How to: becoming a travel nurse

Last updated: July 8, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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How to: becoming a travel nurse
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Working as a travel nurse can be both thrilling and fulfilling. You’ll get to work in a range of locations and bring healthcare to communities across the country.

As a travel nurse, you'll meet new people while providing excellent patient care. You won't be committed to one hospital environment, and you'll gain valuable experience to add to your resume.

Thinking of becoming a travel nurse? We have you covered. In this article, we'll give you a rundown of the job. You'll learn about the educational requirements and the skills you'll need to be successful.

Plus, we'll give you salary insights so you can make the right career decision.

What is a travel nurse?

It’s well known that nurses are essential healthcare workers. After all, they monitor patients, administer medications, change bandages, and provide basic care such as washing and dressing patients and checking their blood pressure.

Nurses are in demand, and the industry is growing. By 2031, there are set to be 6% more jobs for registered nurses (RNs) than there were in 2021.

Some communities could miss out on vital nursing services due to issues with demand. Travel nurses are called in to give them the support they need.

Travel nurses help to fill nationwide shortages on a temporary basis. They can work in a range of settings, including hospitals, outpatient centers, and clinics.

They can also have specialties. Some options include mental health nursing, pediatric nursing, and critical care nursing.

The time a travel nurse spends in one location varies. Most assignments are short-term contracts of around 13 weeks. However, the term can be shorter or longer, depending on the needs of the institution employing them.

Most travel nurses work full-time, and the exact hours can vary depending on the facility. For example, these RNs may work day, evening, and weekend shifts.

How much does a travel nurse make?

In the U.S., the average wage for travel nurses is $37.16 per hour or $81,145 per year. The scale can range from $50,000 to $115,000 per year.

Your experience can affect your wages. For example, someone who's spent less than one year in the role can expect around $30.52 per hour. If they've been working between one and four years, however, their wage can jump to $35.32 per hour.

Travel nurses with five to ten years of experience have an average hourly rate of $39.08.

In addition to a competitive salary, travel nurses get accommodation assistance for temporary positions. Most travel nursing agencies offer a choice of company housing options or a stipend. There may also be reimbursements for food, uniforms, and travel expenses.

How to become a travel nurse

Want a travel nursing job? You'll need to complete several steps before you start. Here's your guide to getting hired:

1. Be prepared

Travel nurses have unique careers. Every assignment is different, and you'll meet a diverse range of people. However, this is not a career for everyone. As a travel nurse, you must be prepared to travel frequently to both local and remote communities. This often means time away from your family and friends.

There are also eligibility requirements to consider. You'll need a high school diploma or equivalent, and there can be a minimum age. For example, you may need to be over 18 or 21, depending on where you live.

You'll typically need a valid driver's license and a reliable vehicle.

Remember, this is a nursing career. You should be interested in the field and prepared to work with many different patients. You should be compassionate, caring, and an excellent communicator.

2. Get a degree

The next step is to study for a bachelor's degree in nursing. The most common pathway is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This is a four-year degree that will give you a broad range of nursing skills. Make sure you choose a reputable college.

If you already have an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN), you may still get a job. However, most travel nurse staffing agencies prefer a BSN. If you do want to boost your associate degree and get your BSN, you'll be credited for the work you've already completed.

Your nursing program will cover health and science topics, such as anatomy and physiology. You'll also learn about health promotion, technology, medications, acute care, and cultural awareness.

3. Complete workplace training

Most programs include clinical training to give you hands-on experience. You'll get work experience in a healthcare facility under the supervision of senior staff.

Workplace training usually comes toward the end of your degree. You'll work with real patients in a hospital setting while you practice your skills.

During this period, make sure you do your work to a high standard. Network with other healthcare professionals, and always be reliable. The people you meet may give you a reference in the future.

You should also note that most travel nurse companies expect you to have at least one year of clinical experience. Your clinical placements can go toward this requirement.

4. Pass an exam

Next, you'll need to pass a certification exam. The National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) is the recommended pathway. It's a computer-based test, and you'll need to pay an application fee before completing it.

The NCLEX can take up to six hours to complete and includes questions on topics such as ethics, treatments, and general nursing procedures. If you pass, you'll be able to apply for your RN licensure.

The licensing and certification requirements for nurses can vary between states. And because you may be traveling across the country as a travel nurse, you'll need a national, multi-state license. The board certification from NCLEX will cover you anywhere in the U.S.

There may be other certification requirements, too. For example, most travel nurse recruiters expect you to have certifications in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support.

5. Join a travel nurse agency

Before you join a travel nurse agency, make sure you have enough experience. Working in a hospital can give you the confidence to adapt to different healthcare settings.

To work as a nurse, you'll need to complete a background check. This screening looks at your criminal history and goes back at least seven years. It also verifies your education and work history.

When you're ready, you can begin to look for travel nursing opportunities.

