8 steps to a career as a travel nurse

Travel nurses are registered nurses who typically work temporary jobs called travel nursing assignments. Most assignments last for around thirteen weeks, but they can be longer or shorter. Working as a travel nurse is a great way to travel around the country, or even worldwide, while gaining valuable career experience and making a real difference.

Before deciding to become a travel nurse and whether or not the job is right for you, it’s important to understand exactly what you need in order to work successfully as a travel nurse, and the advantages and disadvantages of the job. If you want to see more of the world while being able to help others at the same time and don’t mind working long hours on your feet, becoming a travel nurse might be an ideal career for you. If you can speak any foreign languages, or are willing to learn, you will be in even higher demand for the profession.

If travel nursing sounds like a career idea that is appealing to you, here are the steps required to get there.

Complete the required education

In order to become a travel nurse, you will first need to study to become a Registered Nurse (RN). To become an RN, you will need to:

  • Obtain a high school diploma or GE
  • Study for a bachelor of nursing degree
  • Sit the NCLEX qualification.

You may be able to qualify to sit for the NCLEX qualification with an Associate of Science in Nursing or an Associate Degree in Nursing, which is designed to be completed within 2-3 years. However, bear in mind that many hospitals are no longer accepting candidates with Associate’s degrees for permanent registered nurse positions, but requiring at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Consider this when deciding whether an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing is the best choice for you.

Pass the NCLEX examination

In order to qualify to be licensed and practice as an RN or Licensed Practice Nurse (PN) in the U.S., you will need to pass the National Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which is developed and administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

Get nursing experience

Typically, hospitals hiring travel nurses will require at least one year of recent nursing career experience in the specialty applied for. Once you have completed enough nursing education to get work experience, or have graduated and are looking for your first job, you should carefully consider the specialty that you choose. Some nursing specialties are in higher demand than others when it comes to travel nurses, which include:

  • Emergency room: ER nurses are making a comeback after 2018 yielded the record lowest number of emergency room travel nurses. The demand for this specialty is on the rise, however. Working as an ER nurse requires quick thinking and a lot of action. You’ll be mainly dealing with patients who need immediate attention for life-threatening conditions or injuries. It’s an ideal specialty for nurses who love the fast-paced side of the job or want to really put their skills to the test. Since it exposes you to a wide range of conditions, it’s also an ideal choice for nurses who aren’t yet sure what they’d like to specialize in.
  • Telemetry: Medical-surgical and telemetry nurses never get bored, as they spend their time caring for patients of all ages, with a wide range of different conditions. During a single shift, you might find yourself changing and starting IVs, dressing wounds, or assisting patients with asthma attacks. These nurses often work with patients who need extra monitoring, especially those recently released from intensive care who are often at high risk for complications.
  • Women’s health: Last year saw a shortage of women’s health travel nurses, so there’s a high demand for registered nurses to travel and work in this field. There are several options to choose from, including working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Mother-Baby/Postpartum nurses, and Labor and Delivery nurses. Your main responsibility is looking after moms and babies before, during, and after birth.
  • ICU: ICU nurses are always in high demand. Working in the ICU means that you will be responsible for looking after patients who may be in a critical condition after experiencing a serious accident, trauma, organ failure, or invasive surgery. Nurses working in the ICU are responsible for carefully monitoring and assessing the progress of their patients, and need to have extensive knowledge and confidence to act quickly when emergency intervention is necessary.

Operating room (OR), cardiovascular operating room (CVOR), and long-term acute care (LTAC) nurses are also among some of the specialties most in-demand for travel nursing.

Determine your tax home

Travel nursing pay packages will almost always come with some form of tax-free compensation included. You’ll struggle to find a company that will agree to pay an all-taxable pay package, but the catch here is that you need to qualify to receive tax-free money. If you don’t qualify, you will be required to declare your tax-free compensation on your annual tax return and pay income taxes.

To make sure that you qualify for the tax-free pay that travel nurses are awarded, you will need to maintain a legitimate tax home. This article is a useful resource if you want to learn more about why it’s necessary to maintain a tax home as a travel nurse, and how to go about doing it.

Know what you want

Just a quick look at these statistics about nursing is enough to tell you that there’s a lot to get out of this choice of career. Nurses enjoy high demand, flexible work options, career progression, benefits, job security, and respect and reward at a much higher rate than many other career options.

But, what exactly do you want to get out of your career as a travel nurse? It’s important to decide on what you want before you start your agency search because there’s a wide range of agencies offering plenty of different options. Think about key factors such as where you want to travel and the type of settings that you want to work in.

Travel nurses can work in:

  • Regular hospitals in wards, theaters, and emergency rooms
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Clinics
  • Care homes
  • Communities
  • Temporary hospitals

It’s also a wise idea to think about what you want to get out of your pay package as a travel nurse before you start searching for agencies since different agencies offer a variety of payment arrangements and benefits, which can include:

  • Travel stipends
  • Rental cars
  • Accommodation
  • Medical benefits
  • 401Ks

Find a travel nursing agency

Once you’ve made some decisions regarding what you want to do as a travel nurse and what you want out of it, it’s time to start looking for agencies that can deliver your requirements. There are several different approaches to finding travel nursing agencies that you may want to try.

  • Rating services: There are a number of rating services that you can use to find agencies that are rated by travel nurses who have previously or are currently working with them. Travel Nursing Central and Highway Hypodermics are two of the most popular.
  • Lead generators: These are websites that you can sign up to in exchange for connections with the top agencies. The website will collect basic information about your career, your requirements, and your contact information and pass it on to agencies who will get in touch with you.
  • Referrals: If you know somebody who has worked as a travel nurse, seeing if they can refer you to any recruiters or agencies that they had a good experience with is a great way to find work.

Complete your submission profile

For a hospital to consider an agency’s candidate, it’s standard practice for them to require the agency to submit an application, clinical references, and a skills checklist. This is commonly known as your submission profile. No matter what agency you choose to work with, you will be required to fill out submission profile documents. The sooner that this is completed, the sooner you can begin applying to travel nurse positions in your chosen destinations.

Get your paperwork in order

Ideally, you should begin thinking about your paperwork in advance of putting it all together, especially when it comes to certifications and licenses. Hospitals will expect candidates to have obtained all the required licensing and certificates before applying and will usually require proof of this upfront.

In most cases, applying for work as a travel nurse will also require you to submit your medical records. You will usually need to have recently obtained these in order to meet the qualification requirements. Agencies will be able to help you acquire and cover the cost of your medical records, but it’s a wise idea to maintain your own set of documents, which will help you land travel jobs more quickly.

If you’re interested in seeing the world and a career in nursing, travel nursing is the perfect combination. As a travel nurse, you can work anywhere in the world in a wide variety of clinical and care settings.

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