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ProLink Travel Nurse Series: How to Become a Travel Nurse

November 11, 2022

With an RN license, some work experience, and an interest in exploring the country, the life of a travel nurse may suit the lifestyle and career goals of some nurses well. Before we review how to become a travel nurse, let's answer some frequently asked questions first.

How long does it take to start a career in travel nursing? 

If you are starting from scratch with no nursing school experience, it can take two to four years on average to start your career.

You will need complete your education, whether that means earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and then pass the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse (RN). Most employers also prefer some nursing experience on your resume. 

How much do travel nurses earn?  

The median salary for an RN is $77,600 a year. To start, travel nurses earn $78,430 a year with the potential to earn more with increased experience.  

Is it worth becoming a travel nurse?

That answer depends on you. Travel nursing can be a rewarding option, with the freedom to accept positions in various locations while continuing to make a difference in patients’ lives. 

What are the Steps to Becoming a Travel Nurse 

If you have your sights set on becoming a travel nurse, you first need a nursing education. While an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is acceptable for some positions, employers typically prefer nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

An ADN nursing program can be completed in 20 to 24 months in most cases. A BSN can take around three years to complete. Although, if you have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, there are accelerated programs that could allow you to earn a nursing degree in less time. Obtaining your ADN or BSN teaches you the skills you need to perform the necessary nursing duties, such as assessing patients, administering medications, charting vital signs, and all the rest.

The final step needed to work as a nursing professional is to obtain your registered nurse (RN) license. For that, you need to pass the NCLEX exam.

Pass the NCLEX Exam to Become a Registered Nurse

When you graduate with a nursing degree in hand, you are ready to take the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN), which is needed to become a practicing registered nurse in the United States.

Passing the NCLEX exam signifies that you meet your state's Board of Nursing requirements. You will then become an RN, allowing you to work in medical facilities like hospitals, physician’s offices, labs, oncology centers, and others. To become a travel nurse, you will likely need experience working in one of these centers before an employer will consider you for travel assignments.

Finally, in addition to your RN license, you need to become certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Basic Life Support (BLS). These requirements are needed before you can sign up for a travel nurse agency, which is one of the final steps to becoming a travel nurse.

Gain Experience Working in Your Specialization 

You can also choose to specialize. Doing so can open additional employment opportunities and raise your earning capacity. In order to specialize in a field like surgical, pediatrics, or neonatal care, to give some examples, you may need additional licensing. Most facilities also require you to have at least two years of experience in your field of specialization before you can be considered for travel to another facility in that field.

Apply for a Compact Nursing License  

Passing the NCLEX-RN exam certifies you to work in your state. To travel to another state, you will need to apply for an alternate state license. You can also apply for a compact license, which makes traveling to other locales easier as a travel nurse. 

The Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) is an agreement between various states that allows registered nurses to hold a single license that is valid in numerous states.

There are currently more than thirty states involved in the NLC with the list expanding all the time. The National Council of State Boards is in charge of tracking which states have enacted and implemented the compact agreement. 

If you live in a compact state, you can obtain a multistate license in the state where you live and work. What do you do if you don’t live in a compact state? If that’s the case, you’ll have to follow the rules of the other state to obtain a license. Each state has different rules, so check the nursing board of that state to determine the licensing requirements to become a travel nurse. 

Apply to Work with a Travel Nurse Staffing Agency

Once you have the necessary education, experience, and credentials, the next step to working as a travel nurse is applying to an agency, which is how you will find new job opportunities. 

While there are many travel nurse agencies to choose from, one of the best ways to locate an agency is to ask friends and family who are nurses for a referral. They may have access to a referral bonus from their agency for doing so.

You can also check rating services and join a professional networking site to determine which agency has everything you are looking for. 

The right agency will provide you with:

Job Seeking Assistance 

A travel nurse agency should be able to help you fashion your resume and give you tips for interviewing to secure the employment opportunities you want. The right agency will get to know you and your career goals so they can match you with the jobs that are perfect for advancing your nursing career. 

Exclusive Job Offers 

Travel nurse agencies spend time cultivating relationships with medical facility administrators around the country and sometimes the world. This allows the agency to know when new travel nurse jobs become available. Hospitals and other facilities are facing a nursing shortage like never before. Travel nursing is badly needed. These agencies act as liaisons, matching you with the medical facility that needs your skills and with a company culture that meshes with your personality. 

A Dedicated Recruiter 

You’ll know you have the right travel agency when you are paired with a recruiter you feel comfortable working with. This professional has experience in the travel nursing field and can help you dress up your resume, interview with confidence, and find new jobs that are perfect matches for your skills and abilities. With a recruiter always in your corner, you will be notified the moment a job listing comes available that you would be perfect for. 

Help with Licensure and Certification 

If a job listing is posted that seems perfect for you but you don’t have the right license or certification, your recruiter should be able to help. You’ll know you have the right agency when a recruiter can point you in the right direction for obtaining the licensure and certification you need. And especially so if that licensure or certification can be expedited, allowing you to get to work quickly in the new state or facility of your choice.  

Help with Negotiating Contracts 

The right travel nurse agency will help you negotiate contracts each time a new job becomes available. That way, you can be sure to obtain the salary, bonuses, hours, and other details you prefer instead of getting the short end of the stick. If you were to negotiate all on your own, you may not know where to begin. A recruiter at a reputable staffing agency can help you get the pay and perks you want to push your career forward as opposed to taking steps backward. 

Benefits, Bonuses, and Perks

Many of today’s top agencies provide health, vision, and dental insurance, as well as 401k retirement accounts from day one. You also may get housing stipends so you can save when securing accommodations, and even travel reimbursements for important expenses while on the move. 

Apply with an Award-Winning Agency

If you are looking for all of the above, and you have the requirements to become a travel nurse, apply today using ProLink Healthcare's easy online application process.

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