How to Become a Travel Nurse

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Written by Laura Gray Content Marketing Manager, IntelyCare
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If you’re the kind of person who likes variety on the job, living in different places, and working with new people, you may be interested in how to become a travel nurse. It’s a great way to boost your skill set, grow your network, and serve people who are in great need of your expertise.

We’ll take a look at the basics of what it takes to become a travel nurse, along with education requirements, types of facilities that might employ you, and what you can expect to earn in this vital healthcare role.

What Is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who is hired on a contract basis by travel nursing agencies to fill urgent staffing needs. These temporary assignments can last anywhere from 4 to 26 weeks and are located across the country. You can make your own schedule, choose where you take jobs, and get experience in different types of facilities.

You may be wondering where you’d live as someone who travels routinely for their job. There are a few options for travel nurse housing. Agencies typically provide either stipends or furnished accommodations for travel nurses. With a stipend, you find your own housing. With agency-placed housing, you simply move in.

What Do Travel Nurses Do?

The duties of a travel nurse are predominantly the same as that of an RN, but travel nurses have the added responsibility of stepping into a new situation and adapting extremely quickly. This is one of the main tenets of learning how to become a travel nurse.

Travel nurses must be able to excel in new environments, easily pick up new processes and protocols, and be open to new experiences. If you’re interested in this job, you need to have excellent clinical, analytical, and communications skills, be cool under pressure, and work well with a team. And, of course, you must care deeply for the wellbeing of your patients.

Why Are Travel Nurses Needed?

Travel nursing needs arise for a variety of reasons, but primarily to accommodate the number of patients in a given area. For example, a facility may rely on travel nurses:

  • to prepare to treat a surge of patients during flu season
  • to provide clinical specialty support in an understaffed location
  • to cover shifts for core staff during leaves of absence

Travel nursing needs can also be urgent when there is an unexpected influx of patients, as occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to provide sufficient care for a population, travel nurses are called upon to go where the needs are greatest.

What Travel Nurse Requirements Are There?

As was mentioned previously, there’s not too much difference in how to become a travel nurse versus an RN. Before reaching out to a travel nurse staffing agency, you need the following education and training:

  • ADN or BSN degree
  • Passing score on the NCLEX exam
  • Valid RN license in the state(s) you are going to be practicing in
  • Minimum of one year of clinical work

Some travel nursing agencies may require you to have certain certifications such as basic life support and advanced cardiovascular life support. For more insights into requirements, check out this sample job description for a travel nurse.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Travel Nurse?

Typically, it takes anywhere from two to four years to learn how to become a travel nurse. That includes your formal schooling, plus an additional year of on-the-job clinical experience.

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

The average base travel nurse salary is $73,680 per year, and can reach upwards of $90,000. The areas with the highest travel nurse pay include:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Washington D.C.
  • New Jersey
  • Massachusetts

Where Are Travel Nursing Assignments Located?

One of the best parts about learning how to become a travel nurse is that you realize how many options you have with regards to where you can work. Your assignments can take you across the country and back again. Basically, you can choose to work anywhere. Once you connect with a travel nurse staffing agency, you’ll be able to pick where you’d like to be assigned and in what facility.

While most travel nursing is based around hospitals and clinics, there is also a need for dedicated RNs to join the post-acute space. The skills a travel nurse brings to the table can make a world of difference to patients in the following types of facilities:

  • Nursing homes and residential care facilities
  • Rehab facilities
  • Home health care
  • Outpatient surgery centers
  • Extended care facilities
  • Private practices
  • Hospitals and other clinical facilities

For more examples, check out all the different nursing jobs that are available on IntelyCare now.

What Are the Benefits of Travel Nursing?

Travel: This one seems obvious, but one of the biggest draws of travel nursing is the ability to see new places and choose where you want to work and live. If you choose to work internationally, you can also receive assistance obtaining a passport and work visa. Most contracts also offer travel reimbursements.

Competitive Pay and Benefits: On average, the travel nurse pay is higher than the pay for a standard RN position, and may include bonuses, but this will depend on where you choose your contract. There is also an opportunity to receive medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as retirement plans, as a contract employee.

Flexibility: Travel nursing will likely not have the same flexibility that per diem nursing offers — where you can pick and choose your shifts to build out your schedule on your terms — but there is a lot of flexibility to change locations. Furthermore, you are in control of which contract you pick and where you travel to next. With contracts being as short as four weeks, you could move to several different places and facilities over the course of a year.

There are a lot of benefits of travel nursing, however, there are downsides to consider, too. You must thrive under pressure. Travel nurses are often walking into understaffed, underserved, and unfamiliar spaces and must learn to quickly get up to speed and provide the help that they were hired to give.

Depending on the facility, there may be very little training or orientation provided. Again, travel nurses are typically brought in due to a great need, so there is a sense of urgency that comes with the job. But if you work well in this kind of environment, you’ll likely enjoy the job and all that comes with it.

Make Your Schedule Work for You

Learning how to become a travel nurse no doubt highlights the flexibility of the job. Want more options in your nursing schedule right now? Join IntelyCare to see how we can make your job more flexible so that it fits your needs.