Advancing Your Career | Career & Finances | Finances | Original Content | Travel

A Beginner’s Guide to a Travel Nursing Career – A Lucrative Transition

  • A travel nursing career starts with employment by an independent staffing agency who offers nurses local, national, and international options to match their professional and personal goals.
  • Travel nurses need to have an active license in the state or states they wish to work in.
  • Resume development, increased pay, potential housing stipends, and flexibility are top advantages to travel nursing, but the industry does come with a few downsides.
Morgan Curry, RN/BSN

Morgan Curry, BSN / RN

Intensive Care, Outpatient Surgery, Aesthetics, Education, and Nursing Leadership

February 26, 2021
Simmons University

Travel nursing. It has a ring to it, don’t ya think? It is the dream of many nurses, and it certainly has alluring benefits.

Great compensation. The ability to travel the country, even the world, all while working at the same time. Career flexibility. What’s not to love?


“Oh, If I were younger and single without a care in the world, I’d be a travel nurse.”

“If I didn’t have kids.”

“If my spouse could work from home.”

The excuses go on, and on, and on. But what If I told you ways that you could maneuver around these obstacles to achieve your lifetime dream of travel nursing?

It takes a deep understanding of the job, but for the right, highly driven nurse, those hurdles can be a thing of the past.

The Basics

What is a travel nurse?

When you think of ‘traveling’ you may think of traveling to exotic tropical places, but that’s not always the reality of travel nursing career; where the demands of a professional industry and each nurse’s specific goals are involved. The good news is, if there’s availability in your dream location or specialty, you’re in control.

Being a travel nurse means that an independent staffing agency employs you rather than a hospital institution or practice. This set up allows nurses the flexibility to travel as far as a different country, or simply to the next hospital in town. The choices are endless…and ultimately up to you.

You can use travel as an opportunity to work for your dream facility, get Magnet Hospital experience, and more. The needs are ever evolving, and your interests can be as well!

You choose where you work and how often you work.

nurse and recruiter

The Industry

Is travel nursing hard to break in to?

When it comes to demand…the odds are ever in your favor.

Now is as good of a time as any to break into the travel nursing world, as the demand for travel nursing is higher than it has ever been. The current need for travel nurses includes seasonal fluctuations, regional demographics, the ever-changing health care environment, and a general shortage of skilled nurses due to increased demand from the pandemic.

Also keep in mind, the overall nursing shortage is projected to increase by over 20 percent within the next five years, and the demand for traveling nurses, or ‘travelers’, will expectantly increase as well.

The current and anticipated industry-wide demand seemingly leaves many hopeful travelers with all the cards in their hands, yet some nurses still wonder if their exact professional background will be a good match.

According to Jackie Nelson, a senior recruitment manager for Medical Express, some backgrounds may be more competitive when looking at how industry-wide demands play out in real life. Nelson continues to see an increase in pediatric and PICU travel assignments, along with a strong trend of neonatal ICU positions and dialysis orders. In addition to these unique specialties, Nelson adds that “the best specialties for travel nursing are within the ICU, ER, telemetry, and labor and delivery areas- including CVOR and general areas with an emphasis on ortho.”

What You Will Need

“What about licensure and credentials?”

To begin your travel nursing career, you need to be an RN with an active license, most often with one to two years of real-world nursing experience. Some hospitals may even require you to have your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN).

In addition to your degree, you’ll want to be proactive and make sure that you are certified to practice in the state where your assignment is. Some agencies may help you with this process.

Another thing you’ll need to know is whether the issuing state of the current nursing license that you hold participates in the Nurse Licensure Compact.

There are currently 24 states participating in the program, and those who do recognize the state nursing licenses of all other participating states. The Nurse Licensure Compact makes life easier for travelers, but only if they are coming from, and looking to go, to states on the list.

As for certifications, there are currently no specific nursing certifications for travel nursing. However, having advanced RN certifications can make you, as an individual, more marketable to hospitals. These can include CCTM, CDM CHN, CMSRN, CNN, CNOR, CPAN, CEN, CCRN, and more.

