How to Become a Travel Nurse

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Travel nurses are registered nurses who normally handle short term or temporary nursing assignments. They play a vital role in healthcare since they help to bridge the gap whenever there is a shortage of nurses in a certain healthcare facility. Unlike ordinary registered nurses who work for a single facility, travel nurses usually work with independent nursing staffing agencies. Most of their contracts run for 8 to 13 weeks. However, the duration can be longer or shorter, depending on various factors. Travel nursing provides an opportunity to travel the world, explore different places, meet new people, and work in a wide range of environments. If you feel like travel nursing is the right career path for you, here are the steps that you need to follow, to become one.

Complete the Necessary Education

To become a travel nurse, you first need to be a registered nurse. Several educational paths are available, which you can pursue to become a registered nurse. Most nurses opt to undertake a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Associate of Science degree in Nursing (ASN or AND). The Associate of Science in Nursing degree course takes approximately 2 to 3 years. It’s usually offered by nursing schools as well as community colleges. Once you earn this degree, you can then take the NCLEX-RN examination. It’s usually the least expensive and fastest route of becoming a registered nurse. However, you should note that most healthcare facilities don’t hire ADN or ASN nurses for permanent registered nursing jobs. Therefore, if you want to be on the safe side, it’s highly advisable to undertake the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree or BSN, which takes a minimum of 4 years to complete. It’s offered by universities and colleges. The BSN degree is more advanced compared to ASN.

Pass Licensure Examination

Once you graduate with your bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing, you will then have to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam so that you can become a registered nurse. This exam is designed to assess your knowledge in various nursing areas. Its purpose is to ensure that all registered nurses in the U.S have the same basic nursing fundamentals and skills, regardless of the degree they undertook or the path they followed to complete their nursing degree. To qualify for this exam, you will first have to apply for a nursing license in your state. Once you submit your application, you will receive a bulletin announcing your candidacy to undertake the exam. After that, you can then register to take the exam. Some of the topics covered in the licensure examination include disease treatment and prevention. To prepare for this course, you should study various topics that fall under the nursing realm like management of care, infection control, and pharmacology as well as disease prevention.

Gain Work Experience

After completing the necessary education and passing the NCLEX-RN exam, you are now a registered nurse. But before you can become a travel nurse, you need to gain some work experience. Therefore, you have to work for at least 12 months in a healthcare facility. Depending on your area of specialization, you can work as a surgical, pediatric, neonatal, trauma or critical care nurse. Your clinical background and area of specialization will determine the openings that will come your way as a travel nurse. The work experience also gives you an opportunity to enhance your area of specialization, thus making you more marketable.

Acquire a Compact Nursing License

As noted earlier, you have to be licensed in your state for you to be a registered nurse. However, if you want to pursue a career as a travel nurse, you will be working in different locations and jurisdictions. The good news is that you don’t have to apply for a license whenever you get an opportunity to work in a different state. You can use a single nursing license, popularly known as the Nursing Licensure Compact or NLC, which can allow you to work in different states. Currently, 24 states in the U.S are participating in this program. This means that if you have acquired the Nursing Licensure Compact license, you can work in 24 member states around the U.S, without applying for a different license for each assignment.

Identify a Travel Nursing Agency

After acquiring the necessary certifications and licenses and working as a registered nurse for at least 1 or 2 years, you now qualify to pursue a registered nursing career. First, you need to identify a travel nurse staffing agency that can connect you with open positions. There are numerous agencies across the country that you can work with. Different travel agencies offer different perks and benefits. Therefore, ensure you choose one that aligns with your goals, job specifications, and choice destinations. And most importantly, ensure you check their rating and reviews. If possible, you should stay away from agencies that have negative reviews or poor ratings, since it’s usually a sign that their services are poor.

Pros of Travel Nursing

  • Higher pay and amazing benefits: According to, travel nurses earn an average income of $103, 893 annually. On the other hand, an average licensed nurse earns an average of $43,170. As you can see, the income for the travel nurse is almost double what a regular nurse earns. Besides the higher income, working as a travel nurse also comes with additional benefits such as tax-free stipends, tax breaks, discounts and deals, retirement and healthcare benefits, as well as generous reimbursements, among others. When you consider the competitive salary package and the numerous perks and benefits, you will notice that travel nursing is an incredibly lucrative career.
  • Plenty of adventure: One of the main benefits of working as a travel nurse is that you can work almost anywhere, which means you have the freedom to choose and pick your next destination. Whether you want to work in a small town like New England or you prefer a vibrant city like Chicago or New York, the choice is all yours. Also, you can change your work any season, depending on the prevailing weather conditions. In short, you can choose your assignments based on interests, hobbies, and weather.
  • Flexibility and freedom: Another reason why some nurses opt for travel nursing is the flexibility and freedom that it offers. If you desire increased flexibility and a higher level of control over your nursing career, then travel nursing is a perfect match for you. You can choose work assignments based on your goals and needs, as opposed to those of an employer. Furthermore, when you are working as a travel nurse, you can take as many days as you want between assignments. Therefore, you will have an opportunity to spend time with your loved ones, take a long vacation, attend school or even pursue a hobby. On the other hand, a staff position wouldn’t give you such benefits. Your vacation time is usually determined by your employer if you are working as a regular registered nurse.
  • Avoid work politics: Nursing can be a stressful and draining career, especially if you are working in a toxic environment. When you are working with the same people day in day out, there is a high chance that you will be constantly embroiled in office drama and politics, whether you want to be involved or not. But if you are working as a travel nurse, such issues are minimal. Furthermore, you will only be working in the same facility for 13 weeks or less. Therefore, in case you encounter a toxic work environment, you will not be there for long.

Cons of Travel Nursing

  • Work instability: An obvious disadvantage of working as a travel nurse is that this position is always temporary. Most contracts run for approximately 8 to 13 weeks, which means you are constantly moving from one location to the other. Furthermore, whenever a health facility is downsizing, they normally start with travel nurses before permanent nurses.
  • Lack of seniority: As a travel nurse, you will always be holding temporary positions, meaning you will not have an opportunity to gain seniority or move vertically in that organization. While travel nursing offers plenty of flexibility, it’s not suitable for people who are looking for long-term growth in one facility.
  • Leave family and friends: Just like the name indicates, working as a travel nurse means you are always traveling from one place to the other since your assignments are temporary. This means that you will be spending most of your time away from your loved ones. On the other hand, if you opt to work as a regular nurse, you can choose a facility that is within walking distance from your home, making it easy to check on your family and friends, whenever you are not busy.
  • Hard to build relationships: Building professional and personal relationships is one of the biggest challenges that you will face as a travel nurse, due to the constant movement. On the other hand, conventional registered nurses have an opportunity to make friends with their colleagues as well as other medical professionals over time, since they tend to work in one facility for a long period.

Just like other careers, travel nursing has its fair share of pros and cons. Therefore, it’s highly advisable to explore both sides of the coin, and then decide whether travel nursing is the right fit for you.

Closing Remarks

Whether you are a seasoned registered nurse looking for a new challenge or you are just starting your career as a registered nurse, working as a travel nurse will give you an opportunity to travel the country and provide healthcare services in different locations and facilities. Travel nursing will broaden your horizon while giving you exposure to different nursing practices.

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About the author


Hi, I’m Brian Bradshaw. I’m a super duper mega hiking enthusiast, with a love for everything that has to do with outdoors, hiking, gear, footwear and more.

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