How to Become a Travel Nurse (in 5 easy steps)

When people find out that I am a travel nurse, their first reaction is usually, “Wow! That sounds like the best job ever!” (yes, I am aware hehe).  The second reaction I usually get is people asking me how they can become a traveling nurse also.  So, I am going to lay it all out for you here: the 5 easy steps to becoming a travel nurse.

1. Get Your Registered Nurse License

Okay, this one sounds pretty obvious; but yes, you have to have a Registered Nurse (RN) license in order to travel; not a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) license.  If you currently have your LPN and are looking to travel, there are many “bridge” programs that you can take to receive you RN.  You can travel with either a 2-year RN (Associates) or your 4-year RN (BSN) – however, the more schooling/experience always stands out more.

2. Gain Experience

Before you start traveling, you MUST have hospital experience – at least one year to be exact.  Agencies and hospitals want you to start traveling while you’re fresh out of working at a hospital.  If you chose to work at a nursing home, school, camp, and so on, right out of college, you will not be able to do traveling at a hospital until you have at least that year of experience.  Most agencies do require that you have two years of hospital experience before you start traveling, however, there are a few agencies that allow you to start traveling with them once you have reached your one year.

Any type of certifications will help you have more opportunities while traveling.  Getting your ACLS will allow you to be able to work on cardiac/telemetry units and getting your PALS will allow you to work ER or with Peds.  There are many more certifications you can receive; however, these are two simple ones that will help you be more desirable as a nurse.

If you want to be traveling in a unit other then a medical-surgical unit, you may want two years of experience on that specific unit.  Some of those units would include the following: intensive care unit, labor and delivery, and the operating room.  The minimum is one year of experience in those specialties, however, do your research into the hospitals and areas you are looking to go as some will want you to have two years of experience in that specialized unit.

3. Find an Agency

Finding an agency can be somewhat of a chore.  There are hundreds of travel agencies out there that you can sign up with.  Don’t just sign up with the first agency you see or hear of.  Do your research and know what you want.  For example, some agencies have travel assignments only in the U.S., where other agencies include places like Guam and the Virgin Islands.  Some agencies staff only for strikes, while others have the 13-week assignments.  You can look up average pay packages or reimbursements of agencies and try to compare who will pay the highest.  You can get input from other nurses about different agencies they’ve been with and their personal experiences.  Some agencies are better than others.  Sometimes you’ll be able to know which ones to stay away from, and other times you might have to learn the hard way.

You are not confined to just one agency once you sign up with one.  Several traveling nurses are with several agencies.  It opens their opportunities to different places and pay packages according to what your recruiter has available for you.  Personally, I find that too confusing.  I have found an agency that I am happy with and have decided to stay with just one, unless I chose to do locations that my agency doesn’t offer.

You can start looking for an agency, or sign up with an agency at any time during your experience year.  I actually signed up with my agency before I even graduated college, because I was just that excited!  They told me they would hold on to my application and give me a call closer to my one year mark.  They ended up giving me a call about three or four months before I even reached my one year, which was great!  They were way ahead of me, and I was able to get set up with the agency and a recruiter and start my assignment not long after I reached my one year mark.  So don’t hesitate to start looking up agencies and applying.

4. Get Plugged In

Find your resources.  You may know travel nurses already, talk to them and ask them for their advice.  There are so many blogs and websites where you can read up on travel nursing.  Send me an e-mail and ask me questions (scrubsinasuitecase@gmail.com). There are also several Facebook groups that you can become a part of that are for travel nurses.  The two groups that I have found the most helpful are the following: Travel Nurse Network – The Gypsy Nurse and Travel Nurse Network.  There are so many Facebook groups you can join.  There are groups for specific locations, there are groups to find housing, there are groups to find assignments, and there are groups to find out which hospitals have been canceling contracts.  So there are many options for Facebook groups, but by joining a few, you are bound to receive a lot of information.

5. Be Prepared for the Best Time of Your Life

Travel nursing has been the best experience!  You meet amazing people; see breathtaking views; learn to adapt in new work settings; eat new foods; learn about the history and culture of cities and states; and do things you’ve never done before.  You can definitely get pushed out of your comfort zone at times, but you grow so much as an individual by doing so.  Being a travel nurse has definitely made me a better and more well-rounded nurse, while also getting the opportunity to be immersed in new cultures and gain new experiences.  If you are at all considering doing travel nursing, do it! You won’t regret it one bit!

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