How to Become a Travel Nurse in 5 Simple Steps

Intriguing destinations. Great pay. Resume-building experience. The life of a travel nurse is appealing to many people, both in and out of the nursing profession. If you’re considering breaking into the field of nursing to become a travel nurse, there are some details you should know to ensure you have a successful travel nursing career.

Travel nurses help hospitals fill critical staffing needs due to full-time employees being on leave, census surges due to cold and flu season, high turnover rates, and changes such as moving to new spaces and instituting new electronic medical records. As a travel nurse, you will work (on average) 13-week assignments in each hospital. If the working relationship is deemed mutually beneficial, you may be offered the opportunity to extend your contract past the 13 weeks.

If you’re ready to move to the next location, that’s okay, too! Pack your bags and off you go to an exciting new city. Becoming a travel nurse is not a difficult process, but there are some things you must do to reap the benefits of a travel nursing career. Read on to learn how to become a travel nurse in 5 steps!


Step 1: Graduate from nursing school

The first step to becoming a travel nurse is to become a nurse. Although some hospitals will hire nurses with their associate’s degree and RN license, more and more hospitals are requiring a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) for entry-level staff nurse positions.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing, there are a myriad of accelerated programs to help you reach your dream of becoming a traveling nurse. Usually, about 15 months long, these programs are intense and full time. Otherwise, a four-year college will be your best bet to earn your BSN. While you’re in nursing school you’ll have classes and clinical experiences that will prepare you to work in a variety of settings after graduation.

Be sure to keep in contact with any preceptors and nurse managers you work with while in nursing school – they will be an integral part of your job search after school. In the world of nursing, who you know is every bit as important as what you know. However, a huge hurdle stands between your nursing school graduation and your dream nursing job.


Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

The NCLEX-RN, or National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses, must be passed before you can work as an RN. Preparation for this momentous exam must begin prior to graduating from nursing school. Everything you learn in nursing school is fair game for the NCLEX-RN.

There are a variety of prep courses, books, and apps available that are designed to get you in the right mindset to pass the NCLEX-RN. This exam is unlike any you’ve ever taken – it adapts to your progress. If you answer a question correctly, you’ll receive a more difficult question next. Incorrect answers will be followed by an easier question. Once the computer has determined it is 95% sure you are above or below the passing standard, the exam shuts off. The minimum number of questions you might see is 75; the maximum is 265.

Unfortunately, you won’t be told your results until 48 hours after your exam, when the unofficial results are released online. Official results are mailed to you roughly 6 weeks after the exam. Once you receive your official results, congratulations! You’re officially an RN.


Step 3: Gain Experience for a year

When looking for a travel nurse, most hospitals require at least one year of experience. This experience is vital to your success as a travel nurse as you won’t receive much of an orientation when you start an assignment. Once you’ve worked for a year, you will be able to start the process of becoming a travel nurse. Maintaining good relationships with your clinical instructors, nurse preceptors, nurse educators, and nurse managers is crucial to finding a job after nursing school.

Working as a patient care technician or nurse’s aide before or during nursing school will not only give you valuable experience for your career, it will also get your foot in the door with prospective hiring managers. Treat each day like a job interview because first impressions are important. As a new nurse, you should be prepared to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

It won’t last forever: seniority has its perks. It is important to note that you should have one year of experience in the field of nursing in which you intend to work while traveling. For this reason, you might have to work a year in the job you have, move to your dream job for a year, and then travel. Each shift worked provides valuable experience that will make you an awesome travel nurse, so an extra year will only improve your chances for success as a travel nurse.


Step 4: Pick a travel nursing agency

Once you have worked for a year in your chosen specialty, you can start thinking about breaking into the travel nursing world. The first step in this process is to decide on a staffing company and recruiter. Your recruiter will be your go-to person for getting interviews with hiring managers, working out contract details, and ensuring your assignments go well.

Do your research online and in social media. There are a ton of Facebook groups for and by travel nurses to share tips and information about the travel nurse life. Healthcare Pros recruiters work tirelessly to ensure your contract is perfect and you are satisfied with your accommodations, facility, and reimbursement.

Before you begin the process, make a list of all your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and the things that don’t matter to you that much. This includes where you want to work (and where you don’t!), accommodations, and compensation. Share that list with your recruiter to ensure he or she is on the same page and prepared to advocate for you with potential managers.

You will also fill out a Travel Nursing Submission Profile that will be provided to hiring managers to help them decide to interview you. In this document, you will input information about your nursing experience – a skills checklist, professional references, resume, and job application. This must be completed and submitted quickly as travel nursing jobs are in high demand and fill fast!

Step 5: Pack your bags

You’ve selected a travel nursing agency, interviewed with the manager at your dream job in your most-desired destination, and been hired for a 13-week assignment. What’s the next step? Before you can pack your bags, you must make sure you are legally able to work this assignment. If you are licensed in one of the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact states and the travel nursing position is in another eNLC state, no further action is necessary.

However, if either your original license or the destination is not in the eNLC, you will need to obtain a License by Endorsement in the state ihealn which you will be working. If your current license is in good standing, that process only requires a fee and time which your travel nurse recruiter will help you with this process. Any additional certifications such as BLS, ACLS, PALS, and NRP will need to be provided to the hiring manager, as well.

For travel nurses who decide to stay in agency-provided housing, pack your bags and hit the road! If you have decided to take a housing stipend and find your own apartment, AirBnB, Craiglist, Facebook, Zillow, and are excellent resources to find short-term housing. Furniture can be rented, or you can find cheap furniture through Craigslist and Facebook to fill your space during your short assignment. Pinterest, Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Facebook can help you discover the best attractions, restaurants, and activities in your temporary home to fill your off-days. Using your resources will make your travel nurse assignment a success!

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