In This Guide:
- What Is a Travel Nurse?
- What Is Involved in Travel Nursing?
- A Look at a Typical Travel Nurse Job Description
- Steps for Becoming a Travel Nurse
- Common Questions About Traveling Nurse Requirements and Work Arrangements
What Is a Travel Nurse?
A travel nurse is someone who takes temporary nursing assignments at healthcare facilities in various locations, traveling wherever there is a need. Many nurses are attracted to this kind of work because they enjoy meeting new people and exploring new places. Travel nursing also typically offers greater flexibility than other nursing roles.
If you are thinking of going into nursing and you love to travel, here's how to decide whether becoming a travel nurse is right for you. You’ll also learn about some common traveling nurse requirements and how to choose the right travel nurse agency for your needs.
What Is Involved in Travel Nursing?
A travel nurse can choose from available assignments based on their interests and qualifications. Assignments vary in length. The average is 13 weeks, although an assignment may be as short as eight weeks or as long as 26 weeks. There may be an opportunity to renew the contract toward the end of the term if the nurse wishes to stay on longer.
Travel nurses work virtually anywhere they wish where there is a need for temporary nursing staff. This can range from major cities like Los Angeles and New York City to remote rural areas like Ninilchik, Alaska. Since these nursing professionals are in one area for weeks at a time, they have a chance to explore the region more thoroughly than a typical vacation would allow.
A Look at a Typical Travel Nurse Job Description
The typical traveling nurse requirements are much the same as those for any other registered nurse (RN). However, since travel nurses accept short-term assignments and frequently find themselves starting new jobs at new hospitals, they must also be able to adapt quickly to new environments and situations. It’s a great learning environment for RNs, as travel nurses have the ability to learn from a wide range of people and situations.
Travel nurse assignments will depend on their area of nursing specialty.
Steps for Becoming a Travel Nurse
Earn Your BSN Degree
After high school, the first step toward fulfilling the traveling nurse requirements is to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. A BSN degree is a full-time program that combines classroom instruction, skill labs, immersive simulation and clinical rotations designed to instill nursing knowledge, clinical reasoning, critical thinking and hands-on patient care. Be prepared to study for long hours to excel in your nursing program, and consider forming a study group with your fellow students.
Although it’s quite common for high school graduates to go on to a BSN degree, other individuals may take a different path toward becoming a nurse. Some students decide to earn an associate degree in nursing; however, it’s possible to obtain a nursing license and begin working as a nurse with an associate degree.
However, many of these individuals later discover that advancement opportunities may require a minimum of a BSN degree. If this describes you, then the next logical step is to enroll in an RN to BSN degree program. You’ll earn a BSN, but because you already have existing nursing knowledge and skills, you won’t have to study for four years to earn the degree.
Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam
After graduating from your pre-licensure program, your next step is to study for and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX-RN exam is quite lengthy and rigorous, and you should expect to spend plenty of time preparing for it.
Obtain Nursing Licensure
Once you successfully pass the NCLEX-RN exam, you’ll be qualified to apply for state nursing licensure. Double-check the requirements for your state before you apply.
You should also check whether your state is a member of the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC). The NLC is an agreement among the majority of U.S. states to recognize nursing licensure from other states. In other words, if you are licensed in Arizona and want to become a travel nurse, you should apply for a multi-state license that will be recognized in other NLC member states.
If your state isn’t currently an NLC member, you’ll eventually need to apply for licensure in other states in order to work as a travel nurse. Your travel nurse agency can offer guidance on this process.
Gain at Least a Year of Nursing Experience as an RN
All travel nurse agencies have their own traveling nurse requirements. However, it’s common for them to require aspiring travel nurses to have at least a year of RN work experience. Obtain employment at a local hospital or clinic, and work on refining your nursing knowledge and clinical skills.
Apply to a Travel Nurse Agency
There are many travel nurse agencies out there, and it can be difficult to know which one to choose. It’s important to do your due diligence and research them thoroughly. If you’ve worked with a travel nurse at your current position, take the initiative to question them about their experiences with their agency and whether they would recommend that agency.
