What Is a Travel Nurse?
A travel nurse accepts limited-term work where there is a nursing shortage. Travel nurse candidates may need to relocate frequently to new cities with little notice to find suitable and continuous work. The average length of a travel nurse’s assignment is approximately 13 weeks, with some lasting as long as 26.
Nurses employed in this capacity can expect to use the fundamental skills learned through school and those acquired through experience and training in various environments. Duties may vary depending on the location, speciality, and population served.
Six Steps to Become a Travel Nurse
The American Nurses Association does not recognize travel nursing as a specialized practice — travel nurses perform the same duties as any of their peers. Therefore, becoming a travel nurse is similar to other nursing career paths and requires completing a nursing program and applying for licensing and certification. Positions are available for certified nursing assistants (CNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and registered nurses (RNs), though RNs are the most common type of travel nurse.
Six Steps to Becoming a Travel Nurse
Earn a CNA credential, or earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) from an institution accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Earn a master's degree in nursing (MSN) or similar graduate degree if interested in becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) or advanced practice nurse (APRN), and pass the state board exam.
Apply for multistate licensure through the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). This secondary license is recognized in 39 jurisdictions, allowing a travel nurse to move freely between member states without having to go through the inconvenience and expense of obtaining multiple licenses.
Start gaining experience and building a professional resume.
Connect with a recruiter or nursing staffing agency to start networking for travel nursing opportunities.
Education Requirements for Travel Nurses
Travel nursing education requirements are the same as those for comparable nursing occupations and depend on the specialty. Travel nurses must meet educational requirements for eligibility to take the NCLEX exam, which is necessary for licensure. Due to the changing nature of the profession, a successful travel nurse will benefit from pursuing continuing education opportunities well after graduating with their diploma. Additionally, completing continuing education may increase qualifications and chances for more specialized posts at different facilities.
Travel nursing education requirements are the same as those for comparable nursing occupations.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Travel Nurse?
Some employers require their RNs to hold an ADN. However, many hospitals have implemented policies to hire only RNs with a BSN, which many complete as the first step to becoming a travel nurse. Other facilities may require their RNs to hold a master's degree for some roles, which is also necessary for traveling NPs and APRNs.
Travel Nursing Specializations
Similar to any other RN, traveling nurses may have a specialty. A travel nurse who develops specialized knowledge is likely to have more choices when looking for opportunities. While this list is not inclusive of all the possibilities, typical specialties that utilize the skills of traveling nurses include:
- Acute Care
- Advanced Practice
- Critical Care
- Emergency Department
- Home Health
- Intensive Care Unit
- Labor and Delivery
- Mental Health
- Operating Room
- Post Anesthesia
Travel Nurse Credentials
Travel nursing requires the same credentialing as any other RN, including passing the NCLEX-RN exam for state licensure, preferably through the NLC. Additional certifications may be required depending on the state and specialty. To keep credentials active and in good standing, travel nurses need to complete a minimum number of contact hours and continuing education units.
Travel nursing agencies and the healthcare facilities that contract with them may offer continuing education opportunities. A savvy travel nurse keeps abreast of relevant requirements and incorporates discussion of continued education into their contract when choosing an agency.
Careers for Travel Nurses
Careers for travel nurses vary depending on the location and specialty. Becoming a travel nurse can be an excellent way to test various environments and patient populations to determine the best fit before committing to a direct-hire opportunity. However, some may enjoy the variety being a traveling nurse offers because it allows for flexibility.
Becoming a travel nurse can be an excellent way to test various environments and patient populations to determine the best fit before committing to a direct-hire opportunity.
What Does a Traveling Nurse Do?
Travel nurses perform the duties required of any licensed nurse. They fill vacancies in hospitals and other clinical settings, with the more common specialties including emergency departments, intensive care units, operating rooms, and telemetry units. Each location expects travel nurses to carry out the same job functions as their colleague staff nurses, including assessment, medication administration, procedural assistance, patient education, and care planning.
