How to Become a Travel Nurse

Overview

It’s true—there is a job that enables you to travel the country in a high-paying position while also helping people—that of the travel nurse. Travel nurses work as temporary fill-ins for people on sick or maternity leave, or help out during local emergencies or nursing staff shortages. A nurse must be an RN to become a travel nurse and the job duties correspond with the area of a nurse’s specialty—essentially the same duties the nurse would have within a healthcare establishment closer to home.

Working outside of the country is also an option, although in general nurses tend to make significantly more money within the United States. Whether at home or abroad, travel nursing has excellent benefits, including the chance to gain useful and unique professional experience while seeing new places, and meeting new people.

Work Environment

The duties and responsibilities of a travel nurse depend upon the nurse’s specialty. A travel nurse who is a surgery specialist will assist in surgery while a travel nurse specializing in cardiac care will work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or on the cardiac care floor. Travel assignments range from 8 to 52 weeks, although 13 weeks is a common period of time for assignments. Housing for a travel nurse is generally part of the hiring package and is often handled through a separate agency such as a travel nursing company. NurseTraveler is a good resource for those interested in learning more about international opportunities available.

Requirements

Education

A travel nurse must have an RN degree. There are three pathways to becoming a registered nurse: A hospital-based nursing school, which usually takes four years to complete; an associate’s degree in nursing, which generally takes two years (followed by another 1-2 years of schooling for a bachelor’s degree); or a bachelor’s degree (four years) in nursing (BSN). The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) considers a bachelor’s degree to be the minimum requirement for any career in nursing.

After becoming an RN (and passing the N-CLEX exam), an individual can choose to specialize in an area of interest such as acute care, surgery, pediatrics or cardiac care by getting a master’s degree in nursing (MSN).

Training

Most facilities require applicants to have at least one year of on-the-job training (post-degree) to be considered for a position as a travel nurse.

Licensing and/or Certification

The N-CLEX certification exam, also known as the nursing boards, must be passed in order to receive licensure. A multistate licensure agreement known as the Nurse Licensure Compact allows licensed RNs interested in becoming travel nurses to work in other states that have agreed to the compact, as long as their licenses and continuing education credits are up to date. Specific state requirements vary so check the Nurse Licensure Compact regarding the state you'd like to work in.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

A travel nurse needs to be flexible and able to work in a variety of locations and settings. Excellent communication skills are a must, as travel nurses need to understand both the medical and social needs of patients. As with all nurses, travel nurses should be detail oriented and skilled in analysis. If they travel internationally, knowledge in the local language would be useful as well.

Opportunities for Advancement

Travel nurses who choose to continue their education can become nurse practitioners or nurse educators. If they want more variety, they can gain certification in another specialty. In all cases, the unique résumé of the travel nurse opens new opportunities in clinical, educational or management careers.

If you would like to gain the necessary education to become a travel nurse, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.

Salary

Salaries for travel nurses are higher than for other RNs. Benefits often include housing, medical and/or dental coverage, meal subsidies, bonuses and other perks. They are often guaranteed a minimum number of hours for every assignment. In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median salary for RNs was $66,220. The top 10% earned a median salary of $96,320. Because travel nurses are often hired for critical needs, a travel nurse often earns significantly more than the median.

Job Outlook

There is a shortage of all RNs. Advances in technology that allow people to live longer along with the increasing age of the baby boomer generation have increased the need for nurses. Because of this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job growth outlook for registered nurses will be around 19% between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than average. Travel nurses can expect a comparable rate of growth.

Related Careers

Also, check out our Health Careers page for more career guides.

Further Reading

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