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Travel Nurse Requirements: Credentials & Documentation

Oct 15, 2019
The Trusted Team

Once you’ve established your lifestyle preferences and priorities, you should turn your attention to completing any remaining travel nurse requirements so you can hit the ground running at your first, or next, assignment.

Now’s the time to begin coordinating with other parties, like your travel nurse recruiter and contacts at your new medical facility, on tasks like credentialing, documentation, and lodging/moving. 

For many nurses, onboarding credentials are the least favorite of the travel nurse requirements to prepare. Getting documents (and copies!) in order may not be an interesting―or even simple―task, but they are important, and they can be time-intensive.

In fact, having missing or incomplete travel nurse qualifications is a common reason that travel nurses aren’t able to start their assignments on time, and since that spells missed shifts for the nurse, time is literally money.

For this reason, we suggest you get the ball rolling on your travel nurse requirements ASAP- especially for more involved documentation like medical records, fingerprinting, and licensing. The sooner you complete these requirements, the better your travel nurse experience will be down the line. 

Start gathering paperwork and credentials for your travel nurse assignment (like medical records and fingerprinting) ASAP. Having missing or incomplete credentials is a common reason for missed start dates.

Note: While having a BSN is not required to be a travel nurse, you do need a RN license, and most facilities require nurses to have at least a year of experience as an RN before they begin traveling.

Managing Credentials, Documents, & Other Travel Nurse Requirements

When it comes to managing your credentialing, documentation, and other travel nurse qualifications, always have copies on hand. Even though you may have already submitted a small mountain’s worth of these travel nurse requirements earlier in your application, no system is perfect, and documents can (and do!) get lost.  

You should also be aware that your new medical facility will ask you for additional qualifications, like medical records, once you’ve signed on as a travel nurse. If you’re working with a good travel nurse recruiter, you’ll be kept in the loop on what qualifications to submit by when.

Don’t be afraid to be proactive and reach out to either your recruiter or a contact at the medical facility you’ll be working at to confirm the travel nurse requirements that you’ll need to complete in advance!

While some documents (i.e. passports, licenses, state-issued IDs) will be needed in their original form, make sure you have copies of all important documents stored on an encrypted USB file (that way, all of your data is portable and password protected) or printed out and kept together in a folder.

This way, it’s easy for you to produce them should you encounter any hiccups during onboarding; if the worst happens and one of those documents is lost, you will have a backup that you can rely on until you get it replaced.

Also, make a point to understand how travel nurse taxes (stipends, tax homes, etc) work before diving in. If you need a quick primer, check out this guide to travel nurse taxes.

Note: You should check with your travel nurse recruiter to confirm which documents will be needed in their original form, and which documents can be copied and submitted. 

Personal Identification

This should be a no-brainer, as both a travel nurse requirement and an everyday habit; you should always have a valid ID on you, whether that be a state-issued ID or passport! Definitely make sure you pack (and make a copy of) these forms of ID. Finally, don’t forget to check expiration dates for both documents!

If they’re set to expire during your assignment, make an appointment to get them renewed before you begin your assignment.

State-issued ID 

Your driver’s license will do just fine. For those of you who’ve made it this far without a driver’s license, apply for a state issued ID at your local DMV instead. Like all things related to the DMV, it’s best to have an appointment booked in advance and to double-check that you have all the documents required by your state’s website to make the trip as painless as possible.

Passport 

Depending on whether the state-issued ID you have counts as a Real ID or not, you may already need to carry your passport with you in order to fly―even within the United States! Even if you have a Real ID, having your passport with you gives you the flexibility to travel internationally before or after your assignment on short notice.

It’s also an excellent backup ID in case something happens to your state-issued ID while you’re traveling.

Always pack copies of important documents like your passport, ID, and nursing credentials so that you have a backup in case they’re misplaced by your agency or medical facility.

Nursing Credentials

Unlike IDs, these travel nurse requirements are specifically relevant to your new nursing job. They’ll come in handy for onboarding, orientation, and any future travel nursing jobs if you decide to go straight from one assignment to the next.

Nursing License 

While there’s no such thing as a “travel nurse license,” it is certainly true that you must have a nursing license for any state you complete an assignment in. Depending on where you’re primarily based and licensed as a nurse, you’ll need one of three types of licenses:

  • an eNLC license
  • a walkthrough license
  • a state-specific license
     

eNLC or Compact State License

The eNLC is a “multi-state” license. This allows you to move freely between what are called "Compact States." Basically, if your primary residence is in an eNLC state (as determined by your tax returns) and you have an active nursing license in that state, then you can practice as a travel nurse in any state that’s currently an eNLC member. While the goal is to eventually have all 50 states covered under the eNLC, not all states have joined.

