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How to Become A Travel Nurse

April 7, 2021 | Staff Writers

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If you have been considering a career in nursing, you may have thought of becoming a travel nurse. This career line guarantees you a lot of benefits, including bigger salaries, breadth of experience as you work with different healthcare professionals in various facilities, the freedom to choose where to work, and the thrill of traveling! 

But where do you start? What do you need to know before you can become a traveling nurse? Perhaps you have even been wondering what a career in travel nursing looks like in terms of average salary, job opportunities, and lifestyle. In this article, we will explore these and other aspects of travel nursing to end your search.

Whether you are starting from the bottom up with zero education in nursing, or already have the required education with the proper national accreditation,  experience, and licensure, this article will guide you on the road to becoming a travel nurse. We will explore the various routes you can follow to join the ranks of one of the most fulfilling medical careers.

Let’s start with the basics.

What Does A Travel Nurse Do?

You must be wondering what a travel nurse is and what one does as a traveling nurse. Let’s take a quick look. 

What is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse has the same scope of work as a registered nurse, only they deliver care on the move between different healthcare facilities in varied locations. They fill critical roles to prevent gaps in essential medical services. A travel nurse keeps shifting from one facility to another depending on the demand for their services. Such facilities may include hospitals, aircraft, cruise ships, rehabilitation centers, research agencies, schools, correctional facilities like prisons, and homes for the elderly. 

The scope of work for nurses includes:

  • Care management
  • Promotion and maintenance of health
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Safety and infection control
  • Pharmacological and parenteral
  • Management of health risks
  • Physiological adaptation
  • Fundamental care and comfort

A travel nurse may be required to complete the tasks such as: 

  • Preparing patients for examination and treatment 
  • Educating patients and their families on how to best manage and treat medical conditions once they leave the healthcare facility
  • Establishing care plans for different patients
  • Performing diagnostic tests and analyzing the results
  • Recording patients’ medical histories and ensuing symptoms 
  • Administering treatments and medicines to patients based on the recommendations of the doctor
  • Using appropriate medical equipment
  • Working with other healthcare professionals like doctors and fellow nurses. 

How Being a Travel Nurse Works

Traveling nurses work on the move between different health facilities, geographic locations, or across various healthcare roles depending on their expertise. They can work in various settings such as hospitals, clinics, aircrafts, or even cruise ships. Their geographical reach is wider because they can work in multiple states. Once they acquire active registered nurse status and a travel nursing license, a travel nurse can work in any of the current 35 Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact states. 

Travel nursing salary range depends on the staffing agency and the nature of the new assignment. The travel nurse pay ranges between $44,727 and $106,985 annually, with the median travel nurse salary standing at $66,234. 

Each travel nursing assignment usually lasts 13 weeks, which is the standard duration. However, the travel nursing contract may change depending on the agency to only a few hours or six months to a year. 

Travel nurses have the freedom to choose what areas in the nursing career they want to work in such as ICU nurse, nurse practitioner, nurse educator, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, among others. 

Other than vision, medical, and dental health insurance, traveling nurses receive a monthly housing stipend to cater for their housing needs when they relocate to a new area for an assignment. 

Can Any Nurse Become a Travel Nurse?

As a registered nurse, you have the liberty to become a traveling nurse at any time of your choosing within the span of your nursing career. As long as you have an active RN license, you can change your career line to travel nursing by meeting the expected standards such as obtaining licensure to operate in multiple states. 

Types of Medical Facilities That Need Travel Nurses

There are so many medical facilities that require the services of travel nurses. Some of these are listed below:

  • Mainstream public and private hospitals
  • Pharmacies
  • Medical aircraft and ambulances
  • Remote hospitals
  • Rehabilitation centers or clinics
  • Long-term and senior healthcare facilities
  • Both large and small-scale clinics.

Non-medical Facilities That Need Travel Nurses

Other than the mainstream medical facilities, the services of travel nurses are usually required in several other healthcare facilities that may not be necessarily bent on the medical field. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Education institutions such as universities, colleges, and high schools
  • Correctional facilities such as prisons, approved schools, and juvenile centers
  • Not-for-profit organizations or centers such as foster homes
  • Research and policy outfits
  • Cruise ships
  • Residential places that offer in-home care
  • Private homes.

You can request your agency to strictly set you up for assignments in medical facilities. 

Prerequisites to Becoming a Travel Nurse

Like any other career, you will need to fulfill some obligations before you can step out into the world in the shoes of a travel nurse. The educational demands for becoming a nurse are costly and time-consuming. However, once you are in the medical field you get to work alongside some of the greatest minds in the country to assist patients in their healing and recovery processes. Let’s discuss some of the prerequisites to becoming a travel nurse!

