How To Become A Travel Nurse- taking your skills on the road.

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What Is A Traveling Nurse

Travel nurses fill gaps in staffing needs for hospitals and facilities across the country for specific periods of time. These staffing needs may be due to lack of experienced nurses, an expected leave of absence like maternity leave, or seasonal population fluctuations.

Also, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics there will be a shortage of approximately 1.1 million nurses by 2020. As a result, hospitals must fill needs quickly — this is where travel nurses come in 

A Traveling Nurses Duty

Hospitals and facilities work with travel nurse staffing agencies to hire travel nurses to fill their staffing needs. To obtain a travel nurse contract, you’ll need to work with an agency. There are 340 travel nurse staffing agencies in the U.S. — 110 that are certified through the Joint Commission. While it’s not a requirement for a staffing agency to be certified, Magnet hospitals and large academic teaching hospitals generally only work with agencies that are. It’s important to keep that in mind if you’re looking to work at those types of facilities.

There are short-term and long-term travel nursing contracts. Typically, contracts are between 8 and 26 weeks, though the most common contracts last 13 weeks. If there’s a continued need in the hospital with your current position, they may offer to extend your initial contract. Due to the ongoing nursing shortage, more and more facilities are increasingly flexible with contracts


Ultimately, it’s up to the travel nurse to decide if they want the stability of a long-term contract or a short-term contract in order to travel around the country more. Once a contract is signed, it becomes a legal document and ending a contract early is rarely allowed. If you’re unsure which contract length is best for you, recruiters often suggest choosing between 10 and 13 week contracts. You always have the option of adjusting the duration of your contract for the next assignment.

Hospitals and facilities do have the option of ending a contract early if there is no longer a need for your position. This doesn’t happen often, but if it does you won’t be paid through the end of your contract. Your staffing agency will work to find you another position quickly, but it’s still something to keep in mind when choosing an assignment. 


How To Become A Travling Nurse

You must be a registered nurse to become a travel nurse — there is no additional training or education required. That said, nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are more marketable than nurses with only an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). Most Magnet hospitals and large academic teaching hospitals want travel nurses with a BSN.

In general, you’ll need at least two years of experience in your specialty before accepting your first contract. Travel nurses have a short orientation time on a new unit — typically 2-3 shifts. This orientation time is to learn the unit, experience the patient population, get to know your new coworkers, and review the charting system. Time is not spent on learning basic nursing care. For this reason, nurses must have the required experience.

Travel nurses must also be licensed in the state where they’re accepting a contract. Most staffing agencies assist with this process, but it may take several weeks in order to obtain a new license. This is important if you want to travel between multiple states and accept shorter-term contracts.

Pro tip: Consider obtaining an Enhanced Nursing Licensure (eNLC). This is one license that works for 28 states (4 additional states are pending legislation) and means you can start assignments immediately making you more desirable for contracts.

It’s also important to research different travel nurse staffing agencies. Every agency provides different benefits, including health, dental, tuition reimbursement, vacation and sick time, and retirement, in addition to compensation rates.

Experienced travel nurses suggest keeping a spreadsheet that includes all the benefits offered for each staffing agency as well as assignment lengths, housing and location options, and number of available travel nursing jobs. This helps compare multiple travel nurse companies at once 

Advantages Of A Travling Nurse

Expand your nursing skill set and build your resume. Working as a travel nurse gives you access to hospitals all around the country that you may not have otherwise considered — taking a contract at a top-rated hospital boosts your resume. This may help with graduate school admission as well as earning a staff position at other prominent hospitals. Resume-building facilities to consider: Mayo Clinic, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Cleveland Clinic, John Hopkins Hospital, and New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Earn a higher salary and other benefits. Between the non-taxable stipends and other monetary incentives offered, travel nurses typically make more money than staff nurses. If they’re in a specialty that’s in high demand or are willing to travel to less popular places, especially certain times of the year, the potential is even more.

Travel to new and exciting places. New travel nursing assignments are available across the country every day for various specialties. And, contracts are short (typically only 13 weeks), so there’s time to explore multiple locations throughout the year. If you have your heart set on a specific location and it isn’t available currently, don’t fret, chances are it will be in the future. A good recruiter can also help you find assignments in your desired destination.

Personal and professional flexibility. Travel nurses have the option of taking time off between contracts to see family or travel. Some experienced travel nurses take 2-3 months before starting another assignment. It’s not a requirement to work back-to-back contracts. Also, some hospitals let travel nurses pick their own shift and schedule, but keep in mind that this isn’t always the case. Travel nurses are hired to fill a hospital’s specific need and flexibility isn’t always an option. 

How Much Does A Traveling Nurse Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for registered nurses in 2017 was $70,000, or $33.65 per hour. Advanced practice registered nurses—those with at least a master’s degree qualifying them as an APRN with at least one specialty—earned a median salary of $110,930 per year, or $53.33 per hour

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