Professional Development January 12, 2023

By Melissa Hagstrom, contributor

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Excellent compensation, the ability to explore the country, and the satisfaction that comes with helping patients in a variety of settings are just a few of the top benefits to a travel nursing career. But many of you may be wondering how to become a travel nurse.

Whether you are an experienced nurse or a new grad who is just starting out on your nursing journey, we've made it easy to understand the process. If you've been eager to learn how to become a travel nurse, you've come to the right place.

What is a travel nurse?

The concept of travel nursing can be traced back to a nursing shortage in the late 1970s, and the practice grew in the following decade. Fast forward to today, and travel nursing has evolved into a lucrative career for nurses around the world.

To sum it up, travel nurses are RNs who are employed by travel nursing agencies and deployed to different hospitals and other healthcare facilities to fill in for permanent nursing staff.

Travel nurses are used on a temporary basis to help when nurses are on vacation or leave, or the facility is simply short-staffed due to expansions, seasonal increases in patient census, and other reasons. Travelers can also help provide care during natural disasters or labor disputes.

According to Derick J., BSN, RN, CCRN, who travels with Onward Healthcare, flexibility is an essential component to travel nursing.

"I like that we have the flexibility you won't find in many other fields," he said. "If I want to go to a specific place, I just have to get my license and talk to my recruiter. If I work for three months and decide I want to take a break, I simply don't take my next contract until I'm ready. I have a lot of friends in other career fields, and they don't have that flexibility. They have the 9-to-5 grind, and they can't just take a month or so off as we can."

Becoming a travel nurse also includes other awesome perks such as free, company-paid housing, comprehensive health insurance plans, travel reimbursements, 401(k) retirement plans, free continuing education and so much more.

5 Steps to Become a Travel Nurse

Becoming a travel nurse has become easier than ever as travel nurse agencies such as Onward Healthcare have streamlined the application process. We've also taken the guesswork out of learning how to become a travel nurse with the steps outlined below. Keep reading to find out how to get started in the world of travel nursing.

1. Earn a nursing degree

Step one: it's time to hit the books and earn a nursing degree in order to become a travel nurse. And, for the record, a registered nurse with a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN) is more marketable than a nurse with only an associate's degree (ADN) or a diploma. For example, most ANCC Magnet hospitals and large academic teaching hospitals want travel nurses with a BSN.

2. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)

Once you've earned your nursing degree it's time to study and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) has developed the NCLEX to test the competency of nursing school graduates in the United States and Canada. Computerized adaptive testing (CAT) technology is used to deliver the exam and there are a variety of testing resources and FAQs available through the NCSBN. Once you take the test and get your results in approximately five days.

RELATED: How Does Travel Nursing Work with a Family?

3. Obtain RN licensure

So you've passed the NCLEX--congrats! Now it is time to obtain your official RN licensure. Prior to testing, you will need to submit documentation to your state board of nursing. Each state is different, but generally, the process includes submitting an application, your fingerprints, and a criminal background check. Once your state board receives the information that you passed the NCLEX, they will generate your RN license number and you can officially start practicing as a nurse in your state!

4. Get out there and gain nursing experience

Once you've met all of the educational requirements, the final preparation step in how to become a travel nurse is to gain some real-world clinical nursing experience. According to the new graduate experts here at Onward Healthcare, you can start to apply for travel nursing jobs after just 6-9 months of experience. But keep in mind that you won't be able to embark on your first travel nurse agency assignment until you've reached the one-year mark of experience. Some nursing specialties or facilities might require even more experience.

5. Connect with an Onward Healthcare recruiter

Are you ready to get started on a career as a travel nurse? Onward Healthcare has made it simple to get you on the road ASAP. Just take it from Derick, who credits his recruiter at Onward with helping him become a successful travel nurse:

"One of the most important things in traveling is finding a recruiter who really understands you, what you're looking for, and is willing to do what they can for you," Derek said. "I've been very fortunate that my recruiter has always done what she can to make an assignment work for me. She has done an amazing job working with me."

Once you've applied with our travel nurse agency, your personal recruiter will get to know your needs, help find appropriate assignments, and walk you through the remaining steps to get you working.

Start by exploring Onward's job search page to browse our current assignments. Then, fill out our quick online application to get connected with a recruiter!

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