The ‘Nitty Gritty’

  • Assignment Length: Travel nursing assignments are typically 13 weeks in length, however, that length of time can vary. Most staffing agencies and hospitals require, at a minimum, one to two years of nursing experience beforehand.
  • Licensure: You must ensure you hold the correct licensure for that state in which you will be practicing.
  • Finding an agency: There are so many different travel nursing agencies out there. The world is your oyster sis, or sir. You’ll have to complete an application and then the agency will pair you with a recruiter. While it seems easy enough, you’ll want to do your research. Each agency has something different to offer, and we’ll dive into what to look for in just a moment.
  • Background: Ideally, from a professional standpoint, you should have a strong clinical background, flexibility, adaptability, reliability, concrete communication skills, as well as leadership skills before pursuing travel nursing.

Traveling Nurse

Getting Started

Goals on Goals on Goals!

Determine what you want out of the game! Smart travelers build a game plan for what they want to get out of their experience as a travel nurse.

Ask yourself- do you want this to be a short run, try-it-out type of deal? Or, do you want it to be your future for the next year, five years, or more?

This can make your quest for state-specific licenses, and certifications that match industry demands, more worthwhile if so.

It is also beneficial to determine what you want before you choose what agency you go with. Different agencies offer different options, so you’ll want to focus-in on where exactly you want to travel, what specialty you want to work in, and what types of hospitals you want to work in.

Having a reputable facility on your resume is very valuable to any nurse, and a travel position can be the key to unlocking that professional milestone.

It could be the building blocks of a future in nursing that was previously just out of reach, and might even directly land you the position you have always wanted.

Another thing to consider is what you want out of your pay package before choosing your agency.

Again, different agencies have different perks that include elements such as housing, travel stipends, health/medical benefits, retirement plans, rental cars, and more.

Nurses Traveling Career

Pros and Cons

Is travel nursing right for you?

The ongoing, nation-wide shortage of nurses presents a hefty challenge for hospitals and clinics to maintain staffing needs. Travel nursing can help hospitals fill these temporary gaps. Keep in mind, to be a travel nurse, you don’t even have to leave your state, much less your city.

If you have always wanted to break into traveling, but didn’t feel like it was the right time because of factors in your personal life such as you didn’t want to uproot your husband or wife from their job, or the kids from their school, finding a local travel position could be a great option to get your feet wet.

These ‘stay at home’ traveling options could help you get familiar with agencies and the daily nature of the job, without uprooting your life. Think of it as a test run! You could see how it goes, earn more money than you would as a regular staff nurse at your home hospital, potentially gain a housing stipend, and float to areas of nursing that you may never have had the chance to. OR…if you’re a free bird, (single or in a relationship and have the freedom to travel the country or world and see new things) this can be an awesome jumpstart to the traveling career you’ve been wanting to carve out for yourself.

Is there a downside?

Whether you are traveling for a long or short assignment, frequent job-hopping isn’t always easy; in fact, it can be a challenging profession. Some of the negatives of the job include:

  • The stresses of frequently arranging travel such as moving expenses, packing, and arranging flights.
  • Arranging insurance coverage between contract periods.
  • Working undesirable hours such as nights, weekends, holidays.
  • Multiple licensures.
  • Varying compensation and budgeting; every time you accept a new position, you accept a different pay scale.
  • Less than desirable assignments.
  • Being away from the support of your friends and family.
  • The orientation process for travel nurses is often short and poor. It is not uncommon for a hospital to provide only four to eight hours of orientation before letting your spread your wings on your own.
  • Personal medical issues stemming from a transient life, such as seeing new physicians, and transfers of prescriptions.
  • Having to continually learn, balance, and adapt to different work cultures, environments, and morale among coworkers and staff.

Taking the Plunge

As a travel nurse, you can build your resume, broaden your horizons, make new friends, expand your professional capacity, and care for others. Be the nurse you never knew you could be! It can be a huge decision to make, and one that takes a lot of consideration.

Whatever your decision may be, whatever your position within your own practice and your own personal life, I hope this article gives you a little insight into what the life of a travel nurse can look like and how to dip your toes into a potentially new bright future!

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