JAANUU » What Is a Travel Nurse and How Do I Become One?

What Is a Travel Nurse and How Do I Become One?

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Feel restless whenever you’re in one place for too long? Are you a nomad by design? Is wanderlust your middle name? If so, the life of a travel nurse may be just what the doctor ordered.

If you’re looking to mix some epic adventure and unforgettable memories into your nursing career, look no further than the exciting world of travel nurses.

But before you start packing your bags, what exactly is a travel nurse and how do you become one? 

What is a travel nurse?

Travel nurses are consummate healthcare professionals hired by staffing agencies to work at medical facilities outside of their “legal tax home,” or their primary place of employment. Sure, working within a stone’s throw of a far-off sandy beach sounds like a dream, but you needn’t necessarily go far to work as a travel nurse. Technically, anything outside of your home state counts as travel.

These contracts are usually short-term (13 weeks or so) and potentially full-time. They aim to fill staffing shortages in a particular location; a great example of this make-ready workforce is shifting nurses to hotspots during the pandemic. That said, travel nursing jobs aren’t only for epidemics. Healthcare facilities all over the world face staffing shortages, which means there’s always a high demand for qualified workers who are willing to relocate.

When it comes to the pros and cons of travel nursing, the pros are endless. As a travel nurse, not only can you choose domestic or international locations, you often receive excellent benefits, competitive pay and potentially subsidized housing, too. Of course, the excitement of traveling to a new place is the cherry on top.

What does a travel nurse do? 

Because each nurse has a specialization and you’ll be traveling to a particular area to fill a staffing “niche,” your duties will vary based on the situation you enter. Still, you can expect a few commonalities. 

For domestic and international travel nurses, you’ll be:

  • Collaborating with local healthcare providers on patient care
  • Assessing patient symptoms and addressing their concerns
  • Implementing patient treatments and administering medication
  • Providing additional resources for patients during a crisis
  • Acting as a rapid response team during natural disasters, armed conflict and yep, you guessed it—pandemics

Another requirement to be a travel nurse is being able to tackle differing contract lengths. Domestic travel nurses can be on the road for weeks to several months at a time, while international travel nurses could be on their jet-setting healthcare adventure for one to two years.

Additionally, international travel nurses need some extra skills up their scrub sleeves, including:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Openness to learning new cultures
  • Proficiency in the primary language of the region where they’ll be working
  • A strong desire to work culturally competent nursing care into their practice

Why are travel nurses important?

In the world of nursing, when disaster strikes—be it an earthquake, tsunami, political unrest or pandemic—and leaves the local healthcare staff shorthanded, traveling healthcare workers often swoop in to serve as reinforcements. But that’s not to say you’ll definitely be sent off to a warzone if you decide to sign up as a travel nurse. Even in non-emergency situations, travel nurses help understaffed hospitals and clinics pick up the slack. 

Since travel nurses hail from different regions and countries, with different cultural and educational backgrounds, they add a much-appreciated touch of diversity to the local team of nurses. They also bring the opportunity for sharing different points of view and life experiences, too.

How to become a travel nurse

Woman and man wearing pink and olive scrubs

So how long does it take to become a travel nurse? Well, that depends on your nursing specialization. Once you’re an RN with a few years of experience, you’re likely eligible to take your nursing career international. But, like all healthcare professionals, travel nurses may need to first obtain specific certifications.

For prior experience:

  • You’ll need your registered nurse status buffed and polished, with two or more years of clinical experience as an RN under your belt.
  • You’ll need to have the licensure to work in multiple states if you plan to work domestically. Because you’ll be traveling, your staffing agency needs to know that your license is in good standing and that you’re eligible to work short-term contracts. 

For soft skills, you’ll require:

  • A natural sense of curiosity, especially about new people, places and cultures.
  • Flexibility within your work schedule. This job is all about filling a nursing shortage on the fly.
  • The ability to thrive off challenges. You’ll face new scenarios in each location, and some may be more difficult than others. Adaptability is key. 

For educational requirements:

  • You’ll need your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), along with the successful completion of a nursing school program and the NCLEX-RN exam. Without those, you can’t call yourself a registered nurse. (Although some educational preferences have shifted because of the pandemic, it’s a general rule of thumb that recruiters or staffing agencies prefer a BSN.)
  • Additional certifications may be needed for certain healthcare specializations, such as labor and delivery or intensive care. The standard requirements for that certification will apply.

What are non-taxed stipends for travel nurses?

When you’re a travel nurse, you’ll be handling two different reimbursements: your regular, taxable hourly wage and your non-taxed stipends.

Stipends are fees provided by your employer to pay for expenses while you’re traveling, like food, transportation and housing stipends. Sometimes you can find stipends for work uniforms, especially if you need to group order scrubs for a team.

However, different staffing agencies have different reimbursement policies, so be sure to read all the fine print before officially committing to a contract.

If the work isn’t near, go to the work

Staff nurses are needed everywhere, from standard emergency rooms and ICU units to makeshift field hospitals. If you’re willing to put up with or are excited by high-intensity, rapidly changing scenarios, travel nursing may be for you. 

The high pay is worth it—after all, you can put those extra funds toward a real vacation, as if making the move toward a traveling nursing career wasn’t rewarding enough. 

In the meantime, treat yourself to a few of these gifts to kick back and relax after a long day. Or, if you’re heading into a brand new short-term contract, buy some premium but affordable scrubs to give the best first impression.

We wish you the best, always!

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