Smiling nurse holding a cup of coffee outside

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Degree Requirements, Job Duties, Work Experience, and More

Smiling nurse holding a cup of coffee outside

Call it wanderlust, restlessness, or boundless curiosity—some people are simply born to roam. If you’re a nomadic spirit at heart who loves the idea of traveling to new places, treating patients, and exploring everything the area has to offer, travel nursing could be a great career fit!

As the demand for healthcare grows, facilities all over the country experience staffing shortages in a variety of nursing specialties. As a result, many of them look to travel nurses to fill short- to medium-term assignments.

Travel nurses have the opportunity to work with many different facilities, colleagues, and patient populations. Depending on the demand for their particular specialty, they can also be paid premium rates compared to full-time nursing staff!

In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at how to become a travel nurse, including the educational requirements, necessary certifications, and additional steps like connecting with a travel nursing agency.

Still, trying to decide if nursing is the right career field for you? Check out our detailed guide on how to become a registered nurse, or learn more about the highest paid nursing jobs.

Travel Nurse Definition

What Is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses are licensed registered nurses who work on temporary assignments, usually lasting from a few weeks to a few months. Most of the time, they work with a recruiter from a nurse staffing agency to find assignments.

Travel nurses have all the same qualifications and responsibilities as permanently employed nurses, and they can work in just about any nursing specialty. Nurses with multiple certifications or experience in several areas may have a wider variety of assignments to choose from.

As healthcare facilities navigate the ongoing shortage of healthcare providers, travel nurses are often a critical part of maintaining high patient-care standards when a clinic is busy, understaffed, or both. Thanks to their professionalism and adaptability, travel nurses provide much-needed relief to patients and support to their fellow nurses.

While being away from home for months at a time isn’t for everyone, travel nursing also has some serious benefits. Nurses can take time off between assignments to recharge and enjoy their lives outside of work. Many travel nurses also enjoy the flexibility and autonomy of choosing where and when to accept an assignment, as well as the opportunity to explore new parts of the country.

Travel Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

In most clinical environments, a travel nurse’s responsibilities generally include patient assessments and monitoring, administering medications and other treatments, and performing diagnostic tests to help determine the best treatment plan for each patient. Travel nurses with specializations like critical-care nursing or surgical nursing can expect industry-standard duties like performing triage or assisting surgeons with complicated procedures.

Like any nurse, travel nurses closely monitor their patient’s condition and are prepared to take quick action if somebody’s health takes a turn for the worse. Just as importantly, they provide education, encouragement, and emotional support to patients and their families and communicate with them to understand their concerns and treatment goals.

Travel Nurse Duties

A travel nurse’s daily duties and responsibilities generally include:

  • Conduct patient assessments
  • Administer medication and other treatments
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Record important health data and keep patient charts up to date
  • Perform and analyze diagnostic tests to determine appropriate treatment
  • Educate patients and their caregivers on how to continue care
  • Collaborate with healthcare colleagues like physicians, nurses, and patient techs

Travel nurse interacting with a virtual map

Travel Nurse Skills

Flexibility and adaptability are important for travel nurses, as you’ll need to get up to speed quickly when you first begin an assignment. Polished communication and interpersonal skills are also essential, as they make it much easier to become part of the team in a new environment.

Gaining experience with different devices, procedures, patient populations, and charting systems will also make for a smoother transition when shifting between healthcare facilities. Medical technology evolves quickly, and staying up to date on the latest treatments and technology can make you a more valuable candidate for travel nursing assignments.

While every nursing job requires strong critical-thinking skills and grace under pressure, those traits are especially important for travel nurses, who must be able to respond calmly and make evidence-based decisions when working in unfamiliar environments.

Where Do Travel Nurses Work?

Travel nurses can find work in all types of care environments, from hospitals and trauma centers to specialty clinics, rehabilitation centers, and long-term care facilities. They may take assignments in bustling cities where demand for care is always high or in rural settings that tend to have fewer healthcare providers per capita. Travel nurses can even work internationally, either on assignment for a staffing agency or doing volunteer or mission work through several organizations.

When researching potential assignments, make sure the facility and location align with your preferences and long-term career goals. It’s also important you understand what expenses you may need to cover out of pocket (like travel, housing, and meals) and what will be covered or reimbursed by your agency.

Travel Nurse Schooling and Certifications

How Long Does it Take to Become a Travel Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Travel Nurse?

To become a successful travel nurse and unlock the widest variety of job opportunities, you’ll need to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Traditionally, it’s taken at least four full years in school to earn a bachelor’s degree—but with an accelerated BSN program, you could graduate in three years or less.

Let’s walk through each step of the educational requirements to become a travel nurse:

1. Enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program

Securing your spot in a BSN degree program is the first step in your nursing career journey. Be absolutely sure you choose an accredited nursing program to complete your training, as it’s required by most employers. Some programs also have long waitlists, so make sure you understand when you’ll realistically be able to get a spot.

