If you’re an aspiring travel nurse or recently qualified, you may be curious about the steps involved in developing your dream career. 

Well, our guide on how to become a travel nurse is all you need.

In it, we provide an in-depth exploration of how to become a traveling nurse, including obtaining qualifications and licensing and selecting a specialty and growing in your field. Of course, we’re also sharing practical tips and tricks you can take with you on your first assignment.

Understanding the Role: What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

Travel nurses are an integral part of many care settings. Like other types of nurses, they do quite a lot. But in addition to offering vital services, a travel nurse might also:

  • Help hospitals manage seasonal spikes in patient population
  • Support core staff to take leave
  • Diversify a nursing team with a specialty

Let’s further define the role and outline its broad strokes.

Defining the Role of a Travel Nurse

Travel nurses fill temporary nursing positions in hospitals or health centers in high need of care providers. On average, travel nurse contracts last about thirteen weeks. However, some contracts can be as short as two weeks or as long as six months (or even longer).    

As a travel nurse, you’ll likely find yourself carrying out typical nursing responsibilities, like: 

  • Collaborating with hospital staff to carry out patient care plans 
  • Providing basic nursing care to your patient load
  • Communicating with patients and their family members 

But here’s where things start to differ between other types of nurses and travel nurses. Since you’re often working in new locations, you’ll also find yourself:

  • Integrating with new team members and learning how to collaborate effectively
  • Adapting to different units and care environments 

If you’re beginning to feel butterflies alongside your excitement, take a deep breath—these last two skills are buildable and will become second nature as you gain experience. 

Orientation and Getting Started

Orientation is the perfect time to meet fellow staff and acquaint yourself with a hospital’s layout. Keep in mind, however, that it’ll be fast-paced—compared to the 6-12 weeks of training staff nurses usually receive, you’ll likely train for just 1–3 days as a travel nurse before you’re flying solo. 

To that end, feeling confident and comfortable in your skillset is key before you take on your first assignment. Don’t forget that flexibility and preparedness are your sharpest tools for navigating (and thriving) on your very first day.

A Day in the Life of a Travel Nurse

A day in the life of a travel nurse primarily involves individual patient care and catering to their needs. Your days will begin to feel structured as you settle into your routine but always expect the unexpected—you may find yourself floating (moving around different departments to meet staffing needs) or you could be asked to assist in emergencies.

Each care unit comes with its routines and expectations, but most travel nurses perform similar day-to-day duties as a staff nurse. Here’s what a typical shift as a travel nurse can look like: 

  • Clock in and pinpoint where you’re assigned for the day 
  • Take a few minutes to learn basic information about your patients 
  • Meet with the off-going nurse for a bedside report
  • Perform patient rounds 
  • Examine your patient charts
  • Work with the multidisciplinary team to coordinate care 
  • Complete orders based on patient needs or needs of the unit
  • Complete an end-of-shift report for the oncoming nurse
  • Clock out to end your shift 

But remember—you’re performing all of these tasks in a totally new care setting and location, which can make the day-to-day all the more exhilarating. 

Qualifications and Education: Steps to Prepare for a Career in Travel Nursing

How long does it take to become a travel nurse? Well, that depends on a few different factors, but in most cases, at least one year of RN experience is typically required before you can apply to be a travel nurse. 

Let’s take a quick look at the education requirements and qualifications you’ll need. 

Build Your Foundation of Education

Before you start your career as a travel nurse, you must first become a registered nurse, pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), and obtain licensure. It’s also important to note that you’ll need to hold a multi-state license as a travel nurse (more on this later). 

Gain Experience

Most healthcare settings prefer highly trained nurses with a few years of hospital-based bedside experience. As mentioned, one year of RN experience is typically required but more can be helpful. If you choose to specialize in an area of care, you should have prior experience in those units, too. 

To that end, you may be wondering now: how many years to become a travel nurse? 

When it comes to meeting expectations and measuring experience, it’s okay to take your time—feeling comfortable and confident in your skills is the best indication you’re ready to start your travel nursing career.

Find a Staffing Agency

Staffing agencies are a must-have resource for all travel nurses—even ones with years of experience. These agencies facilitate the connection between travel nurse candidates searching for the perfect position and clients looking for skilled nurses. The right staffing agency will also offer:

  • Flexibility in positions and the freedom to choose where you work 
  • Access to a wide range of positions all over the country
  • Personalized housing assistance
  • Medical and other benefits
  • Growth and development opportunities 

At Host Healthcare, matching travel nurses with positions they’re passionate about is our top priority. Whether you’re searching for your dream job or dream destination (or both), our responsive recruiters work with you to build the life and career you deserve. 

We also ease the uncertainty of launching your travel nursing career by simplifying the logistics and taking care of all the administrative tasks so you can focus solely on thriving in your field.

Choosing Your Path: Different Specialties and Settings for Travel Nurses

Specialties aren’t required to become a travel nurse, but choosing one can deepen your confidence and keep you grounded in the ever-changing environment of travel nursing. 

If you’re considering a specialty, reflect on where your career goals align with your interests and where you want to see impact. You might also take a look at the top four in-demand specialties for travel nurses from the last quarter of 2023: 

  • Med-surg/telemetry
  • Emergency room 
  • ICU
  • Step-down/PCU

A specialty is also a bonus on your resume for hospitals hoping to broaden their staff’s skills or fill a specific position. But these specialties aren’t just ideal in hospitals. Additional settings where you might work as a travel nurse include: 

  • Outpatient clinics 
  • Urgent care centers 
  • Community health centers

Licensing and Certification: Navigating Requirements Across States

As you know, registered nurses must be licensed in the state where they practice. But what happens when you’re crossing state lines as a travel nurse? 

Let’s explore all you need to know about licensing and certification. 

Nurse Licensure Compact

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) is an interstate agreement that allows RNs to practice nursing in participating states with one license. So, if you’re licensed in a participating NLC state, there’s no need to obtain further licensure to practice. Forty-one states and jurisdictions are currently a part of the NLC, with several states pending legislation. 

If your dream destination isn’t a member of the NLC, don’t worry—you can still cross it off your travel bucket list. You’ll just need to apply for state-specific licensure before you accept a position there. 

Travel Nurse Certifications 

There aren’t specific certifications required for travel nursing, but you will need to be certified to perform the same skills and life-saving practices as any other kind of nurse. As a reminder, those certifications always include Basic Life Support (BLS) and may include Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS). 

Additionally, some certifications like Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) or Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) may be in high demand and can help you secure your first assignment. 

Finding Your First Assignment: Tips for Landing Your Initial Travel Nursing Job

To help ensure a smooth and stress-free experience, keep the following tips in mind when searching for your first travel nursing assignment:

  • Do research on the care setting where you wish to work
  • Have your certifications on hand and make sure they’re up to date
  • Be prepared to talk about your experience (and boast a bit about it, too)
  • Be open-minded to different travel nursing assignments 
  • Partner with a staffing agency

Launch Your Travel Nurse Career With Host Healthcare

If you’re an aspiring or recently qualified travel nurse, consider partnering with Host Healthcare.

At Host Healthcare, we care about care providers like you. That’s why we offer day-1 medical, dental, and vision benefits, personalized housing assistance, 24/7 support, and priority access to exclusive positions at locations across the country.

You deserve a staffing agency that has your best interests at heart so that you can focus on developing your dream career in every state you temporarily call home. Host Healthcare is that agency. Apply today to see for yourself.



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