Travel nursing offers a registered nurse (RN) the opportunity to advance their career while fulfilling a desire to see the country, work at a specific hospital or have a more flexible schedule.
Here, I'll delve into my experience in the field and explore the key points to keep in mind if you are interested in pursuing a career in travel nursing.
Consider the lifestyle benefits
The draw to travel nursing can be both practical and personal. My wife is a field biologist, and most of her work takes place in the Mojave Desert in Nevada and California, far from where we live in Charleston, SC. Travel nursing allows me to take jobs in locations near her work, increasing the time I get to spend with her.
Secondly, we both love to travel. Being able to take time off between contracts is a major perk. I usually take at least one month off between travel assignments, affording us ample time for our own travel adventures.
Travel nurse requirements
One year of permanent nursing experience is required for any travel nursing job, and most travel nurse agencies prefer at least two years. When hospitals hire travel nurses, they expect them to have solid nursing skills and to be able to work independently with minimal orientation. Most hospitals also orient travel nurses for 1-3 days.
If you are a recent graduate and interested in travel nursing, use the first year or two of your nursing career to hone your skills and choose a specialty. During this period, you can also be building your resume, jotting down anecdotes for a future cover letter and building your network.
Choose a travel nurse agency
During your first few years of nursing, you will likely develop your preferences on hospital setting, location and an idea of the length of assignments you prefer. Use these preferences to help choose a travel agency. There are a plethora of choices out there and it can be challenging to know which agency is right for you.
Resources like the website The Gypsy Nurse were invaluable for me. The Gypsy Nurse is rich with answers to FAQs, links to blogs about travel agencies, job listings, housing and financial resources. Their Facebook page is an excellent tool for networking with other travel nurses.
Word of mouth is another way of navigating the travel agency labyrinth and is an effective way to learn about travel nurse agencies as a new grad. You will undoubtedly meet a few travel nurses at your hospital. Ask them who they work for and if they would recommend the agency. This was how I was introduced to my current travel agency and, more importantly, how I met my recruiter.
Your recruiter will be your main point of contact at the travel agency and your direct line to contracts. Building an honest and trusting relationship with your recruiter is critical. You'll want to work with them to negotiate your contracts, including pay, days off and stipends for living expenses. Having a strong connection will help streamline decision making and communications in the negotiation process.
Different agencies work with certain medical facilities and focus on specific specialties. For this reason, I recommend working with at least two agencies to find the assignment that best suits your needs. As the website All Nursing Schools notes, it's key to ask potential agencies about everything from health insurance and housing to locations served and time off.
Ensure you have the correct travel nurse licenses
Another factor to consider is licensure. For each state you want to work in as a travel nurse, you have to be licensed. Some states are part of a compact licensure system that will allow you to work in multiple states with the same license, while others are not.
Your travel agency and recruiter can help you navigate the licensure process, and many agencies will pay for you to get your license in each state. Once you decide where you want to work, it is vital to get the licensure process started ASAP. Some states take a few weeks to get licensed, while other states, like California, can take up to six months.
Obtain specialty certifications
Once you have settled on a field of nursing that appeals to you, obtaining specialty certifications will increase your knowledge and skills, as well as enhance your marketability once you begin seeking that first travel nurse position. Generally, hospitals will pay for their full-time staff to get these certifications.
- Adult nursing. Regardless of specialty, Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) is the industry standard. More and more hospitals and travel agencies are requiring ACLS certification.
- Pediatric nursing. Pediatric Advanced Cardiac Life Support (PALS) is a certification you should get before travel nursing.
Familiarize yourself with Electronic Medical Record systems (EMR)
In hospitals across the country, EMRs are rapidly becoming the norm. Travel agencies will market you to hospitals using EMRs that you have experience in, so being competent in multiple systems can be a major selling point.
EPIC is one of the more popular EMR systems. As more hospitals convert to EPIC, travel contracts are being offered to RNs that have EPIC experience while the current staff is undergoing training.
Create a standout resume
Whether you're a seasoned nurse or a hopeful new grad, travel nursing will require you to create a strong professional resume. Highlighting licenses, certifications, work experience and EMR skills are vital points. A strong resume or cover letter could be the difference between being offered a contract or not.
Remember to create a custom resume and cover letter each time you apply to a job, to highlight your relevant skills for that specific position. LiveCareer's Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder are ideal assistants in helping you pursue your travel nurse career.