Admissions requirements vary between colleges, but you’ll generally need to complete a video or in-person interview, pass a background check, and achieve a passing score on an academic assessment exam like the TEAS. At Provo College, we assign a dedicated admissions advisor to each potential nursing student to streamline the process and answer any questions.

2. Earn Your Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree

Like any bachelor’s degree program, your BSN includes general-education courses like math, English, and psychology to help you become a more well-rounded communicator and critical thinker. You’ll also study scientific topics like chemistry, statistics, and microbiology, which will establish a foundation for applying these skills in clinical settings.

As for your nursing-specific education, you can expect to extensively study just about every part of the human body and its systems. After learning about anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology, you’ll learn how to work with patients ranging from newborn infants to nursing home residents.

You’ll study different treatment methods, develop evidence-based reasoning skills, and learn about important ethical considerations in healthcare. And, of course, you’ll do plenty of hands-on learning in labs and real-life clinical settings during clinical rotations and supervised patient interactions.

Close up of a laptop, stethoscope, and mini globe

3. Pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX)

After completing your clinical rotations and earning your bachelor’s degree, passing the NCLEX-RN is the final major milestone before you can earn your nursing license and begin practicing. Most questions are multiple-choice, with a few fill-in-the-blank and ordered-choice questions mixed in. The number of questions depends on how many you answer correctly, but the maximum number is 145.

Many people are understandably intimidated by the NCLEX, but a passing score all comes down to being prepared. Nursing programs invested in their student’s success will include review courses and NCLEX tutoring to make sure you’re feeling confident going into the exam. And if you don’t pass on your first try, you can take the test again—though this may delay how quickly you’re able to start your career as a travel nurse.

4. Gain Experience as a Registered Nurse

Before you can become a travel nurse, you’ll need to gain some experience working in clinical settings. Most travel nurse agencies require at least two years of clinical experience before you can start applying for travel nursing jobs. They want to be sure you’ve seen enough real-world action to provide competent patient care and handle yourself in an unfamiliar environment.

5. Connect with a Travel Nursing Agency

Travel nurses almost always work with an agency to secure assignments in different healthcare facilities. You’ll likely work with a recruiter who will propose different jobs to match your skills, experience, and preferences. A great agency will listen to your needs and work with you, without pressuring you into taking assignments. They may also be able to help streamline the licensing process, since you’ll need to have an active license in each state where you’ll work as a travel nurse.

6. Continue to Develop Your Nursing Skills

Most states have ongoing education requirements for registered nurses to retain their licenses. Continuing education (CE) helps nurses stay up to date on advancing medical treatments and technology and broaden their skills to encompass more areas of nursing. Focusing your continuing education on relevant or emerging areas of medicine can make you a more desirable candidate for travel nursing assignments and any other nursing role.

Nurses who want to maximize their earning potential should also consider a postgraduate degree program, which can unlock advanced-practice careers like nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist. According to job data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, advanced-practice nurses are in even higher demand than BSN-level nurses.

Travel Nurse Salary

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

The typical salary* for a travel nurse is affected by many factors, including location, nursing specialty, and education level.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t offer data specifically for travel nurses, the average annual wage for registered nurses is over $94,000 per year, or about $45.42 per hour. Advanced-practice nurses with postgraduate degrees can earn even more, with an average salary* of over $128,000 according to the BLS.

Travel nurses may also receive additional forms of compensation like travel and housing allowances or sign-on bonuses. When negotiating with a travel nursing agency, be sure you’re 100% clear on what’s included, who’s responsible for arranging flights and lodging, and any noteworthy limits or conditions on reimbursements.

Nurse transporting a patient in a wheelchair through an airport

Travel Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Travel Nurses?

In the coming years, demand for healthcare is projected to grow steadily as the baby boomer generation enters retirement age. That means nurses in all specialties have a great long-term career outlook. BLS statistics show that the employment of registered nurses is expected to outpace the national growth average for all careers by the year 2032. That’s even more true for advanced-practice nursing careers like nurse practitioners, who are expected to see a massive 38% rise in employment during the same time frame.

While the BLS doesn’t provide job outlook data specifically for travel nurses, it stands to reason that the overall demand for nurses will carry over into travel nursing—especially because travel nurses specialize in fulfilling healthcare facilities’ unmet staffing needs.

Begin Your Nursing Journey at Provo College

Many travel nurses enjoy the opportunity to practice in different places, meet new colleagues, and make their mark in the places where their skills are most needed. It’s also a great way to have more autonomy in regard to where, when, and how often you work.

To thrive as a travel nurse who can handle just about anything, you must have a supportive environment during your nursing education. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Provo College prioritizes small class sizes and hands-on training to help our nursing students build confidence in their clinical reasoning and patient-care skills.

Some of our experienced nursing faculty have worked as travel nurses during their own careers and can offer valuable insights into the profession. Every Provo College nursing graduate also has ongoing access to a Career Services team, which can help you gain the initial job experience you need to transition into travel nursing.

Looking to learn more about what it’s really like to work in a nursing career? Check out our guide to a typical day in the life of a registered nurse.