  1. Educational Training in Nursing
    You need to have basic training in nursing to become a travel nurse. While you may join the nursing industry through some of the lower educational levels like a certificate or diploma in nursing, it is best to level up by doing at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). A two-year associate’s degree is also a good starting point. For the best chances to scale up the industry faster, consider a BSN. You may also raise your prospects by doing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

    To make the best of your time and money, it is best to consider joining schools or registered nurse programs that have national accreditation. This also increases your chances of landing a travel nurse job faster as well as enjoy the benefit of transferring more credits between nationally accredited institutions. 
  2. Licensing
    You’ll need to be licensed as a nurse to practice nursing in your state or beyond. You may consider having the basic Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) status, but the registered nurse (RN) status will raise your prospects. Since different states may have different nurse licensing procedures, it is best to check with your state first before applying for licensure in multiple states. Acquiring a travel nursing license in multiple states increases your chances of getting hired when you are out looking for the next travel nursing assignment.

    There are three general categories of nurses in the United States. You can start as a registered nurse and then do a master’s degree in nursing to acquire the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) status. You can further move up to become a nurse practitioner with a master’s degree, though the recently preferred level of education for modern-day nurse practitioners is a doctorate of nursing (DNP).
  3. Joining a Good Travel Nursing Agency
    A travel nurse agency will make it easier for you to find your next travel nursing contract. Other than providing tax-free housing stipends to make your relocation and settling down easier, as a staffing agency, they will ensure that you have a wide pool of potential employers so that you can even choose the specific health care facility you would love to work in. Different agencies operate at different average salary levels, so you have to ensure you go for the best one that brings in higher pay in the industry. 

Extra Certification or Training Required to Become a Travel Nurse

If you have already acquired the necessary basic education to become a registered nurse, you do not have to do any other specific certification to become a travel nurse. Securing your next travel nursing job will be a breeze once you have the basic training from an accredited college or university. However, to acquire the registered nurse license for in-state or multiple-state practice, you have to take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. 

Generally, once you have joined the workforce as a registered nurse, you have to keep your license active by taking the state-specific additional training requirements. Some states may require that you attain a certain number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs). The other major way to maintain your license in good standing is to further your education in nursing by completing at least a master’s degree. You can further pursue a doctorate in nursing if you enjoy scientific research in nursing. 

Other Soft Skills a Travel Nurse Needs

Since you will be working alongside other healthcare professionals like doctors and fellow nurses, you need to have strong interpersonal skills to ensure your working relationships are a breeze.

Strong communication skills are also a great advantage since you will be reporting to doctors your findings on various patient conditions.

As a nurse, you will need to creatively strike a balance between science and human compassion since nursing calls for preserving human dignity and helping patients with their recovery and emotional needs by using your nursing knowledge to care for their health.

Some patients and fellow workers can be difficult to relate with, not to mention the tiring demands of the travel nursing career. You will thus need all the patience and understanding you can master for a fulfilling career.

Things to Consider Before Becoming a Travel Nurse

There are several aspects to look into before you decide to take up a career in travel nursing. This section explores some of these aspects in depth to help make the decision-making process easier for you.

How To Know If You’ll Make a Good Travel Nurse

The travel nursing career is quite demanding and requires that you know well in advance what specific job requirements and nature you are signing up for. The following are some of the ways to know if you are best for a traveling nursing career. 

1. You Have the Necessary Training

You will be required to have the proper and nationally accepted level of training to become a travel nurse. The best is to start as a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and then scale up to a master’s and doctorate. The BSN is not a specific requirement since you could start lower at the certificate, diploma level, or associate’s degree, but most modern healthcare facilities are looking to enlist the services of nurses who have at least a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. 

You can join online RN programs to fast-track the process of becoming a registered nurse and acquiring the nursing license. 

2. Assessing Your Personality

This is one of the best ways to know if you are a good fit for any given career. Your personality determines how you deal with yourself, relate with other people, and embrace the change that comes your way. If you are an outgoing and people-loving person, you will do great in the nursing industry since it calls for a mix of science and compassion to be able to serve patients from diverse backgrounds. You should be able to show patients the love, understanding, and empathy they require in their recovery journey.

You should also be able to handle yourself properly as a person and as a nurse, failure to which you would disgrace both yourself and the nursing profession. You need to be able to handle stress, fatigue, long working hours, among other aspects in the right manner. How can you easily adapt to changes since you’ll be shifting in between assignments, facilities, locations, and different patients and coworkers?

Your people skills will determine how well you relate with patients, fellow nurses, and doctors to whom you report. Good communication and interpersonal skills will come in handy. 

What does the Career and Salary of a Travel Nurse Looks Like

As a traveling nurse, you will be constantly on the move between different locations and facilities. This calls for easy adaptability to changing environments in the location and workplace. You may also have to shift between different nursing practices depending on your expertise or the new levels of education you acquire. Travel nurses enjoy a life of regular traveling so if you are an outdoors person, this will come in handy as you explore different locations. 

Travel nurses earn an average hourly wage of $36.77, with the earning spreading between $20 and $52 an hour. Weekly, the salary for an RN in the traveling nurse sector ranges between $1300 and $2700, which can go up to $3,000 in some departments and areas. 

The annual travel nurse salary is between $44,727 and $106,985, with $66,234 as the median salary. The salary range depends on the state and travel nursing agency. New York is currently the highest paying state since it is one of the most expensive states to live in. Fastaff, Blueforce Healthcare Staffing, and AB Staffing are some of the best travel nursing agencies. 