See this map to see where the eNLC is in effect and plan appropriately. 

Walkthrough License

If the state you’re planning on travel nursing in isn’t an eNLC state, it may be a walkthrough state. These states will issue you a temporary state nursing license while they process a permanent one for you. As of April 2019, those states are Arizona, Louisiana, Hawaii, Missouri, Idaho, and South Carolina.

The best part? You can usually get these temporary licenses in under a day! Because of this, you can usually wait until a bit closer to your start date to apply for your license.  

State-Specific License

If your situation doesn’t fit any of the scenarios above, chances are you’ll have to apply for a state-specific nursing license―double-check with your recruiter to be sure. While there’s no set time frame for state-specific nursing licenses, some states have been known to take as long as a couple of months to issue them (*cough* California), so the sooner you start the process, the better. 

Ultimately, you should check in with your travel nurse recruiter and unit manager/supervisor on what your timeline should look like for applying for your license. And if you already have a valid nursing license for the state you’ll be travel nursing in, it’s always a good idea to double check that it’ll be valid for the duration of your assignment. 

If you're looking to get a nursing license for a new state (or renewing your current one), you can use this licensure guide!


Nursing Certifications

You should have come across any required certifications back when you were filling out your application and acing your interviews. Always have up-to-date documentation of any required certifications on hand (and a copy available).

Even if you don’t need to present those qualifications during your onboarding and/or travel nurse orientation, like many of the other documents on the list, they make applying for a travel assignment the next time around a lot easier.  

Other Travel Nurse Documentation to Note

While there are documents that every facility needs, there are some travel nurse requirements that are facility-dependent.

First, your nursing school diploma. That piece of paper likely cost you a pretty penny; you bet it should be on your list of stuff to have! Your nursing school diploma primarily serves as proof of where you were trained (and that you were trained in the first place).

In most cases, a copy is enough to suffice, so unless your future employer is finicky about it, you should be fine leaving it framed at home.

Second, any application materials. A lot of employee housekeeping goes on during and directly before orientation - that often includes ensuring that your file with the hospital has all the parts it needs. Having a copy of your application materials―like your resume, your skills checklist, and your letters of recommendation―ready makes it simple to fill in any remaining gaps that get discovered. 

Onboarding and Related Travel Nurse Requirements 

As your nurse staffing agency helps you ramp-up for onboarding, they’ll ask you to send or upload documents. Like licensing, these travel nurse requirements can be more time-consuming than other tasks, so stay on top of them!

Medical Records

You’ll get more information on exactly what to provide from your recruiter or medical facility, but typically there’s a list you can count on needing. This list includes proof of a/an:

  • Drug screen
  • Physical exam
  • Respirator fit mask test
  • TB test
  • Influenza vaccine
  • Tdap vaccine
  • MMR vaccine
  • Hep B vaccine
  • Varicella vaccine

Fingerprint Cards 

Travel nurses must have fingerprinting done when applying for new nursing licenses in other states. You can complete fingerprint cards at a local police department, but don’t forget to ask for extra copies!

You can keep the board of nursing portion of these copies blank so that you can use the cards in future states and save yourself another trip to the police department.

Tutorials

Once you sign on to work at a facility, your travel nurse agency will require you to complete a slurry of additional forms from organizations like the IRS, OSHA, and the Joint Commission. They’re tedious, but you’ll need to stay on top of them to keep yourself, your nurse staffing agency, and your medical facility out of legal hot water!

Receipts for Reimbursement 

Your nurse staffing agency may reimburse certain onboarding costs (always worth an ask if you’re not sure!), but they’ll need those receipts for their own records. Save ‘em and submit them as early as you can to make sure that the reimbursement process goes smoothly.

Summary

Plowing through a to-do list of travel nurse requirements may not be the most exciting endeavor in the lead-up to your next assignment, but it’ll definitely be one of the most important, as it confirms that you’ve satisfied all qualifications necessary to handle your responsibilities as a travel nurse.

Keep this guide in mind as you assemble the credentialing and health documentation necessary to prove your competence as a nurse.

TL;DR:

  • Identification (state ID and/or passport)
  • Nursing credentials & licensure (eNLC, walkthrough, state-specific license)
  • Relevant certifications
  • Diploma
  • Drug screens
  • Fingerprint cards
  • Workplace-specific requirements

If you want to have all of your travel nurse paperwork stored in one place so you can easily fly from one assignment to the next, you can make a free profile with us and even speak to one of our Nurse Advocates for advice!