If you’re reading this – chances are you’re wondering what’s a travel nurse and how do you become a travel nurse?
Travel Nurse Qualifications
If you have just 2-years of nursing experience, you’re most likely already qualified to be a travel nurse! We’re here to give you all the nitty gritty details of what a travel nurse is, what it takes to qualify and all the steps to get starting travel nursing!
Travel Nursing: What’s a travel nurse?
Hospitals and healthcare institutions across the country will often experience a spike in patient census (think COVID-19), need more nurses to cover yearly vacations or maternity leave, or are they themselves growing with new medical facilities and service lines. In these instances, hospitals of all sizes will reach out to travel nurse companies for qualified travel nurses to fill in where there is a need and depending on how high the need is, these hospitals will often pay much more than they would for a regular staff nurse job.
If this is your first time learning about travel nursing some of our key takeaways here are:
Travel nursing is a lucrative career path for nursing professionals that offers:
- Work flexibility (most contracts are 13 weeks long)
- The ability to travel all around the country for various assignments
- The freedom to take as much time off as you desire
- A fast track to gaining new professional skills and experiences
It’s also good to keep in mind that travel nursing is not for everyone and should not be considered by those:
- With less than 2-years nursing experience
- Who are extremely uncomfortable in new environments and situations
- Who aren’t interested in traveling
- Who don’t wish to spend large amounts of time away from friends and family
But if you’re the type that thrives on change, sees new challenges as exciting, and doesn’t mind taking sole control of your nursing career – then travel nursing may just be perfect for you.
Travel Nursing: Should you do it?
Travel Nursing Income
We’ll be super honest about this: the number one reason most nurses choose a career in travel nursing (even if it’s just for a year, a couple years, or multiple years) is because they simply want to earn as much money as possible. Average weekly gross income (as of this writing) for a travel nurse is anywhere between $1,800 and $3,500 a week. For a travel nurse who works 50 weeks in one year (assuming they take at least 2-weeks off per year) that’s an income potential of anywhere from $90,000 to $175,000 per year.
Travel Nurse Hours
Most travel nurses work 3, 12-hour shifts per week on 13-week contracts. Depending on the contract, travel nurses are often able to acquire block scheduling meaning they can work just 3 days a week at their travel location, and spend the other 4 days a week at home with friends and family. Travel nurses are also able to choose when and where to work.
By speaking with a travel nurse recruiter and making known what needs are most important (compensation, travel location, and desired hours) – it’s easy for a travel nurse to take on a variety of assignments within their given travel nursing specialty. And because travel nurses can choose what assignments to take and which to pass on – it’s easy to them to take more than the standard 2 weeks off a year.
Got a planned family reunion in Belize? No problem! Taking time off doesn’t require manager approval – just a quick conversation with a recruiter and BAM! You’re on vacation.
Travel Nursing Skills – The Fast Track
As a travel nurse you’ll not only visit different cities and states but also different facility types, a wider range of clinical settings, a more diverse patient population and a wider breadth of patient cases. It’s easy to harness your clinical skills and quickly build your resume at a much faster pace than you would as a staff nurse.
Travel Nursing = Freedom
With an easily obtainable compact license – you are free to roam and work throughout the United States. You can spend your winters working in warmer climates. Book assignments near friends and family you haven’t seen in a while. Easily schedule a month-long family vacation in between assignments. Pay off college debt, save enough to put a down-payment on that house, pay for that car in cash, and the list goes on.
Travel nursing gives you the freedom to work when you want, where you want, for as long as you want.
Travel Nursing: Patient Focus
Every nurse has a story of what drew her or him to the profession. Perhaps it was an ailing relative, or a fascination with science at an early age, or a calling to improve the lives of others. Whatever the case may be travel nursing allows nurses to focus more on patient care and less on administrative rules and policies. Which is a nice way of saying: travel nurses don’t have to worry about or get involved in office politics.
How to be a travel nurse?
Pick a Travel Nurse Agency
Most travel nurses work through a travel nurse agency (a recruitment firm that specializes in travel nursing). Most healthcare facilities do not hire independent travel nurses, rather, they work with travel nurse agencies to fill various assignments due to their ever-changing needs and patient populations. With hundreds of travel nurse agencies to choose from – it can seem daunting at first to choose one.
If you’re looking to work close to home – find a travel nurse agency that specializes in assignments in your general area* as they’ll most likely to have close staffing relationships with those facilities.
If you’re looking to travel all around the country, regardless of how far travel nursing assignments are from your permanent home – choose a larger agency as they’ll have the widest breadth of travel nursing assignments available.
If you’re looking to do a bit more than just dip your toe into travel nursing and see what it’s like – and would rather make a career out of travel nursing – choose a full-service agency that can help you with licensing, credentialing, and payroll.
*Most hospitals do require their travel nurses to have a permanent address (whatever address you use to file your yearly taxes) at least 50 miles away from their facility. If you’re really interested in a specific facility but live within this 50-mile radius – talk to your recruiter about a “local” rate.
Choose a Travel Nurse Recruiter You Trust
There are a few qualities to look for in a good recruiter: someone who can match and submit you to an open travel nursing assignment, someone who listens to what you need/want and delivers, and someone who is honest and open about what’s available and what you’ll qualify for.
