Your Travel Nursing Guide

If you’re a working nurse looking for a change of pace, chances are you have heard about travel nursing. Indeed, travel nursing can be an excellent alternative to the occasional boredom of being a “regular” nurse in a hospital or clinic. To help you out, we’ve gathered tons of the best information to create for you the ultimate travel nursing guide. Interested in learning more? Keep reading!

What is Travel Nursing?

Essentially, travel nursing is the same as regular nursing. You’ll be in facilities that you’re familiar with, doing work that you are already good at. The only difference is that you’ll be filling in a much-needed gap where there is a shortage of nurses. As a nurse already, you’re probably painfully aware that there is a nation-wide (and worldwide, if we’re being honest) nursing shortage that is affecting every state. Travel nurses take on assignments to work in these areas for short amounts of time until places can be filled permanently.

A typical travel nursing contract lasts between two and six months. Generally, you can expect to sign a contract for around 3 months at a time. This means that you’ll get to relocate to almost anywhere in the country a few times a year, allowing you to take advantage of seasonal preferences!

Who Can Become a Travel Nurse?

Because nurses are in such high demand, pretty much any qualified nurse can join the ranks of traveling healthcare. While all specialties are welcome and needed, there are a few specialties that are much needed in facilities around the nation. ICU, telehealth, operating room, even home health are all specialties that are very welcome in the traveling side of the profession.

Regardless of your specialty, it’s a good idea to have a year or two of experience under your belt before you apply for a travel contract. Because travel nurses are needed to fill in gaps, you could be assigned to any number of areas, so it’s a good plan to be familiar with a variety of specialties and at least have a good working knowledge of different techniques, methods, and procedures for treatment.

Some key characteristics needed for travel nurses are adaptability, patience, flexibility, self-motivation and a strong foundational knowledge.

Is it Right for Me?

Becoming a travel nurse is a big career change for most nurses. It can be challenging to move around so often and have to readjust to each new facility’s protocols and policies. Before you jump into a contract, here are a few signs that travel nursing is right for you:

  1. You Appreciate a Good Work/Life Balance

Nurses are extremely familiar with being overworked and underappreciated; it kind of comes along with the territory, right? But it’s not pleasant and some of us struggle more than others when it comes to making sure we have a good life outside of work as well as in it.

If you’re the type of person that really needs a good work/life balance, travel nursing could be the right move for you. A lot of times we get dragged down by our own routine – work, drive, eat, sleep, wake, work. But imagine being in a new city every three months! You’ll have more motivation to go out and explore your new environment, try new foods, make new friends. And then when you get bored of your new place or routine, you’re off to the next one! It definitely keeps things interesting!

  1. You Want to Improve Your Resume

There’s no better way to become more marketable than to be thrown into new positions and duties every few months. Instead of being an RN at your local clinic for 5 years, you get to stretch out your experience and show future employers exactly what you’re capable of! You’ll get the chance to work in more specialties, more departments, and have more responsibilities than just sitting in your same position for years on end.

  1. You’re Social

Becoming a travel nurse isn’t for the faint of heart; really, being a social or extroverted person is a good sign that you will thrive in the travel environment. Moving around so much means that you’ll be meeting lots of new people, both socially and at work. If you thrive on getting to know people in both of those circumstances, travel nursing will be a breeze. If you’re shy or struggle to meet people, you could find travel nursing extra challenging, since you won’t have a standby group of friends to rely on for your weekends out. But if you love taking initiative, doing things by yourself, and meeting new people, travel nursing is the perfect place for you.

  1. You’re Adaptable

Again, travel nursing is chaotic by nature and you need to be able to adapt to a lot of new things all at once. In the space of a week, you could find yourself moving across the country, finding a place to rent, figuring out new public transportation, and learning your new facility, all while maintaining your sanity. If this sounds like a walk in the park for you, go for it! You clearly have the ability to adapt to new situations without getting frazzled, and that’s exactly the type of person travel nursing is for!

  1. You’re a Minimalist

Packing all of your things every few months is nobody’s idea of a good time, but it’s especially difficult if you just own a lot of stuff. From heirloom furniture to your “totally necessary” collection of Louboutins, having a lot of things you need to bring with you could hinder your ability to really enjoy the traveling part of travel nursing.

But if you’re a minimalist, owning just the necessities (scrubs, scrubs, and more scrubs, plus a pair of practical shoes), you’ll find that packing all of your things into a couple of suitcases and into the back of your car is much easier than renting a U-Haul every 12 weeks. You don’t need tons of décor to make a house a home, and you certainly don’t need your mother’s old China set. If you can get along without these things and enjoy a minimalist lifestyle, you’re ready to travel.

