How to Become a Travel Nurse

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Travel Nursing has become a very popular career move for nurses due to the many benefits of the job: higher pay, variety of work, ability to explore the country and gain valuable experience. Travel Nursing contracts typically last 13 weeks, however, some assignments can be shorter or longer. If you’re thinking about entering into this field, here are the steps you’ll need to take.

1: Complete Your Education

In order to become a Registered Nurse (RN), you’ll need to first have a high-school degree or GED and then obtain either your Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN).  These degrees can typically be completed in 2-3 years.  Many hospitals require permanent staff to have their Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) however most travel assignments will accept either an ADN, ASN, or BSN.

2: Pass the NCLEX Exam and Get Licensed

After completing your schooling, you will need to take and pass The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).  After you pass the exam, you can apply for your nursing license.  Start applying for licenses in states you know what you want to travel to in the future.  If you live in a state that is part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) that is great! However, keep in mind that getting licensed in a state that is compact does not make your license compact. You must be a resident of that state to get compact status. Learn more about how the eNLC works.

3: Choose Your Acute Specialty

Travel Nursing contracts for RNs are going to be mainly for an acute setting (hospital) so you’ll need to choose a specialty that is staffed in hospitals.  Think about your top reasons for wanting to do Travel Nursing. Do you want to be able to travel just about anywhere?  Then MedSurg may be a good specialty, as there are MedSurg needs just about everywhere. Or perhaps you’re keen to make the most money possible through travel. If this is the case, choose a specialty like Operating Room, ICU or Emergency Room.  The general rule of thumb is the higher the acuity, the higher the pay. The most in-demand specialties for travelers include ICU, ER, MedSurg, MedSurg/Tele, Telemetry, OR, L&D, PACU, CVICU, Cath Lab, PEDS, PICU, NICU, PCU, and CVOR.

4.) Obtain the Required Experience

Most travel nursing agencies (including Advanced) require 2 or more years in an acute (hospital) setting. Advanced requires 2 years in a hospital setting and at least 1 year in the specialty you are going to be submitted to travel jobs for.  Also, many facilities and agencies want your latest experience to be in the same specialty as the jobs you are applying for.  For example, if you worked in the ER 2 years ago, but have spent the last year in the OR, you’ll most likely only be submitted for OR jobs. Finally, your most recent year of nursing experience will need to be in the United States.

5.) Make Sure Your Certifications & References are Current

Just as with any nursing job, you’ll, of course, need a current Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification for those specialties that require ACLS. Your recruiter will be able to tell you exactly what certifications are needed for a specific assignment.

You’ll also need at least 2 references from previous supervisors and to be in good standing with the Nursing Board.

6.) Understand Travel Nursing Lingo

There are some nursing terms that can be specific to travel, so you’ll want to at least be familiar with these.  We’ve defined some of these terms below:

  • Per Diem or Meals and Incidentals: Commonly referred to as the “M&IE,” this is your weekly rate for being a traveler and is tax-free (if you are truly traveling.) This is paid for every day of the contract and is generally paid out on a weekly basis.
  • Housing Stipend or Allowance: If you choose to find your own housing, this is to cover your housing expenses while working away from home.  Confirm with your travel agency when this will be paid out to you (weekly, bi-weekly, etc.)
  • Travel Expense Reimbursement: This amount is typically paid in the first paycheck and is to help cover your costs of getting to your new assignment.
  • Day 1 Benefits: This means that your health insurance benefits start on the first day of your contract. Some agencies have a waiting period before benefits kick in (Advanced offers Day 1 benefits,) so you’ll want to double check with any agency you work with to make sure you don’t need supplemental coverage.
  • EMR Conversion: When a hospital switches their medical records from one type of electronic storage software to another. They will hire nurses that are familiar with the software to help train and be on-hand for questions.
  • Guaranteed Hours: This is the number of hours that are guaranteed each week per the facility. Guaranteed hours can vary from facility to facility. Some clients guarantee all of their hours, which means the facility cannot call off a traveler or send them home early from a shift. Other facilities have “call off” terms which allows the facility to call travelers off up to a certain number of hours during a contract period. It’s important to know what the call off terms is for each hospital, so talk to your recruiter about this.

7: Be Flexible!

The most successful travelers are those that are flexible with going to multiple locations, working night shift, floating to other units where needed, have limited time off requests, and do not have any scheduling restrictions such as block scheduling. Managers tend to call the most flexible candidates first during the interviewing process! Check out our interview tips here.

Ready to start your travel nursing adventures?

Apply Now!

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