But there are a few qualities to look for in a GREAT recruiter:
Is Available 24/7
A great recruiter is someone who is available to you 24/7 to answer any questions, deal with the unexpected and get things back on track before, during and after an assignment. Someone who will send your off on that great assignment but check-in on your regularly to make sure things are going smoothly.
Gets to Know You 1:1:
A great recruiter is someone who will think outside the box, look at your practical experiences and find the travel nursing assignments that will fit all your strengths and preferred work schedule. You will feel that not only are they listening to you and your needs, but also that they really get who you are as a person. Perhaps because they have a nursing background themselves, or just years of recruitment experience and are able to answer your questions even before you have them.
Understands the Job
A great recruiter is going to respect your schedule, your needs and your preferences. If you work nights – you’re sure as heck not going to want a call first thing in the morning. A great recruiter will be on top of things and adjust according to your needs.
Can Prove It
Great recruiters work for great travel nurse agencies, with excellent reputations. Read the reviews, talk to other travel nurses that have worked for the travel nurse agencies you’re interested in and gain that firsthand insight into what it’s like working for them.
Start Your Travel Nurse Application!
So you’ve done the research, spoke to other travel nurses (or read a bunch of reviews from reputable sources) and you’re ready to begin the process with an agency of your choice! Congrats! It took a lot to get here!
Most agencies will start with asking for your resume, references and the documentation necessary to get you submitted to the various travel nursing assignments out there:
This will usually include:
- A resume to verify your work history
- A skills test to test core nursing skills
- A reference check (usually a minimum of 2 references necessary)
- A routine background check
- An immunization record
- Copies of all your licenses and credentialling
It seems like a lot, right?! But a great travel nurse agency will have people on staff dedicated to this process who will walk you through every step. And the best part? All this documentation will be good for 1-year. So you won’t have to do it all over again for your next assignment.
Pick Your Travel Nursing Assignment
All the work you’ve done this far is not for naught. Each bit of paperwork and testing your submitted is organized by your recruiter and sent off to the various healthcare facilities throughout the country to get you submitted to the travel nurse openings of your choice. This is where you get to pick and choose what’s important to you. From how much money you’d like to make per week, to how far you’d like to travel, to what sort of facility you’d like to work for, to the number of hours a week, to the number days a week you’d like to shift requirements (such as “no-call” or “no-float”) to time-off requests.
Pick Where You’d Like to Go
From popular coastal towns to warm desert valleys to small mountain oasis, your choices are virtually endless. Once you’ve talked to your recruiter about your work preferences (see above) they’ll ask you about your location preferences. If you’re looking to make as much money as possible, do a little research on what areas of the country pay the most – and factor in what the cost of living for these locations will be. Daily, weekly, monthly rent will vary greatly between locations – so choose wisely if money is your top concern.
In Medscape’s yearly report they break down the average compensation by region for APRNs (Advanced Practice Registered Nurses):
Your Ideal Travel Nurse Assignment
After you and your recruiter have gone through all the nitty gritty details, they’ll present you with several travel nursing opportunities that best fit your qualifications and job specifications. Through this process you’ll both narrow down your top picks and your recruiter will submit you to all of them. That’s right! You won’t just be submitted once. Why? Because if there is a huge influx of qualified travel nurses interested in the same opening – you’ll want to have secondary options should your application be denied.
Once your submittal is approved, you’ll have an interview with a Nurse Manager (sometimes in less than 24-hours) and usually within a few days you’ll get an offer. You’ll typically be expected to accept or reject that offer within 24-48 hours.
Travel Nursing Housing
You’re in a new state, a new city that maybe you’ve visited before, but maybe not – and most definitely don’t have a place to live. So how do travel nurses find housing? There are some travel nurse agencies that pay for housing and some that do not. And there are times when the hospitals themselves will offer housing in lieu of a housing stipend.
A good travel nurse agency won’t leave you in the lurch when it comes to housing. From offering you the IRS maximum allowable housing stipend to giving you inside housing knowledge of your new location (neighborhoods to live, places to rent) to providing you housing for your assignment, you shouldn’t worry too much when it comes to finding housing that’s just right for you.
Pro-Tip: Don’t fear agencies that do not provide housing but do provide the IRS maximum allowable “lodging” stipend, because it’s usually way more than you’ll ever need for your 13-week assignment. Take for example: Kansas City, Kansas. The lodging stipend is $861 per week, which is $3,444 a month. A quick search on Airbnb will show you can easily rent a fully furnished apartment for around $800-$1,000 a month. So that’d be a little over $2,500 in your pocket every month!
Travel Nursing Tips for Travel Nurses
How to Make a Travel Nurse Resume + A Real-Life Sample Resume
How to Pay Off Your BSN in Just Over One Year
Top 10 Toughest Travel Nurse Interview Questions (and Answers!)
Top 6 Nursing Side-Hustles
Top 19 Mobile Apps for NursesHow to Find Furnished Short-Term Housing
What is Block Scheduling?
Travel Nurse Salary: Top 3 Ways to Make the Most Money
Travel Nurse Qualifications: What Paperwork Do You Need?
Travel Nurse Contracts: How to Avoid Cancellations
Travel Nurse Benefits: Health Insurance & 401(k)
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