As you research different agencies, consider the following:
- Does the company offer a variety of travel nursing jobs that appeal to you?
- Does the agency seem to have a large volume of jobs available to choose from?
- Does the agency hold exclusive contracts? (Some agencies have exclusive contracts with highly prestigious medical centers, allowing RNs to choose from these premium assignments).
- How long has the agency been in operation? Does the recruitment staff have a high turnover?
- Are the recruiters knowledgeable, transparent and easy to work with?
- Are bonuses and on-the-job support available?
- What benefits and perks are available (e.g. free housing, free continuing education credits)?
When you find the right travel agency for your needs, schedule an appointment with one of their recruiters to discuss the next steps.
Common Questions About Traveling Nurse Requirements and Work Arrangements
How Would I Find Nursing Assignments?
Travel nursing professionals work through travel nursing agencies. There are several hundred such agencies in the United States. Many of them hold Joint Commission certification. If you wish to work for a Magnet hospital or a major academic teaching hospital, it is best to choose a certified agency.
Once you are signed on with an agency, the agency staff works with you to help you find an assignment that fits your qualifications and preferences. Expect an application process for each assignment, including a remote interview. As you prepare for your interview, bear in mind that you are interviewing the healthcare facility staff just as much as they are interviewing you.
In other words, you should ask specific questions designed to help you determine whether the assignment would be a good fit for you. You may wish to ask about the ratio of patients to staff, for example, or whether there will be mandatory overtime.
Will I Have to Find Housing?
It is customary for travel nursing agencies to offer housing options close to healthcare facilities. These are typically one-bedroom apartments that you may choose to rent. If you opt to find your own housing, you can expect to receive a housing stipend. If you rent a place that costs less than the housing stipend, you can bank the difference.
Who Is Qualified to Be a Travel Nurse?
Any qualified registered nurse can become a travel nurse. There is no specific travel nursing degree you are required to earn. Rather, you should be a licensed registered nurse, ideally with at least a BSN degree. A nursing degree is required when you apply for a position as a travel nurse.
There is a demand for registered nurses with all types of specializations, including NICU, ER and orthopedic nurses. Note that travel nursing agencies typically require their nurses to hold basic certifications, such as the Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and the Basic Life Support (BLS) certification.
It is easier than ever to become a travel nurse, thanks to the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) initiative. The NLC is comprised of states that have passed legislation recognizing the licenses of nurses who obtained their original licensure in other member states. For example, if you are licensed in Arizona — an NLC state — you can also practice in any other NLC member state with a multi-state license. If you wish to take an assignment from a non-NLC state, you will need to obtain appropriate state licensure first.
What Are Common Reasons for Becoming a Travel Nurse?
Being a travel nurse offers unique advantages. Arguably, the top perk of travel nursing is the opportunity to explore new places. Although you can take a vacation anywhere you wish, most vacations typically last for only a week or less.
Since a travel nursing assignment is much longer, you have time to see more sights and engage in more activities when you are not working. Furthermore, travel nurses may enjoy the immersion in a different regional culture.
Beyond the opportunity to travel, this job path offers perks for one’s career. Travel nurses are in a position to learn from many different colleagues. They can work with varied patient populations and explore the differences in procedures from one hospital to the next.
Lastly, this career offers a high level of flexibility. A travel nurse does not have to accept a contract that does not appeal to them. Nursing professionals can choose the hospitals in which they prefer to work. Furthermore, they can take as much time off between contracts as they wish.
Your path to a rewarding career begins at Grand Canyon University, where you can choose from a wide range of nursing degree programs. Apply to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure) program if you’re new to nursing, or enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) program if you’re actively working as a nurse. Complete the form on this page to learn more about our dynamic learning community.
Approved with changes by the assistant dean of the College of Nursing and Healthcare Professions on April 24, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.