally employable in the medical profession, which means they can switch to other types of nursing jobs if they eventually decide they’d like to stop moving around so much. Travel nurses generally earn a bit more than most categories of registered nurse, and their employment contracts often include medical and dental coverage, housing assistance, meal subsidies, and special bonuses.
Travel nurses don’t have a great deal of control over where they’re assigned or when their services are needed, which can create complications in their lives at times. They don’t have the opportunity to form long and enduring relationships with their co-workers, and instead must find ways to seamlessly integrate with a constantly changing cast of colleagues. While their moves to new locales often include extra perks, travel nurses will have to go through an adjustment period every time they move to a new city, which may be emotionally and psychologically taxing and involve at least some time-consuming inconveniences. Many travel nurses do have families, but their lifestyles may occasionally conflict with their family responsibilities or create personal challenges in their relationships with loved ones.
Important Characteristics of a Successful Travel Nurse
In each location where they are assigned to work, travel nurses are asked to join preexisting teams of physicians, nurses, and other medical personnel. Consequently, travel nurses must have excellent people skills, reflected in their ability to make friends and create productive working relationships quickly. They must be comfortable meeting new people and know how to make others feel at ease in their presence.
In addition to being friendly and open, travel nurses must exude confidence and competence. To facilitate effective coordination and cooperation, their colleagues must trust them implicitly right from the beginning, and the most successful travel nurses are able to persuade their co-workers of their proficiency right from their first moments on the job.
Like all medical professionals, travel nurses must be detail-oriented. They must be highly observant in their dealings with patients and with their fellow healthcare workers, and this requirement is even more important for travel nurses since they are constantly seeing or working with new people in unfamiliar environments. Similarly, their dedication to their craft must be deep and based on sincere love of medicine. If they lack this passion, they might be more easily distracted by the changing circumstances of their employment and their living situations, which could lead to less-than-efficient performance.
Needless to say, travel nurses must have an authentic and enduring love of travel. They must gain genuine enjoyment from their journeys, which won’t always take them to the most desirable locations or to states or cities they’d choose to visit under normal circumstances. Their delight at being exposed to new people, places, and experiences must be deeply felt, enough so that they won’t be bothered by the inconveniences associated with frequent relocation.
This guide was designed to help you to understand how to become a travel nurse and to assess if this career might be an appropriate path for you. So if you arrived here with the question, “how do I become a travel nurse”, you should now have an idea of what it will take. In the future, we plan to have a separate write up answering how to become an international travel nurse, but fortunately the becoming an international travel nurse is a possible next step for those who have already established themselves as a travel nurse domestically. Of course when travelling, the main purpose is to be of service, but along the way you will get to see many interesting and unique places and meet people from all over. That is a perk that many professions do not provide. If you have decided you would like to become a travel nurse, then we will you the best of luck on your journey and admire your decision to help and serve communities all around the country and the world.