How to Become a Travel Nurse
Learn how to become a travel nurse, including some top tips for success, as well as education and licensing requirements.
What Is a Travel Nurse?
Travel nurses are registered nurses (RN) who work in a non-permanent or temporary nursing role by filling gaps in staffing. Travel nurses typically work for staffing agencies that contract with individual healthcare facilities and companies. Travel nurses can work in any typical nursing setting, from inpatient to outpatient setting; however, bedside inpatient nursing is the most common.
How Long to Become
ADN or BSN
How to Become a Travel Nurse
You'll need an active RN license and 1-2 years of bedside nursing experience to be a travel nurse. The specific steps for how to become a travel nurse are as follows:
Step 1: Graduate From an Accredited Nursing Program
Before you can become a travel nurse, you will need to attend an accredited Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) nursing program to begin the process of becoming a registered nurse.
Step 2: Pass the NCLEX and Register for State Licensure
Take and pass the NCLEX and register for a nursing license in either your home state or the state where you will be working your first nursing job.
Step 3: Gain Relevant Bedside Nursing Experience
Most travel agencies require a minimum of one to two years of relevant bedside experience before you can begin traveling.
Tip: Travel nurses get VERY little orientation for each contract, so having a solid foundation and skill set is imperative to your success.
Step 4: Obtain Advanced Specialty Certifications
While not a requirement, additional nursing certifications will make you more marketable to not only nursing staffing agencies but also healthcare systems.
TIP: Think about CCRN and CWOR-type specialty nursing certifications. Basic certifications such as BLS, ALCS, and PALS are often job requirements and will not make you stand out or seem more desirable to employers.
Step 5: Communicate With Nurse Staffing Agencies
This can often be tricky, especially with new travel nurses, and may take some trial and error. Think about where you want to travel, what kind of unit and shift you are interested in, and your minimum pay requirements.
Reach out to several agencies and recruiters to determine the one that best meets your needs. Remember, it’s okay to work with multiple staffing agencies.
TIP: Some agencies will hold exclusive contracts with specific healthcare organizations, so you might have to work with that agency/recruiter on a specific contract.
Step 6: Sign Your Travel Nurse Contract!
Travel nurse contracts are lengthy and can be wordy. Things can be missed or misinterpreted. If you have ANY questions, ask for clarification and MAKE SURE IT’S IN THE CONTRACT. For example, if your recruiter tells you to work out a vacation request with the nurse manager/scheduler and it is not in your formal contract with the hospital, it does not have to be honored.
TIP: Before signing your contract, have a friend, family member, or a trusted coworker look over it to double-check for anything you might have missed. Every detail matters, and the contract is what you, the staffing agency, and the healthcare facility will go by.
What Are the Requirements to Work as a Travel Nurse?
The education required to become a travel nurse is similar to that of a staff nurse, meaning you’ll need either an ADN or BSN degree, and you'll need to pass the NCLEX.
Some travel nursing positions may require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. These positions are less common but do exist.
An often confusing aspect of travel nursing, licensure can be frustrating but also very expensive. The implementation of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) has made the process easier and more cost-efficient.
If your permanent residency state is part of the eNLC, then you will not need to apply for additional state licenses. Unfortunately, if you hold a single-state license and your permanent residency state is not a part of the eNLC, then you will need to apply for individual state licensures. This can delay the start of a contract and also be very costly. Some staffing agencies will reimburse you for your nursing licenses.
How Many Years Does It Take to Travel as a Nurse?
Including schooling, it can take 4 to 6 years to become a bedside nurse. After one to two years of bedside experience, you can begin exploring travel nurse positions. So, in total, you’re looking at 6-8 years to become a travel nurse.
How Do I Start Travel Nursing?
To consider starting a position as a travel nurse, you must have a minimum of one to two years of full-time bedside experience. After obtaining the necessary experience, speak to several nursing staffing agencies and determine where you would like to be a travel nurse and what positions are a good fit.
Is Travel Nursing Hard?
Like any nursing speciality, travel nursing has its challenges. One of the hardest aspects of travel nursing is the lack of orientation and the need to be able to adapt quickly and jump right into a position. Most positions offer only a few shifts, if that, of orientation which for some might be very difficult.
Is Travel Nursing Still Worth It In 2024?
While travel nursing pay rates are not as high as they were during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel nurses still earn a significantly higher wage than staff nurses while also experiencing new locations and exciting adventures. Travel nursing can still be worth it for the right person in 2024.
What Degree Do Most Travel Nurses Have?
Most travel nurses hold a BSN degree.
Can You Go Back to a Staff Job After Travel Nursing?
Absolutely, but you might not want to! Travel nursing will give you a unique skill set, including teamwork skills and adaptability, that will make you more desirable to nurse managers.
Are There Prerequisites for Becoming a Travel Nurse?
To be considered for a travel nursing contract, you must have a minimum of one or two years of relevant experience. For example, you can not apply to be an OR travel nurse if you only have pediatric bedside experience.