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How to become a travel nurse

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Hospitals and other health care organizations depend on fully staffed nursing teams to provide consistent standards of patient care. Sometimes, getting a full complement of nurses in the building can be a challenge, whether due to general staffing shortages or patient surges. Travel nurses play an essential role in filling gaps in hospital schedules. As a travel nurse, you’ll travel to different organizations and serve as part of a contingent nursing staff.


This means working in new facilities with different colleagues on a regular basis. If this sounds like a nursing role that may interest you, take some time to learn more about how to become a travel nurse.

What is the travel nurse job description?

In many ways, the role of the travel nurse is comparable to that of a regular staff nurse. The big difference is that travel nurses take temporary assignments at different hospitals or health care facilities. While the length of the assignment can vary, the normal tenure is about 13 weeks, after which the travel nurse typically receives a new assignment. Travel nurses may be assigned to hospitals as well as schools, residential care facilities, ambulatory health services, and community health clinics.


The day-to-day duties of a travel nurse can include the following:


  • Administering wound care and first aid
  • Assisting doctors with patient assessment and treatment
  • Conducting diagnostic tests that physicians order
  • Taking vital signs
  • Educating patients about treatment
  • Providing emotional support for patients and their families
  • Counseling patients on steps for a healthy lifestyle

Travel Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes a median annual income of $75,330 for all registered nurses (RNs), including travel nurses. It also projects job growth of 9% for RNs between 2020 and 2030, roughly on par with the projected average for all professions.

What are the steps to becoming a travel nurse?

Several steps are required for becoming a travel nurse. They include earning an education in nursing, work experience, and licensure.


To become a travel nurse, you’ll need to complete the educational requirements necessary to become an RN. This normally means earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN); however, students may also earn an associate-level degree in nursing. The former generally takes around four years to complete, while the latter takes two.


Nurses may also choose to pursue an advanced nursing degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a doctorate in nursing. However, these aren’t normally required for travel nursing positions.


Once you complete your degree program, you can pursue licensure in your state. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which will test your basic clinical acumen and skill in assessing and treating patients. You’ll need to pass this exam to obtain RN status. Licensure requirements may vary by state, so it’s a good idea to contact your local board to find out any necessary information.


Before you can begin working as a travel nurse, you must get some basic experience providing patient care, typically in a hospital setting. Most travel nursing agencies will require that you have at least one year of experience in the specialty of your choosing, for example, pediatric care. Some hospitals may require two or more years of experience for their travel nurses.

What makes a good travel nurse?

Successful travel nurses typically possess several qualities. These can include the following:


  • Technical skills. To become an effective travel nurse, you’ll need to feel highly confident in your own clinical ability, including your skills in administering wound care, taking vital signs, and performing diagnostic tests.
  • Adaptability. As a travel nurse, you’ll constantly need to reorient yourself to new workplace policies, cultures, and procedures. The ability to adapt is crucial.
  • A sense of adventure. Generally, the best travel nurses are people who love to travel and explore new cities.
  • Communication skills. Success as a travel nurse also requires that you be comfortable regularly interacting with new people.

Why become a travel nurse?

You may wish to become a travel nurse for plenty of reasons. For example, you may simply find the prospect of traveling and of having new assignments every few months exhilarating. If so, a career in travel nursing may be a good fit for you.


Some additional benefits to travel nursing include the following:


  • Flexibility. Many travel nurses love the level of flexibility they have to choose assignments. For example, following a 13-week tenure with a specific facility, you may have the option of continuing your assignment or switching to something new.
  • Higher pay. Travel nurses typically earn higher salaries than nurses who occupy more traditional roles. The average base salary for a travel nurse in the US is about $113,000 as of 2021, with overtime pay averaging about $14,000, according to Indeed.
  • Professional development opportunities. Travel nursing also provides you with the opportunity to work in different fields and departments across the country. This can really help you develop your skills and fill out your resume.

Explore your options in travel nursing

Are you ready to learn more about how to become a travel nurse or compare different professions within the nursing field? A good place to start is with an advanced education. Our recommendation engine outlines some of the different educational trajectories and pathways to consider. Explore the opportunities in travel nursing today.


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