Travel nurses are temporary, contract employees who are paid to work in a position for a set period of time. Because of the high demand for nurses in certain areas, travel nurses get paid more than staff nurses. If you want to become a travel nurse, read on because we’re digging into the 8 requirements you’ll need to meet in order to start travel nursing.
What Are the Differences Between a Travel Nurse and a Staff Nurse?
Travel nurses are contracted employees, which means they are not employed by the hospital itself. Aside from their employer, travel nurses and staff nurses have many things in common, but one of the most talked about differences is the discrepancy in pay. Since travel nurses do not need benefits and often fill a much-needed staffing hole, hospitals are willing to pay travel nurses a much higher rate than staff nurses. Depending on the season and current state of need, the difference can range from minimal to a massive pay gap.
Travel Nurse vs. Staff Nurse
Must have at least 1-2 years
Can start as a new grad
Higher than average
If this is your first time thinking about becoming a travel nurse, the good news is that many of the requirements are the same as if you were applying for a staff nurse position. Here is a non-comprehensive list of requirements.
1. Passing the NCLEX
It should go without saying that if you are going to practice as a nurse, you should be licensed as a nurse. You must have a valid and current license (LPNs, RNs, and BSNs can all travel, but the locations and facilities will differ).
2. Obtaining a Nursing License
Obtain a current license in your state of residence OR the state you wish to travel and work. One of the most complex aspects of being a new travel nurse is maintaining your license/compact license.
If your place of residence and “home” license are part of the compact, it can eliminate the need to apply for additional nursing licenses in many states. However, if your home state license is not a part of the nursing compact states (for instance, California), then you will need to apply for a separate license for every state you wish to work in.
This process can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks, so plan accordingly as some hospitals will not even allow you to submit an application without a license in hand.
This can be an arduous process as it includes fingerprinting every time, and each application can cost anywhere from $150-$300. Most agencies will reimburse you for all of the expenses if you end up taking a contract in that state.
3. Earning any Necessary Certifications
Based on the specific department you work in, you might be required to have certain certifications before submitting applications. Generally, if a job requires a certification, the travel agencies will reimburse you for any required education you do not already have.
Some common examples include BLS, ACLS, PALS, TNCC, NIH, and even TNCC. These will be catered to your department, and a recruiter should be able to provide you with a list of required certifications prior to submission.
4. Passing a Physical
Most agencies require an annual medical clearance from a provider. This can be a simple appointment or something you set up via urgent care. Many will also require a current fit test which will depend on what masks the hospitals you are applying for use.
5. Getting Your Immunizations
Just as with any other hospital, you must provide proof of certain immunizations or titers. Some common ones include Hep B, MMR, and a TB skin or blood test.
6. Have a Valid Tax Home
In order to qualify for the tax-free stipends, travel nurses must have a valid tax home that they continually pay expenses for while traveling. This means that you either rent or own a home at your tax residence while also duplicating the expenses of renting a place while traveling.
7. Provide References
Each travel agency will go about this in different ways, but most will require at least two references from a previous hospital. They often require a charge nurse or manager. Some are done via email, survey, or phone call.
8. Pass a Skills Assessment
This is one of the dreaded, annual tasks of being a travel nurse. This is where you show your comfort level and frequency of different topics and skills. Most can be completed fairly quickly and will be sent to you from your recruiter.
Entering the world of travel nursing and leaving a staff position can feel incredibly risky and intimidating. Traveling requires leaving a place of familiarity and potentially moving to a place where you know no one. This can be an incredibly challenging time, but also one in which you learn and grow more than you ever could in your place of comfort.
For some people, this might not sound appealing at all. If you have a family that you live next to and don’t want to leave, this might not be the best option for you. If you have a family of your own and don’t want to move your kids around, it may not be your best option.
If you don’t feel comfortable in your nursing skills quite yet, you might want to get a bit more experience before jumping headfirst to uncharted territory.
If, however, you are ready for something new and are able to travel, consider joining the travel nursing community. This is an opportunity to challenge yourself, meet new friends, gain more confidence, and even make more money.
Travel nursing provided me with five of the most challenging and fulfilling years, and it shaped who I am today by providing me with profound independence and confidence. If you are looking for an exciting challenge, and aren’t afraid of a few hard days, do your research and give travel nursing a try!