How to Become a Travel Nurse

NursingOctober 13, 2023

Travel nurses play an important role in healthcare facilities that are short-handed or need temporary staffing assistance. Professionals who choose to become travel nurses benefit from working in a variety of settings and locations, which can increase their job satisfaction.

Individuals who are interested in how to become a travel nurse should know that the first step is to enroll in a nursing school program where they can gain the education and skills required for the role. 

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

Travel nurses are typically registered nurses (RNs), though some are licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or nurse practitioners (NPs). Travel nurses are hired on a temporary basis by hospitals and other medical facilities. They may take positions in understaffed emergency departments or help fill in when demand spikes in specialty units such as obstetrics or oncology departments. Some nurses may respond to the need for emergency medical teams in communities that have experienced a natural disaster or are facing a disease outbreak.

As their title suggests, travel nurses travel to different cities or states across the U.S., and some take positions overseas. Licensing requirements vary, but most U.S. states are part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which permits licensed RNs to practice in other participating states. 

Some travel nurses work away from home for weeks at a time, while others spend months or years in a given location. Travel expenses and basic amenities like food, airfare, and lodging are typically covered by the travel nurse’s employer, which may be a travel nursing agency or a healthcare facility. 

As part of their roles, these individuals collaborate with other nurses, doctors, schedulers, and people in management to ensure the best possible care is delivered to patients. They work to build rapport and relationships with their co-workers as well as their patients. 

<h3>Travel Nurse Duties and Responsibilities</h3>

Travel nurses’ duties and responsibilities can vary depending on their education, their credentials, and the scope of practice in the state where they’re working. Their tasks may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Traveling a wide range of distances and spending a varying amount of time away from home to deliver care to their patients
  • Taking detailed patient histories with new patients and their families or caregivers
  • Addressing patients’ concerns by providing advice and healthcare services
  • Keeping equipment clean, sterile, and organized
  • Administering medications as allowed by their scope of practice
  • Cleaning and dressing wounds, and changing the dressings as needed
  • Monitoring patients’ recovery closely and keeping detailed records of the recovery process
  • Reporting to travel nursing agencies or employers in a timely manner
  • Assisting with duties at hospitals, clinics, or other facilities as required 

Steps to Become a Travel Nurse

Learning how to become a travel nurse involves gaining an understanding of the five steps in the process. Earning a degree and obtaining a nursing license are essential steps, and pursuing continuing education is a must for maintaining licensure in every state. 

1. Earn a Degree

Individuals researching how to become a travel nurse will find that the first step is to earn a nursing school credential. To become an RN, individuals must earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Some travel nurses are LPNs who have completed a practical nursing program or nurse practitioners who have earned a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. 

These programs can take anywhere from one to five years to complete, depending on the chosen pathway. 

2. Develop Key Skills

The key skills required to succeed in a role as a travel nurse include both clinical skills and professional skills. Clinical skills include proficiency in managing medications, taking vital signs, taking complete patient histories, charting, and dressing wounds. Professional skills include emotional intelligence, language and communication skills, adaptability, and the flexibility to handle the ever-changing nature of a travel nurse’s job. 

3. Gain Licensure and Certification

After they complete their nursing programs, aspiring travel nurses must pass either the practical nurse or the registered nurse version of the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, to become licensed LPNs or RNs. Licensure is required in all 50 states. 

Nurses may also choose to pursue optional professional certifications. Three common certifications for travel nurses are certified pediatric nurse (CPN), certified critical care nurse (CCRN), and certified emergency nurse (CEN). Aspiring travel nurses should choose certifications that best align with their career intentions. 

4. Gain Work Experience

There are several options for gaining work experience, even prior to graduating from a nursing program. Many successful travel nurses begin their careers as nurse aids or certified nursing assistants (CNAs), then move on to their LPN or RN roles after completing their degree programs. Many nursing programs include a practicum, which is a clinical internship in which nurses learn the skills needed to practice medicine. 

Traveling nurse agencies and healthcare employers typically expect nurses to have several years of RN experience before applying for travel nursing positions.

5. Continue Professional Development

Professional development continues throughout a travel nurse’s career. As technology and medicine advance and improve, nurses must be committed to staying abreast of the changes and implementing them into the care they provide. Attending conferences and workshops is very helpful, as is joining local travel nursing groups and associations. Nursing licensure requires continuing education, which is another important part of professional development. 

Job Outlook for Travel Nurses

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for all nurses — including travel nurses — is strong. The employment of RNs is projected to climb by 6% between 2022 and 2032, and the employment of LPNs is expected to grow by 5% within that same time period. 

As the U.S. population ages, individuals will require more healthcare. Furthermore, new advances in medicine and technology paired with increasing access to healthcare services means that the demand for healthcare will continue to grow well into the future. 

Enroll in a Nursing Program, and Advance Toward Becoming a Travel Nurse

Travel nursing is a unique and rewarding career that allows you to help others while traveling the state, the country, or even the world. Now that you’ve learned how to become a travel nurse, if you’re ready to take the first step, one of the nursing school programs at Fortis can help provide you with the education and skills you’ll need to thrive in the role. 

The Fortis practical nursing and Associate Degree in Nursing programs provide a combination of hands-on and classroom training opportunities that help prepare future nurses to provide quality care and support to patients and their families.

Recommended Readings

6 Essential Clinical Nursing Skills
Nurses’ Essential Tools to Bring to Work as a New Grad
5 Ways Nurses Are Making a Difference in Patients’ Lives

ANA Enterprise, “How to Become a Travel Nurse”
Indeed, “How to Become a Travel Nurse (Plus Salary and Tips)”
Indeed, What Does a Travel Nurse Do?
Trusted Health, “Is Travel Nursing Still Worth It in 2023?”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses  
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
Workable, Travel Nurse Job Description