Where Do Traveling Nurses Work?
Most travel nursing positions exist within hospitals and other inpatient facilities, including nursing homes and research facilities. One resource for working with a specific patient population is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Through the VA's Office of Nursing Services, the Travel Nurse Corps (TNC) helps travel nurses find opportunities working exclusively with United States veterans.
Job locations also depend on license and education level, as posts for CNAs, LPNs, RNs, and APRNs can vary. Travel nursing assignments are also available within psychiatric nursing, labor and delivery, community health nursing, and hemodialysis.
How to Find Travel Nursing Jobs
Travel nurses may begin a career after acquiring the appropriate education, licensure, and experience. Candidates may be able to find specific positions on their own, but most travel nurses choose to work with a hiring agency. These agencies help travel nurses find a placement, negotiate appropriate salaries, and develop their contracts. In addition, working with an agency allows a travel nurse to navigate the complex issues of multi-state licensure, constant travel, and an adventurous career. For your reference, we've listed some agencies below.
Housing for Travel Nurses
The accommodations chosen while on contract may depend on the length of the stay. For example, a hotel such as an extended-stay hotel or rooming with friends and family may be ideal for short-term placements. Longer assignments may require renting a furnished house or apartment to avoid the expense of buying furniture. Travel nurses may want to consider working with a travel nurse agency with a housing department that provides a place to live. We've included some options to explore in our resources section.
Travel Nurse Salary and Job Outlook
The BLS projects job opportunities for CNAs, LPNs, RNs, and NPs to grow steadily through 2030. For RNs in particular, this means 9% job growth and the hiring of more than 3.3 million nurses. Since travel nurses are licensed nurses who take on short-term work contracts, these favorable job growth projections also apply. RNs earn a median annual salary of $77,600. Salaries can vary significantly by state, so nurses should investigate wages in the state they'll be working.
Travel nurses have different salaries depending on their licensure, agency, location, and experience, and the salary contrast is stark between those with a BSN and an MSN. Travel nurses often receive housing stipends and travel expense reimbursement, enhancing their total earnings. Most travel nursing agencies also offer health insurance, life insurance, education reimbursement, and retirement plans. Many also provide guaranteed hours to protect nurses if a facility cancels a contract with the agency earlier than anticipated.
What You Should Know Before Becoming a Travel Nurse
The ideal travel nurse thrives under changing conditions and embraces new challenges daily. Communication and interpersonal skills are critical assets, as travel nurses seldom develop the rapport and implicit understanding that comes only after years of collaboration with their colleagues. A resilient travel nurse embraces new opportunities and adapts quickly to variable working conditions and professional communities.
The travel nurse work environment can vary tremendously. Due to the ever-changing nature of a travel nurse’s work assignments, there is no standard for working conditions. One facility may be rich with resources, offering thorough training, development opportunities, and continued education, while another may only provide a cursory introduction and minimal support. However, due to the transient nature of the work, a travel nurse will never have to endure an unpleasant work environment for long.
Benefits of Travel Nursing Careers
Travel nursing offers several benefits:
Travel nurses receive a tax-free stipend to apply to living expenses and may receive reimbursement for other costs such as licensing fees.
This career provides an opportunity to travel and meet new people.
There are opportunities to gain experience working in various settings with diverse people.
Nursing is an in-demand field that pays well and may provide a sense of security.
It can be satisfying working with people who need help.
It's easier to avoid workplace bureaucracy and politics as a contracted employee.
Drawbacks of Travel Nursing Careers
Conversely, a traveling nursing career may not suit everyone and may have its drawbacks:
Working in a non-participating NLC state may require additional licensure.
Homesickness can settle in if far away from friends and family.
It can be difficult finding affordable housing with each new assignment.
While working internationally is possible, meeting specific country licensure requirements can be challenging.
A contract may be abruptly canceled, sometimes before it has even started.
Shifts may be unfavorable and require working evenings, weekends, or holidays.