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Travel Nurse Career Guide

Travel nursing has gained prominence in recent times, and it is not hard to see why. Nurses get to work in different facilities across the country, set their own schedules and earn salaries that are highly competitive with many full time offers. Read on to learn more about this exciting healthcare frontier!


Finding the Right Agency

While certain sites will rank travel nurse agencies in easily-digestible lists, you really want to look for the right. Recruiters are the middlemen between you and your agencies. A good one will help you find the best rates and will honestly guide you throughout the process.

When it comes to judging agencies for yourself, there are a couple of red flags worth recognizing.

  • You want to work with companies that respect your autonomy. Pressuring you into taking undesirable assignments, getting defensive if you work with different agencies or assigning shifts without consent is inexcusable

  • Good agencies stay true to their word. Making verbal promises that are not reflected in your contract is a bad sign.

  • You want full transparency and proper communication. If you try to contact them and they do not respond in 24 hours, that is no good. Even worse is if they do not show the full payment package before you take a shift.


Travel Nurse Salary

Among all nursing professions, a travel nurse’s income is the most variable. Salaries can range between $1300 to $2700 a week. Some nurses can even earn up to $3000. Annually, incomes average between $44,727 and $106,985.

Your pay will depend on how many shifts you take, the facilities you work for and your specialization. Departments such as the Neonatal ICU and Cardiac ICU will pay considerably better than Med/Surg, for instance.

On top of your hourly wages, travel nurses can receive non-taxed stipends to cover living costs. Some staffing agencies even provide benefits such as:

  • Reimbursement for Certification and CE Costs

  • Retirement Plans

  • Bonuses (sign on, referral, completion)

  • Assistance with site relocation and relocation packages

  • Dependent health insurance coverage

  • Reimbursement for licensing costs and free CEU classes

  • 401k

  • Insurance (Disability, Vision, Dental, Liability etc)

  • 24/7 support


How to Become a Travel Nurse

Step 1: Become a Registered Nurse

To start off, you need to complete an accredited BSN or ADN nursing program. Once you graduate, you must take and pass the NCLEX-RN. After this, you can finally acquire your RN certification in your state. Overall, this process will take around 3 to 4 years.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Most nurse staffing agencies are looking for nurses with at least two years of experience. They want flexible HCPs, who can communicate with different teams and adapt to a variety of environments and situations. They want reliable nurses who can take on leadership roles when necessary and are well-trained experts in their specialty. As you build your portfolio, take the opportunity to develop these traits.

Step 2: Research License Policies

With all the traveling you will be doing, it is imperative that you do thorough research on each state’s license policies. If a state is “walk-through,” you will be able to obtain a 30-day emergency license in just one day. For other states, you may take days or months to get licensure in that area. Some states even require in-person meetings.


Additional Certifications

Travel nurses do not have any necessary certification requirements. That being said, certain ones will make nurses more desirable to potential employers. There a number of nationally recognized certifications, but these are currently the most prominent and in-demand:

  • CCCTM - Certified in Care, Coordination, and Transition Management

  • CDN - Certified Dialysis Nurse

  • CHN - Certified Nephrology Professional

  • CMSRN - Certified Medical Surgical Registered Nurse

  • CNN - Certified Nephrology Nurse

  • CNOR - Certified Nurse Operating Room

  • CPAN - Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse

At the time of writing, the three most sought-after certifications are CPN, CCRN and CEN.

The CEN is offered by the Board of Certification of Emergency Nursing. Exam fees sit at $230 and applicants can take the test in a variety of computer sites across the country. Currently, the pre-exam requirements are thus:

  • Active and unencumbered US nursing license

  • Though not required, two years of ER experience is preferred

The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (ANCC) provides the CCRN. Exam fees will cost $235 for members and $340 for non members. Examinees can pick between the adult, pediatrics and neonatal tests. While the content is different, the prerequisites are similar:

  • Active and unencumbered US nursing license (RN or APRN)

  • (For Adult Certification) Work Experience

    • 1,750 hours of RN/APRN practice in direct care for acutely/critically ill adult patients over the last two years, 875 of those hours must be acquired in the most recent year preceding application OR

    • 2,000 hours of RN/APRN practice in direct care for acutely/critically ill adult patients over the last five years, 144 of those hours must be acquired in the most recent year preceding application

  • (For Pediatrics and Neonatal) Care hours must be fulfilled in their fields

In case you need to recertify, you can either take an exam or fulfill CERPs along with a nominal fee.

The CPN is provided by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). The exam will cost you $295, along with a $100 registration fee that is non-refundable. To qualify for the test, you must meet these requirements:

  • Active and unencumbered US nursing license (RN)

  • At least 1800 hours of pediatric nursing experience OR

  • At least 5 years of pediatric RN practice and 3,000 hours of clinical experience within that time. 1,000 of those hours must be from the past 24 months.

Recertification will require 10 contact hours approved by the PNCB.


Continuing Education

While travel nurses do not have special CEU requirements, they have to keep in mind the CEU requirements for every state they work in, which includes fees. While most CEUs carry over, certain states will require specific classes like Communicable Diseases or Child Abuse. Consider also that states have differing contact hour requirements. Interestingly, some states do not even have CEU requirements. Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii and Arizona are just a couple examples.

If you want to continue working in certain locations, you have to put in the extra effort to maintain your licenses. Be sure to check with an area’s State Board of Nursing to get exact information.

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