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How to Become a Travel Nurse

Nov 25, 2020
The Trusted Team

So, you want to be a travel nurse? Well, we certainly understand why. There are many benefits to packing your bags and hitting the road. Travel nursing allows nurses to explore new cities, gain experience in new care settings and hospitals, and typically pays more than staff nursing jobs. 

Travel nursing can also help to stave off nurse burnout, allow you more flexibility in your time off, and even give you a sense of confidence and independence that you might not have experienced in your professional career. 

However, even with these clear benefits, it can be still intimidating knowing where and how to begin your travel nursing adventure. We recently held an event entitled, “So You Want to Be a Travel Nurse?,” where we had three experienced travel nurses to cover all of the topics you need to know to get started. 

You can watch the full recording below!


We heard Casey Smith, RN (ER), Russ Mortland, RN (Critical Care), and Brittany Greaves, RN (PICU/CVICU) cover everything from picking an agency, finding housing, understanding your contract, and more! Check out the breakdown below!

Travel Nursing Defined

Travel nurses are registered nurses who work short term (contract) roles at hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities around the world to supplement permanent staff. They help to fill gaps during shortages, increases in patient population, or technology upgrades and changes.

airport escalator view looking up how to become a travel nurse


How Does the Process Work?

Travel Nurses are primarily contracted through travel nursing agencies or job marketplaces that place them at facilities for a specified length of time. 

Here's what the process looks like:

  1. Nurse contacts (or is contacted by) agency
  2. Agency finds suitable position for their specialties and unique experience
  3. Agency submits nurse to facility 
  4. Nurse interviews and (hopefully) gets the role 
  5. Nurse signs contract 
  6. Nurse onboards and starts the assignment! 

(Note: the agency is the employer, not the facility.)

How Does Travel Nurse Pay Work?

Since travel nurses are expected to (duh!) travel for these short-term contracts, travel nursing pay packages include both taxable and non-taxable income (in the form of stipends and reimbursements) to cover housing, meals, and incidentals. 

A travel nurse salary breakdown is typically as follows:

  • Hourly rate
  • Housing stipend or agency-provided housing
  • Meals and incidentals

(Note: you must maintain a tax home in another location to qualify for nontaxable stipends.)

Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

Some benefits of travel nursing include:

  • Flexibility 
  • Increased pay
  • Your choice (when, where, how)
  • New city and new people
  • Learning opportunities
  • Freedom

Some drawbacks or challenges of travel nursing include:

  • No definite timelines or availability
  • Frequent moving
  • Being away from family and friends
  • Instability 
  • Social, emotional, and logistical challenges 

Before Choosing a Travel Nursing Assignment

There are some typical travel nursing licensure requirements that you must meet.

To get started you must:

  • Have a nursing degree: ADN or BSN degree
  • Currently have an active nursing license (of course, passing the NCLEX)
  • Have at least 1.5 years of bedside nursing experience (particularly in the specialty you’re looking to travel within)

You also need to choose your destination. You may make this decision based on distance or location, pay, or taxes.

Lastly, you’ll need to keep in mind the duration of your travels. Some contracts are four weeks, but most are thirteen weeks long. There are also extensions and cancellations as well as various types of contracts – rapid, crisis, strike, and more.

Documents and Certifications

Nursing Certifications

  • Copies of nursing license(s)
  • BLS certification
  • Specialty certifications (ACLS, PALS, TNCC, etc.) 

Health Documents

  • Flu shot 
  • Immunizations/titers/TB test
  • Recent physical
  • Respirator fit test

Two References

  • AKA someone who likes you
  • At least one from Nursing Manager
  • Charge Nurse or above (no Doctors, NPs, PAs, or front-desk friends)

Other Things to Think About

Don’t forget about your preparation for taking a travel contract:

  • Are you driving or flying? 
  • Are you packing up your belongings and/or leaving stuff in storage? 
  • Do you need a car?
  • Is your current home life/lifestyle conducive to traveling for extended periods?
  • Do you live an adaptable lifestyle?
  • Are you open or interested in dating/meeting new people in a new place?

And the list goes on!

san francisco city scape how to become a travel nurse


Choosing a Travel Nursing Agency

The next big step is choosing a travel nursing agency

If you’re looking at traditional agencies:

  • Don’t put all your apples in one basket
  • Check overall reputation: reviews, Facebook groups, forums
  • Check overall pay
  • Confirm housing options or stipend
  • Confirm reimbursements 
  • Vet onboarding Experience
  • Benefits (401K, first-day insurance, etc?) 

A little bit on recruiters:

  • Your recruiter can be important than the agency itself
  • Check the word-of-mouth (friends/coworkers are best) 
  • Remember: recruiters may be nice, but they’re not your friend, and they make money off of you!

A good recruiter:

  • Listens
  • Is responsive
  • Is knowledgeable but honest
  • Has YOUR best interest in mind
  • Helps you protect your license

A bad recruiter:

  • Submits you to a job without your explicit permission
  • Refuses to put things in writing 
  • Guilt-trips you
  • Is unresponsive
  • Makes you feel pressured, hurried, or unsupported

And, of course, a little bit on Trusted (and the way we do things)...

We’re nurses first.

  • No recruiters, instead we have Nurse Advocates (and awesome Care Team!) 
  • Built to empower nurses
  • Your goals are aligned with our goals and vice versa

You have control.

  • YOU set your job preferences
  • YOU browse jobs with complete pay breakdown and job details
  • YOU request interviews with one click
  • WE don’t call and harass you incessantly

And, well, better pay ;) 

Travel Nursing: The Application Process

First, you need to find the right role. 

  • Right experience, right specialty 
  • Protect your license 
  • Network = Net Worth

Then, you need to complete all the requirements/documentation for said role.

  • Those documents we talked about above
  • Skills checklists
  • Knowledge exams (med tests, etc.)

Finally, have your recruiter or Nurse Advocate submit you to the facility.

Then come...

Travel Nursing Interviews

Sometimes there won’t actually be an interview (often seen with emergency-need roles).

Other times, the interview will be pre-recorded.

  • Oftentimes, you’ll receive an automated interview with questions sent to you
  • You’ll record your response
  • Interviewing facilities should send you the questions beforehand or tell you how to prepare

And very often, there will be a phone interview.

  • Most common type of interview
  • Usually a Nurse Manager
  • Usually fairly informal but be prepared to answer clinical questions related to your specialty (ex. Pediatric ER Manager: “Name the ESI, priorities, and anticipated care for a neonate with a 102 fever arriving POV to the ER)

Travel Nursing Contract Basics

There are a lot of nuances here, so we strongly recommend you check out the actual event recording to learn all about them, but we’ll break down the basics very simply below.

iphone hovering in front of paperwork with sticker saying sign here how to become a travel nurse


Offer vs. Contract vs. Confirmation

  • What are the differences? Know them!

Assignment Details

  • Shift (day, night, etc.)
  • Hours
  • Location

Slices of Pie

  • Rates
  • Reimbursements
  • Costs
  • Negotiating (is that even an option?)

Penalties 

  • Cancellation
  • Missed hours

Non-compete Clause

  • What is this? (Know if your facility has one or not.)

Policies

  • GHR
  • Sick time

Amendments

  • Why?
  • When?

Cancellation Considerations

  • Future opportunities
  • Cost
  • Transparency (from both parties)

Extensions

Find Your First (or Next) Travel Nursing Job

Create a free Trusted profile to be matched with your own Nurse Advocate and see for yourself what the talk is all about!