How to become a travel nurse

Posted by on Jun 13, 2013 | 4 comments

How to become a travel nurse

Making the switch from nursing to travel nursing can at times seem like a very daunting task. There are many preparations to be made and many things to consider. If you are considering travel nursing as a career, we recommend you take the time to read through our guide below. If you still have questions, post them on our Q&A.

Meeting the Requirements

The following are MINIMUM requirements. If you only meet the minimum, you will likely be excluded from many positions due to lack of experience or certifications. This is not to discourage you but don’t be surprised if your first assignment is not EXACTLY what you wanted. You may have to be flexible until you get more experience under your belt. The minimum:

  • Professional License

    This may seem obvious, but you must have a license in your profession. For a registered nurse, this means you must have graduated from an accredited school of nursing in the U.S. or Canada. A four-year bachelor or two-year associate degree in nursing or a three year (usually hospital-based) diploma will all work. After you receive your education, you must also pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

  • Experience

    The absolute bare minimum required experience is almost always 12 months or more. This is true for just about every profession and specialty with extremely rare exceptions. Many companies require 18-24 months. It really depends on your specialty, the agency’s requirements, and the hospital’s requirements. You should also keep in mind that many agencies and hospitals require that this experience be concentrated in one specialty. Twelve months experience in telemetry followed by six months experience in the ER may not be enough to land a travel position in the ER. Many hospitals want the 18-24 months experience in the specialty the traveler is applying for.

Selecting an Agency

When selecting a travel agency to work with, try to think of it as if you were buying a car from a dealer. They all sell the same thing and their job is to make money. Your job is to find an agency and recruiter that can offer you the best deal that suites your needs. Just like buying a car, you are not required and it is not advised to sign with the first agency and recruiter you contact without speaking with any other agency. Talk to at least two or three recruiters from different agencies to get a feel for what each agency and recruiter has to offer. Here are some things to look for:

  • Location

    Decide what areas of the country you want to travel. Larger agencies offer jobs from coast to coast while smaller agencies might be localized to a specific metropolitan area, state, or region. Nationwide agencies will have more jobs to choose from and will allow you to roam until your heart’s content. Localized agencies may not have as many jobs, but they will have more expertise in the location they specialize in and will likely be a little more personable. They also work great for travelers that only want to travel to hospitals within commuting distance of their current residence (yes, you can be a travel nurse and still live at home!).

  • Recruiter

    Travel agencies will assign a recruiter to work with you throughout your traveling career with that agency. You can think of your recruiter as the salesperson in the car dealership analogy. Some recruiters are very good at their jobs and will work hard to make you happy and make sure you get what you want. Some are very good at making you think you are getting a good deal. And some are just not very good at their jobs at all. The relationship you develop with your recruiter is vital to your success and overall enjoyment in your traveling career. You want someone who puts your needs before anything else and doesn’t try to pressure you into a job you know is not a good fit. If you are not satisfied with this relationship, it would be in your best interest to request a different recruiter. The agency will very likely be more than happy to oblige your request and there are plenty of other agencies to choose from in the unlikely event they refuse.

Planning Ahead

A career as a traveler can be the best thing that ever happened to you or a living nightmare you can’t wait to escape. How well you plan and prepare for your first assignment will have an enourmous impact on which category you fall under. Do your homework:

  • Self-Assesement

    Depending on your situation, you may have to make some pretty big sacrifices to travel. Will you have to sell your house? Do you have a partner or will you be traveling alone? Can you handle being away from your family for months at a time? Will you be able to start a new job every 8-13 weeks, learning new systems, packing and unpacking, working with people you’ve never met? It’s hard to determine if you’ll enjoy doing something you’ve never done before, but try not to imagine how wonderful it will be and think about some of the negative impacts it will have on your life. It might be a good idea to find a travel position close to home so you can dip your toes in the water before going all in.

  • No Surprises

    Your first assignment is going to require a lot of preparation on your part about things you never thought about. The last thing you want is to realize at the last minute that the job outlook for your specialty is very bleak and you need another 12 months experience in another specialty. This is especially true if you are already well into the process of selling your belongings and/or home or at the end of a lease and ready to go. Your recruiter and other traveling nurses are your best resources. You should speak with a recruiter six months in advance of when you think you might want to take your first assignment. Take a look at our Q&A for traveling nurses and ask questions. Make sure when you are ready to sign your first contract, there are no surprises.

Your First Assignment

If you’ve made it this far, your last order of business is choosing your first assignment. By now your recruiter has probably spoken with you to determine what locations and size of hospital would be a good fit. Most hospitals will be looking to hire about 2-4 weeks in advance of the starting date. Your recruiter will call you with possibilities and put your name in the hat for jobs that you are interested in. From here, the search begins:

  • The Search

    TravelNurseHelp can be a great resource when searching for a hospital. We have a large database of over 7,000 hospitals in the U.S. and include just about everything you would need to know about the surrounding area: local weather, google maps, crime rates, rental rates, interesting things to do nearby and of course information about the hospital itself. This can save you a lot of time searching the internet to find all of this information. The best part…….it’s FREE! So find a hospital you are considering and do your homework.

  • The Interview

    Once you have chosen the hospital(s) you want to apply for, your recruiter will contact you if a hospital is interested. The next step will be a phone interview with the hiring manager of the hospital. Here you will be asked questions about your previous experience to determine if you will be a good fit. This is also your opportunity to interview them and find out if it is something you will feel comfortable with. You should ask questions about the facility, department you’ll be assigned, hours, shift, etc.

  • The Offer

    Once a hospital has accepted you as a traveler, you will get a call from your recruiter. This is your last chance to ask questions and make sure you are comfortable with the contract. If you are not, decline the offer and put your name in a different hat. If you accept, the recruiter will email or fax the required paperwork and go over any requirements such as immunizations or fingerprinting that you will need to have in order before your start date.


  • Wendy

    I have been looking for a site like yours!!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to post all of this information. I have not started traveling yet and am doing a lot of research. I am a psych nurse and a little picky so I am wondering if I need to do this. I am not getting any younger and have no retirement so I need to figure it out soon. It is just a huge step.

    • Guest

      I’m glad you like the site! It is no doubt a big decision. There is a need for

    • Stasha

      Wendy, I was just reading back through the posts on the website, when I came across your post. I was wondering if you have made the leap to travel nursing?

  • Stasha

    Glad you like the site! Making the decision to start traveling is no doubt a difficult one! My golden thought is always, “if I hate the assignment, it’s only temporary.” You are not obligated after your contract to keep traveling.