So you want to be a travel nurse? A guide for nurses interested in traveling

Amanda: I am from Wichita, Kansas and earned my BSN from Wichita State University three and a half years ago. I have been working as a travel nurse for a year and a half now. This photo was taken on my last night of my travel assignment in Kauai, Hawaii. My coworkers made food and leis for my last night of work at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihue, Hawaii.

Amanda:  “I have been working as a travel nurse for a year and a half now. This photo was taken on my last night of my travel assignment in Kauai, Hawaii.  My coworkers made food and leis for my last night of work at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihue, Hawaii.”  (Nurse Photo Contest entry)

If you have been a nurse for a while, or even if you are just starting out, you have probably heard someone mention travel nursing at some point or another. And you may have questions.

The first question, inevitably, is: what is travel nursing?

Basically, a travel nurse is a kind of temporary worker. You are hired to work, typically for 8 to 13 weeks (although the time frame can be longer or shorter), at a medical facility. And that facility can be nearly anywhere.

Hospitals in particular always need travel nurses. Just like with any industry, temporary workers are needed for everything from backfilling staffing needs during shortages or times of high demand, such as epidemics or natural disasters, to covering someone’s parental or family leave. You might even be hired as a travel nurse while permanent staff are being trained, or even during seasonal local population fluctuations, such as when school is in session in a college town.

So now you may be wondering, how does it all work?

Travel nurses inevitably get their assignments through staffing agencies. There are several to choose from. Your main concern should be with the quality of representation. If the recruiter seems overburdened or inattentive, you may not get the help you need or get your questions answered in a timely manner.

A travel nursing assignment is a contract role, so your terms are going to be stated clearly, up front. That includes not only pay, but also benefits. Benefits generally include vacation days, sick leave, health insurance, retirement plan contributions and housing.  Many travel nurse staffing agencies will offer a choice between staying in company provided housing or taking a per diem allowance (that may be tax-free depending on how far your residence is from the facility where you will be completing your travel nursing assignment).  Some travel nurses prefer to take the per diem allowance and make their own lodging arrangements while others prefer the convenience of having the agency take care of everything.  Whichever option you choose, make sure to research local housing options and costs and consult with an accountant or tax preparer to determine the applicable tax implications and benefits.

Your contract will also spell out travel arrangements and who pays for what. If you need to stay in shared housing, that will be covered. And if it’s not, ask! These are important details and you need to know. As always, with any legal document, be sure to read it over carefully before signing.

Crystal: This photo was taken when I was working as a travel nurse at a Kaiser Hospital in San Jose, CA. My boyfriend Mike and my dog Bradley came out west with me from our home state of Delaware. The shot was taken about 2 hours south of San Jose, at Plaskett Creek in Big Sur, CA; one of the most beautiful and undeveloped stretches of coastline in the U.S. This was one of our first trips there and we went back at least ten more times before moving back to Delaware. Without nursing, I may never have had this opportunity to see our amazing country!

Crystal: “This photo was taken when I was working as a travel nurse at a Kaiser Hospital in San Jose, CA.  The shot was taken about 2 hours south of San Jose, at Plaskett Creek in Big Sur, CA; one of the most beautiful and undeveloped stretches of coastline in the U.S. This was one of our first trips there and we went back at least ten more times before moving back to Delaware. Without nursing, I may never have had this opportunity to see our amazing country!”  (Nurse Photo Contest entry)

Now you may be wondering where you can go. And that’s where it really gets interesting. Because you do not have to stay in the United States! You can go where the need is most pressing, and that can end up being some of the most beautiful and unforgettable parts of the world, such as Senegal. Or you can head north, to the wilds of northern Canada.

And you can do good, too. Being a nurse is already a means for doing good for people, so why not help people in some of the most impoverished parts of the world? And that can be back home in America, too. How about helping people in Newark, New Jersey get on their feet, or helping to modernize health care in Appalachia?

Your next question might be: what qualifications do I need in order to become a travel nurse?

First of all, these jobs are about one hundred percent for RNs. It is rare if not impossible to find a travel opportunity for an LPN or a CNA. Furthermore, as a minimum qualification, you generally need at least one year under your belt, often in a hospital setting. That experience will stand you in good stead later.

You also need to be licensed. You will have the most options if you are licensed under the Nursing Licensure Compact. Half of all of the United States are covered, so this license can take you from Maine to Montana. These states include Texas and much of the southwest and mid Atlantic regions. However, New York, Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, and California are not included at this time. Furthermore, you have to start off as a resident of one of the compact states. That is, you need to declare one of the 25 listed states as your primary residence. Although if you are licensed in a compact state, then your license automatically becomes a compact license so long as it is in good standing.

Don’t live in a compact state? No problem! After all, a resident of Buffalo, New York can always work as a travel nurse in New York City. Or a native of Chico, California can work as a travel nurse in San Diego.  If you do want to work in a state where you aren’t licensed, make sure to get help from your recruiter or the credentialing coordinator at your travel nurse staffing agency.  They are very familiar with the licensing requirements and process and often know about ways to expedite applications.  However, you should be prepared to allow for some extra time to get your license.  For example, in California the current processing timeframe for Licensure by Endorsement  is 10 to 12 weeks.

So are you ready to get started? Are you wondering how to become a travel nurse? Nurse Recruiter is the place to start. We offer top notch travel nursing opportunities across the nation. Picture yourself healing and helping people in a bustling city hospital or a rural facility. Immerse yourself in a new place.

You’re already a nurse. You are already one of the good guys.

Janet Gershen-Siegel

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