Companies send workers to areas with nursing shortages. You'll get matched to roles, each of which will come with a travel nursing contract.

Look for an agency that’s willing to provide ongoing support. You should expect a housing stipend and travel reimbursement to help you with the cost of living. If you'd like more guidance on where to start, speak to your college or university.

6. Start work

Got a BSN degree and an RN license? Signed up with an agency? You'll be set to start your career in travel nursing.

You should be prepared for any travel nurse contract. You may be asked to work somewhere close to home or to travel to another state.

You should also check your contract's conditions. For example, you may need to find somewhere to stay during your travel nurse assignments. The hours and responsibilities can also vary between assignments.

As you work, you'll meet new people. Try to build your network and get to know others in the field.

Remember, the experience you gain as a travel nurse can help you long-term. Working in diverse communities can help you boost your resume and increase the probability that you'll get hired for other positions.

What skills do travel nurses need?

In addition to nursing experience, travel nurses need a few soft skills. Here's what employers look for:

1. Interpersonal skills

When you take on a travel nursing assignment, you may end up somewhere you've never been before. You'll be thrown into a fast-paced work environment in an unfamiliar community.

You'll need strong interpersonal skills to be successful. You should also be a team player, willing to fit into any medical facility. You'll be providing care to patients from different backgrounds, so you'll need to be confident and have excellent communication skills. Good body language is also important.

Travel nurses work side by side with other healthcare professionals. They need to be professional and support their colleagues as much as possible.

Accurate record-keeping is essential, and travel nurses also need excellent written communication skills.

2. Adaptability

Every healthcare setting is different. Whether they're working in a remote hospital or a city clinic, a travel nurse will never know what to expect.

Due to the nature of the job, adaptability is an essential skill. Travel nurses may need to learn new healthcare systems on the go; as such, they must be able to understand different company processes and procedures.

Nursing responsibilities can vary between contracts. Let's say, for instance, that a travel nurse is sent to a rural community that only has one small healthcare team. They may have to perform additional duties, such as administrative tasks, to fill the gap.

As a travel nurse, you should be prepared to work in any department and in a wide range of shift types, including evenings.

3. Problem-solving skills

All nurses need problem-solving skills. Patients can have a range of health concerns, and nurses must make sure they're getting the right care.

If a patient is in pain or needs extra assistance, a travel nurse may need to collaborate with a doctor or specialist. For example, they may need to administer pain relief medication under the direction of a physician.

As health professionals, travel nurses use their critical thinking skills and knowledge to find solutions. If a patient is uncomfortable, for instance, they may find extra pillows for them or change the position of their bed.

A travel nurse with limited resources must learn how to make do with what they have on hand.

4. Organization

Travel nurses need to be organized. They have to arrive at work on time and be ready for each shift. If they're in a new location, they need to quickly learn to navigate the building and facilities.

Remember, hospitals, clinics, and outpatient services can be busy. There can be multiple patients to juggle and lots of paperwork to catch up on.

A travel nurse with good time management skills will be able to complete their daily tasks. They'll be efficient and a great support to the rest of the team.

When a travel nurse finishes a contract, they'll need to leave the work environment tidy. All documents should be clearly labeled and patient files updated. This will ensure that the next person can take over the role without any issues.

5. Empathy

Finally, there's empathy. All healthcare professionals need to be empathetic toward their patients and their families. Hospitals can be stressful environments, and patients may be recovering from serious injuries and illnesses.

For example, a nurse working in an intensive care unit must show empathy to not only their patient but also the patient's family members.

Your patients can vary depending on your contact. People can have different backgrounds, cultures, and religions. No matter who a patient is, travel nurses need to be empathetic.

Where to find a travel nurse job

If you're looking for a nursing role, you can head to our job board to find RN or travel nurse positions in your area.

Most travel nurses find work through travel nurse agencies. Because the demand for nurses is high in some areas, recruiters often advertise for new team members.

While you're here, sign up for a free Jobcase account. You can chat in community discussions, grow your professional network, and set up job alerts.

But before you apply for work, make sure you update your nursing resume and customize your cover letter to the position.

Becoming a travel nurse

Want to travel the country and earn money at the same time? A travel nurse position will give you opportunities to meet new people and experience different work environments.

If you want this career, you'll need to complete a few steps. Get prepared by finishing high school, and make sure you're comfortable working away from home.

Then, you'll need to complete a BSN program. This four-year degree will teach you to become a nurse and includes clinical placements.

Next, you'll have to pass an exam to get a certification and license. And once you have some experience, you can join a travel nurse agency.

Don't forget that you'll need a variety of skills to be successful as a travel nurse. The list includes interpersonal skills, adaptability, and empathy. Travel nurses also need good organizational skills and problem-solving skills.

Want to find work? Visit our job board to see who's hiring. Need resume and interview tips? Our Getting Hired Resource Center is the place to go.

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