What is Travel Nursing

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Curious about how to become a travel nurse with a non-nursing background? Enroll in an Accelerated BSN program and pass the licensure exam. Then, you’ll need work experience before signing up with a travel nursing agency. Your agency can connect you to temporary nursing placements across the country.

If you have an adventurous spirit and an enduring wanderlust, but you also want to become a nurse, you might consider becoming a travel nurse. Learn how to become a travel nurse here and get the answers to some common questions, such as, “What is travel nursing?” and “Is travel nursing worth it?”

Even if you aren’t currently trained as a nurse and your academic background is in another field, you might be surprised at how little time it can take to switch to a nursing career. At Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences, for example, you could enroll in our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. Using your prior non-nursing college education as a springboard, it’s possible to earn your nursing degree in as few as 16 months.

Nurses can choose from a range of nursing specialties, such as critical care, oncology, pediatrics and mental health. Travel nursing is different. It’s not actually a specialty, as nurses from all different specialties could become travel nurses. Rather, a travel nurse is a nursing professional who accepts temporary, short-term assignments in various locations. A travel nurse might work at a children’s hospital in Denver, Colorado for three months, followed by a six-month assignment at an outpatient clinic in New York City.

Travel nurses fill an important need in the healthcare field. Hospitals and clinics often have short-term staffing gaps that they need to fill with temporary professionals. Travel nurses allow healthcare facilities to meet the need so that patients can get the care they need. At the same time, working as a travel nurse enables professionals with a thirst for travel to see more of the country.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Does the idea of traveling around the country while also enjoying a meaningful career appeal to you? If so, it’s time to dive into the details of how to become a travel nurse.

First, if you have prior non-nursing education, you’ll need to earn your nursing degree. The ABSN program at Northeastern provides a comprehensive nursing curriculum comprised of classroom instruction, nursing skills labs and clinical rotations that enable students to become confident, capable nurses in as few as 16 months. An admissions counselor will be happy to review your transcripts and help you learn how to meet the eligibility requirements.

smiling nurse portrait

Once you have your nursing degree, the next step is to pass the NCLEX-RN. This is the nationally required licensure exam for nurses. It’s a rigorous exam, and you should expect to spend plenty of time preparing for it. Northeastern ABSN graduates benefit from our dedicated faculty, who provide support throughout the NCLEX prep process.

Once you have your nursing license, you can pursue a job as a registered nurse (RN). Don’t expect to become a travel nurse right from the start, however. It’s common for aspiring travel nurses to need at least a year or so of work experience.

Look for RN positions at your local hospitals and clinics. While you’re gaining work experience, you might also spend some time reflecting on what sort of nursing specialty you’d like to pursue. Some nursing specialties will require additional education and certifications (e.g. nurse anesthetist).

What to Expect as a Travel Nurse

Once you’ve gained some work experience, it’s time to more closely examine the answer to the question, “How does travel nursing work?” Travel nurses do not arrange for work assignments by themselves. Instead, they work for a travel nursing agency. (Some RNs choose to contract with multiple travel nurse agencies to increase their opportunities.)

Take your time evaluating your options; don’t simply choose the first agency you find. Different agencies offer different perks, such as varying benefits packages and connections with different healthcare networks (e.g. Magnet hospitals). Generally, travel nurse agencies offer perks such as comprehensive insurance coverage, free housing or a housing stipend, free continuing education credits, retirement plans and various reimbursements.

three nurses standing outside

Here, you can learn more about what Magnet hospitals are and why you might want to work at them.

One issue to keep in mind is that all nurses must obtain licensure from the state in which they work. However, thanks to relatively recent legislation, it’s easier than ever to meet licensure obligations as a travel nurse. The Nurse Licensure Compact enables nurses to hold one license that is honored in many different states. As of 2023, 40 states are members of the NLC and a handful of other states have legislation pending to enable them to join the NLC.

Is Travel Nursing Worth It?

Travel nursing might not be for everyone, but for people who love to travel and meet new people, it can be a fantastic way to enjoy a meaningful career. Although you could certainly take a vacation to a new location, most vacations aren’t long enough to truly take a deep dive into the locale’s culture, sights, entertainment scene and attractions. With a three-month or longer travel nurse placement; however, you’ll have plenty of time to explore your new location and forge new friendships.

Only you can answer the question, “Is travel nursing worth it?” for yourself. However, you may want to consider the following points as you decide whether to pursue this particular career pathway.

Different Agencies Are Stronger in Different Locations

With over 300 travel nursing agencies, it can be tricky for new travel nurses to decide which agency (or agencies) they want to work with. Moreover, you should anticipate nearly every agency to advertise that it has jobs “nationwide.” However, the truth is that different agencies are stronger in different locations.

Even the biggest agencies lack the ability to provide an adequate number of jobs in some states or major metropolitan areas. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to ask recruiters where their agency has a strong footprint and where it does not. This way, you’ll know whether or not an agency can get you where you want to go. Some travel nurses address this issue by working with multiple agencies—a common practice that is considered perfectly ethical within the industry.

Nurse sitting at desk talking to someone on an tablet

Another career possibility for nurses who love to travel is remote nursing. Explore five remote nursing careers here!

Great Perks for Travel Nurses

One benefit of having so many travel nursing agencies to choose from is that they must be competitive with one another. That’s good for travel nurses, as it means agencies try to compete for nurses by offering great perks.

For instance, it’s standard to offer a housing benefit as part of the compensation package. You can choose to either live in the agency-provided accommodations or to arrange for your own housing and receive a housing stipend. Other common perks include the following:

  • Continuing education credits
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Professional liability insurance
  • Complete medical coverage (including dental and vision)
  • Retirement plan
  • Travel reimbursements
  • Licensure reimbursements

It’s Important to Stay Organized

You can anticipate some paperwork as a travel nurse. You’ll need to complete paperwork for every new agency you sign on with. In addition, hospitals typically have their own documentation that must be completed prior to starting.

nursing student writing on clipboard

Fortunately, organizational skills are often among a nurse’s strengths. During the ABSN program at Northeastern, you’ll learn to keep your class information and NCLEX prep materials well-organized. These organizational skills will serve you well regardless of whether you want to become a travel nurse or not.

Travel Nursing Jobs Will Keep You on Your Toes

When you accept a travel nursing assignment, you can typically expect to start your position within a matter of weeks. The rapid pace means that you’ll need to embrace a flexible, adaptable mindset.

Fortunately, you’ll have plenty of support from your contact at your travel nursing agency. Occasionally, an assignment may fall through, and you’ll need to pivot to a backup plan, which is another good incentive for working with multiple travel nursing agencies.

When you start a new assignment, you’ll need to adapt to a new facility’s way of doing things and you’ll have lots of new faces to meet. You’ll be busy, and there’s no question that your patients will keep you on your toes.

It’s a great opportunity to learn. One of the benefits of travel nursing is that you’ll be able to learn from many different coworkers, enabling you to grow as a healthcare professional. In addition, you could be exposed to a wide range of patient cases in different hospitals, which enables you to develop stronger clinical skills and better judgment.

Northeastern nursing student standing in hall smiling

Contact an Admissions Counselor to Begin Your Path Toward Travel Nursing

No matter where your career path takes you, whether you want to become a travel nurse or not, you can get your start at Northeastern University. Our Accelerated BSN program can allow you to earn your nursing degree in as few as 16 months, and our faculty will support you throughout the process. Learn from dedicated nursing instructors and practice clinical skills as you decide which type of nurse you’d like to become.

Contact us today to connect with an admissions counselor.

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