Travel nurse holding a virtual globe

How to Become a Travel Nurse

Learn how to specialize as a Travel Nurse, including the education and certifications required

Travel nurse holding a virtual globe

Nothing underscored the need for Travel Nurses more than the Covid-19 pandemic. In areas of the country where the most cases overwhelmed hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare staff, Travel Nurses were a saving grace—they’re the nurses who fill temporary assignments based on immediate needs. Between Sept. 2021 and Sept. 2022, the demand for Travel Nurses grew by 68 percent.

But the middle of a pandemic isn’t the only time these nurses are sought after. At hospitals nationwide and across the healthcare industry, the growing demand for specialized nurses is partly met by Travel Nurses. These nurses, like all Registered Nurses (RNs), can specialize in a specific area that makes them more valuable.

Becoming a Travel Nurse can be an exciting healthcare career that leads to lucrative contracts in different areas across the country. In this article, we’ll drill down on the duties of a Travel Nurse, the current job outlook, and how to become one.

To learn more about starting your nursing career, click here to learn how to become a Registered Nurse. You can also discover other popular nursing careers by exploring the different types of hospital nursing jobs.

Travel Nurse Definition

What is a Travel Nurse?

Travel Nurses are RNs who work temporarily in each location for a limited amount of time, usually ranging from 4 to 26 weeks. They may work for a nursing staffing agency instead of the hospital or healthcare facility where they are assigned.

Travel Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

Travel Nurses provide a full spectrum of care to support patients of all kinds. Because their place of work changes often, the job description can vary from one placement to the next.

Travel Nurse Duties

Travel Nurses fill gaps in staffing needs across the country due to nursing shortages, leaves of absence, or increased demand for healthcare services. They perform many of the same tasks as non-traveling RNs, including:

  • Assist in caring for patients in hospitals or physician’s offices
  • Perform tests such as blood pressure, body temperature, and glucose levels
  • Assess patient’s well-being, inspect wounds, and change dressings
  • Monitor patient’s conditions and record the results
  • Travel to patient’s homes or other locations to administer medication
  • Educate patients on illnesses, procedures, and other health issues
  • Communicate with doctors and other healthcare professionals

Travel Nurse Skills

To become a successful Travel Nurse, you’ll want to pick up some essential skills that can help you to do the job better. Some of the most important skills include:

Adaptability: A necessary skill for Travel Nurses is the ability to be flexible and adapt to new working environments every few weeks or months. If you enjoy traveling regularly, seeing new cities, and constantly working with new people, you’ll enjoy this job.

Communication: You’ll need to exhibit clear and thorough communication skills when speaking with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare staff and show a compassionate and caring tone when updating patients and families with status updates or recovery instructions.

Critical Thinking: The ability to quickly assess facts and note changes in patient conditions will help you to make rational decisions and respond to urgent situations in ways that help deliver positive outcomes.

Organization: As a Travel Nurse, you’ll no doubt work with multiple patients who face a variety of illnesses and recovery paths. The ability to organize patient records, coordinate treatment plans, and stay on top of your schedule is critical.

Where Do Travel Nurses Work?

Travel nurses work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities and many times work in specialized departments such as ICUs, emergency rooms, progressive care units, surgery units, or telemetry. They may also work providing home healthcare.

In this role, you may be selected for placements in some of the settings above based on your specialization and the certifications you’ve earned. When working as part of an interdisciplinary healthcare team, Travel Nurses will work with a variety of doctors, specialists, surgeons, emergency staff, and other nurses.

Aerial view of laptop, stethoscope, and replica plane

Travel Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Travel Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Travel Nurse?

To become a Travel Nurse, you’ll need to complete an educational program, obtain your RN license, and then get certified in one or more specialized areas. You’ll also need to gain some experience along the way—but you can accomplish all of this by following these steps:

1. Earn a Nursing Degree

The first step to becoming an Travel Nurse is to complete an ADN or BSN program. Note that most travel nurse staffing organizations prefer a BSN. An ADN degree takes about two years to complete, while a BSN program is usually about four years (although the accelerated BSN Program at Eagle Gate College can be completed in three years).

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Once you’ve graduated from your nursing program, you’ll need to prepare for and pass the NCLEX-RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses) to become licensed as an RN. This exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Their website offers candidates information about the exam, its format, and study aids to help you prepare for the exam.

3. Gain Nursing Experience

After becoming licensed as an RN, you’ll typically need to gain a year of nursing experience before signing on with a travel nurse staffing agency. This experience will also prepare you to begin to specialize and start earning certifications.

4. Complete a Certification Program

The final step to specializing is to earn one or more certifications. Like RNs, Travel Nurses can specialize in many areas. Certain certifications, such as pediatric, geriatric, or infection control, may make you more likely to qualify for some placements. Obtaining multiple certifications in several areas will make you even more versatile.

Travel Nurse Salary

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

Although the BLS doesn’t report salary* data specifically for Travel Nurses, they report that the average salary* for all Registered Nurses is about $83,000 per year or roughly $40 per hour.

Note that your exact salary* as a Travel Nurse will vary based on the geographic location of your nursing staffing agency and placements, level of education, and experience.

Travel Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Travel Nurses?

The BLS doesn’t report job outlook data specifically for Travel Nurses, but they project that employment of all Registered Nurses will grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031. This means that over 200,000 job openings will become available each year. Some of the demand is due to the ongoing nursing shortage, while additional jobs will be created by those who transfer to different occupations or retire from the workforce.

Close up of stethoscope next to laptop and globe

Consider Specializing as a Travel Nurse

Now that you know more about how to become a Travel Nurse, as well as some of the common duties, average salaries, and job outlook, you may be interested in choosing this unique nursing career.

Imagine a nursing career where you get to work with prestigious physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers in a variety of geographical locations and facilities. That’s the life of a Travel Nurse, where you’ll travel from one adventure to the next.

To get started on the path to becoming a Travel Nurse, take a look at the BSN Program at Eagle Gate College. Or, if you’re already an RN with an associate degree, consider our RN-to-BSN Program.