Your specific recruiter also determines the nature of travel needed, the travel nursing assignment you find next, and the type of healthcare facilities you work in. The travel nursing company connects you with different employers and you may find work as a staff nurse, nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, or geriatric care nurse depending on the nature of the new assignment. 

To get hired easily and secure a favorable travel nurse contract, you will need to have the necessary travel nurse documents as they will endear you more to potential employers. Your next travel assignment should have a pay rate in line with your expertise, the nature of the location, the status of the facility, or the extent to which it is demanding on you as a registered nurse.  

What does the Daily Life of a Travel Nurse Looks Like

Other than the characteristic movements between different places and facilities, the life of a travel nurse is typically similar to that of any other nurse working a permanent job in a place like a hospital. The scope of work and the daily activities are mostly similar depending on the line of nursing of the department each nurse works in. Similar departments have similar daily activities. For example, oncology nurses in hospitals and oncology travel nurses do activities like administering medication to cancer patients as per the doctor’s recommendations. 

The one downside in travel nursing is that if you choose the wrong travel nursing company, you may end up being unemployed between assignments. At such times, you may be forced to take up unwanted activities such as compulsory leaves as you wait for the next assignment. 

Steps to Becoming a Travel Nurse

The major steps to becoming a travel nurse lie in the education sector, where you have to acquire the right education and training as a nurse. There are several nursing degrees that you can complete in the nursing field. Let’s see what educational requirements you have to fulfill to clinch the travel nurse status. 

Type of Education Needed to Become a Travel Nurse

You can take the following nursing education programs to become a travel nurse or rise the ranks as you further your education. 

1. Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN)

When you enroll in a nursing school, you can take this study level, also called the Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) degree as the basic entry-level in nursing. 

2. Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)

This was previously the standard educational requirement for nurses. You can start with this degree that now has so many options available with even online programs that have flexible study hours. The online programs allow you to study in your own time or from home depending on your work-study schedule. 

3. Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)

This is currently the more preferred option by employers as studies have shown that patients under the care of BSN nurses register better outcomes. Even if you start at the associate degree level, your healthcare facility will most likely require you to have done the BSN degree in about five years. 

4. Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)

This level allows a registered nurse to take up a nursing specialty or become a nurse practitioner in areas such as cardiology, neurology, or gerontology. An MSN program raises your chances of finding work even as a primary care physician where there is a severe shortage of nurse practitioners. 

5. Doctorate of Science in Nursing (DSN)

If you would like to raise your prospects even higher, you can complete a doctorate in nursing if you are more interested in the scientific and research aspects of nursing. This degree will enable you to work as a researcher with research and policy centers. 

It is important to note that with all these levels of nursing education, you have to take and pass the NCLEX exam as well as obtain a nursing license to be able to work. 

What to Look for in a Travel Nurse Program to See If it is a Good Fit

A good nursing program will enable you to gain the best knowledge to prepare you for the travel nurse career for years to come. Since this is a sensitive industry as you will be dealing with human life, you have to ensure you settle for the best nursing program for the best acquisition of knowledge. The following are some of the main aspects to look out for.

1. Accreditation

The program you join must be accredited by a credible regional or national body. Some schools can have both national and regional accreditation at the same time. There are several national accreditors such as:

  • Council on Occupational Education
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission

Some of the regional accreditors include:

  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

It is important to note that accreditation affects other factors such as finding jobs after studying, acquiring practice licenses, transferring credits, and receiving financial aid. As a nursing student, you want to quickly find a good job after completing the program, and employers offer priority to graduates from accredited programs. 

If you study through a program that has no accreditation, you won’t be eligible to obtain the nursing license in your state.

An accredited program makes it easy to transfer credits because other accredited institutions that you would like to join will accept credits from the other institution. 

If you need help settling fees, ensure you join an accredited school to be eligible for federal student aid.

2. Work-study Options

Since most people usually study as they work to cater for fee payments, you should consider a nursing program that allows you to work as you study. If you take the full-time study option, be sure to be able to raise the fees and other expenses without a struggle. A work-study program comes in handy when you are furthering your education and can’t manage to forego one at the expense of the other. 

In modern times, most programs have online study options such that you can study in your own time from anywhere as long as you have a stable Internet connection and necessary devices like laptops. Other programs allow for fast-tracking such that you complete your studies much faster thus saving money and time. If you are on a tight budget, work-study programs would be the best fit for you. 

If you choose to join an accelerated or fast-tracked program, ensure that your schedule is flexible enough since such a program is too condensed and requires spending most of your time in active learning. You should be ready to take on the speed at which the program happens throughout its duration. 

How Long to Study to Become a Travel Nurse

The study duration to become a travel nurse ranges from one to four years depending on the program you join. An LPN program will take one year. An associate’s degree takes two years while a BSN program takes four years. By this level, you have acquired the travel nurse status, but you could further your education with a two-year Master’s of Science in Nursing. 

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