  1. You See Beyond Salary

The salary for a traveling nurse is pretty great, and we’ll get to that in a second, but a good travel nurse will also recognize the benefits that come along with the obvious monetary ones. Even if you are taking a bit of a pay cut to do travel nursing, you’ll have a good eye for what more you’re getting out of the experience. For example, you’ll have a much more flexible schedule, you’ll get to travel to places you’ve never been before (so add adventure to that list of perks!), and you’ll get all the regular benefits like healthcare and sometimes dental as well. In addition, because traveling can be seen as a burden (pssh!), some companies that hire travel nurses even offer incentives like free all-inclusive trips to Mexico or other great locations. Overall, these companies know that there are a few downsides to travel nursing (though they are hard to find) and want to make it worth your while.

Oh, that salary we mentioned? Most travel nurses can expect to make around $1300 to $2700 a week, with many making up to $3000.

  1. You Want New Experiences

While daily work as a nurse can be chaotic and crazy, since no day is ever really the same, the routine of going home and back to work every day can get, well, boring. Many people will tell you to change specialties or departments in your facility. They might encourage you to seek higher education. All of these are great ideas for a change of pace, but if you’re really looking for something new, travel nursing is the way to go. Every day feels brand new because you’re still adjusting to new things. And by the time you get used to everything, it’s time to move on again! No matter how far you go – whether to Hawaii or Montana or even the next town over – you’ll be meeting new people, learning new things, and experiencing life in a whole new way.

  1. You’re Getting Bored

Too many nurses decide to quit nursing after just a few years. The reasoning is often that they’re bored or think that nursing just isn’t for them because they aren’t enjoying it anymore. Instead of pursuing other options within the realm of nursing, they decide to leave the profession altogether. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation of feeling bored by your current position but you still enjoy nursing, don’t turn down the idea of travel nursing. Travel nursing is a great way to break the routine and sense of boredom or frustration. Plus, because the contracts are only two to six months long, usually, you won’t be making a huge commitment that’s hard to get out of.

  1. You’re Looking for That Dream Job

Because the very nature of travel nursing means that you’ll get placed wherever you are most needed, you’ll get to experience a ton of new parts of healthcare. You might not like a lot of them, but if you’re on the hunt for your Dream Job, there’s no faster way to find it than to literally try out a ton of new positions in a short time. The best part is that you can bounce from place to place because that’s what you’re paid to do – you won’t look flighty or unreliable. As long as you can hang on for a little while, you’ll be able to cross some positions off your list as “maybes” and find what you really love doing even faster.

  1. You Love to Travel

If there’s nothing else on this list that entices you, your love for travel might be the best reason you have for joining the traveling nurses of the United States. You’ll have opportunities to work in all of the 50 states and see things that you wouldn’t normally have gotten to otherwise. If traveling as always been a passion of yours, and you just so happen to be a nurse, combine those two obsessions into one great career move.

So, How Do I Start?

So you’ve read through the above list and have decided that travel nursing is the right move for you – congratulations! This will be one of the best career decisions you could make! So…now what?

While you’re most likely already certified as a nurse, we’ll start from the very beginning anyway. First of all, you need to receive your degree in nursing, whether an Associate’s or Bachelor’s. Then, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX exam to become fully licensed in the state where you will begin working. Remember, you’ll need some experience before you can travel, so you’ll most likely get licensed in your home state, or where you went to school.

Speaking of that experience, most travel nursing agencies that help nurses get contracts require two years of experience, but you will definitely need at least one. This makes sure that you have a strong understanding of the work of a nurse. You’ll be learning new things about the boss’s expectations, facility protocols, etc. when you arrive at your new location, so the less you have to learn about actual nursing while on the job the better. It’s best to get this in a stable place where you can work with a mentor. Then, when you have a good foundation, you’re ready to put that knowledge to use around the country.

You’ll also need to do a bit of research about specific state licensing requirements. You’ll be moving around to different states pretty regularly, so you’ll need to know in advance what you need to do. Luckily, many states offer temporary licenses to incoming nurses, though some licenses can take a few months and an in-person visit to receive.

Finally, you’ll want to contact a travel nurse agency and work with a recruiter. You’ll be able to lay out your preferences for location and specialty, though there’s no real guarantee that you’ll be placed at your top choice facility. When working with agencies, be consistent in communication and don’t feel bad for saying no to assignments that don’t feel right for you. Always be clear on salary and benefits packages before you sign up for a contract.

Final Thoughts

Travel nursing is right for everyone. However, with the right personality, drive, and desire for adventure, it could be the best thing to happen to your nursing career. If you’re considering it as an option, contact an agency to help you get placed in your first travel assignment.

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