How to Become A Travel Nurse in 2023

How to Become A Travel Nurse in 2023

  It’s no secret that America is facing a nursing shortage, with the average age of a registered nurse being 52 as of 2017. Millions of baby boomers retire in the US every year, and 92% of people have gained health insurance coverage, more so, under the Affordable Health Care Act as of 2019. That implies that the demand for nursing is greater than ever, particularly since many nurses in the field are currently headed for retirement soon.

According to at least one study, the US will require adding at least 5 million new health care professionals with a college education such as a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Therefore, this means a rosy future for a traveling nurse. 

By pursuing a travel nursing job, you can explore new places while expanding your skills in the field. What’s better than that? Whether you’re about to head off on your first travel nursing assignment or begging to explore what becoming a travel nurse entails, navigating this nuanced industry can be daunting. To ensure you start on the right foot, this guide explores everything you need to know to become a travel RN. 

Differences Between a Travel Nurse and a Traditional Nurse

A travel nurse refers to a worker who commutes to patients and assists at a hospital, among other health care facilities. They perform the standard nursing duties and deliver patient care at schools, residential areas, and various organizations. 

Additionally, a travel nurse assists when a hospital is understaffed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 19% growth in travel nurses by 2022.

With that being said, the responsibilities of a traveling nurse include:

  • Commuting to patients’ schools, homes, and institutions to administer vaccinations, medication, and other medical procedures such as a glucose test, blood test, and monitoring blood pressure.
  • Monitoring the overall wellbeing of a patient, conducting wound inspections, and changing the dressings.
  • Offering nutritional and health care advice where possible and addressing the concerns of a patient.
  • Compiling patient reports for the relevant doctors and monitoring patient recovery.
  • Completing duties at a hospital, clinic, and other health care facilities.
  • Making sure that all medical supplies and equipment are kept well-organized and sterile.
  • Arriving in on time to perform the duties required
  • Attending workshops as need be to keep abreast of the changes in the health care industry
  • Teaming up with other health care professionals such as a staff nurse or registered nurse to improve health care plans and formulate new ones. The average pay for a travel nurse can be higher than a registered nurse.
  • Maintaining professionalism and politeness at all times. 

With that being said, let’s discuss the types of care that an international travel nurse specializes in. 

1. Emergency Room (ER)

As a travel nursing specialty, the exciting career of emergency allows a travel nurse to play a crucial role in the health care workforce. They care for patients who are at the most critical and vulnerable moments of their lives. 

Becoming a travel nurse who specializes in emergency room care entails fast response and quick thinking. Their ability to deliver incredible care under challenging circumstances makes them eligible to become ER travel nurses. ER nurses must be adaptable, clear-headed, and efficient. 

Working in the emergency room exposes a travel nurse to an array of conditions, which means they must easily adapt to every situation they’re faced with. An effective ER traveling nurse operates seamlessly as part of an interdisciplinary emergency medical team. For that reason, a nurse who is eager to put their skills is the ideal candidate for ER travel nursing. 

2. ICU Care 

A nursing specialty in intensive care units (ICU) is the most sought-after profession in the health care industry, particularly since the breakout of COVID-19. They’re regarded as the crème de la crème of nurses. A travel nurse providing ICU care is responsible for ventilator support, administering anesthesia, and managing the medication dosage for different patients in critical condition. In addition to that, a top-notch nurse practitioner has the emotional strength, mental stability, resilience, and specialized knowledge required for ICU care. 

Due to the nature of the job, the best part about being an ICU travel nurse is that nurses can explore and learn using modernized equipment in a healthcare facility. To provide critical care to patients, an ICU travel nurse must pass their NCLEX-RN exam to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in their respective state. Furthermore, they must have excellent clinical skills with at least one year of general clinical experience. 

3. Medical-Surgical 

As the largest nursing specialty in the US, medical-surgical is highly on-demand in the realm of travel nursing. A medical-surgical nurse usually works with patients who need to be closely monitored, such as those recently released from critical care. They spend a lot of time interacting with patients and their families. 

To thrive in this nursing specialty, medical-surgical temporary nurses must be comfortable with making tough decisions, enjoy being on their feet, and critical thinkers. They must also be level-headed, great at multitasking, and incredible coordinators. 

Becoming a medical-surgical travel nurse means earning a Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) coupled with at least two years of experience. 

4. PCU Care 

For a seasoned travel nurse looking to shift their expertise or a beginner looking to explore this specialty, providing progressive unit care is an ideal nursing career path if you’re uncertain as to whether critical care is an ideal fit for you. A nurse practitioner working in a progressive care unit (PCU) looks after patients that no longer require the degree of care that an ICU health care facility offers. 

Although a PCU unit doesn’t need a critical care nurse, patients in the PCU ward of a hospital will need constant surveillance and a higher level of nursing care compared to those in a general ward. As a traveling nurse providing PCU care, you’ll be required to cohesively work with a team of other nurses in the ward as each patient in the PCU has unique requirements and needs. 

One of the perks of being a PCU travel nurse is that working with a boatload of care teams allows you to learn and grow in your nursing job.

5. Telemetry 

It’s a thrilling field for a travel nurse, particularly for newer or first graduates from a nursing school. As a busy and fast-paced environment, telemetry paves the way for valuable experiences and continual learning, which any first-time traveling nurse is eager for. 

A telemetry nurse usually cares for patients requiring constant monitoring for renal, cardiac, gastrointestinal, or respiratory issues. A traveling nurse providing telemetry care must pivot on-demand to provide patients with critical care. 

Telemetry is a nursing specialty that’s evolving to incorporate a wider range of patients due to the advent of technology. These types of nurses are trained in using a boatload of modern medical equipment that you’ll find in nearly any hospital. To qualify as a telemetry travel nurse, you need certification and training in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) and basic life support (BLS). 

6. Women’s Health 

A travel nurse who specializes in this type of care usually works in the Women’s Health Department, taking care of L&D, NICU, and MBPP. There’s a growing demand for a nurse for women’s health, ushering in lucrative opportunities for travel nurses with this specialty. 

A registered nurse who works in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is responsible for caring for newborns with life-threatening illnesses or prematurely born. A NICU travel nurse must be empathetic while maintaining composure under pressure. 

A Mother Baby Postpartum (MBPP) travel nurse serves as the advocate for a mother and her baby immediately after birth. The MBBP nurse’s responsibility is to provide unmatched support to the mother and recognize and detect possible complications within the first few days after childbirth. 

Granted, a Labor and Delivery (L&D) nurse practitioner will monitor and assist babies, and mothers, during, before, and after birth. However, this specialty requires a travel nurse to respond quickly and think fast, particularly during delivery. 

7. Operating Room Care 

An OR travel nurse performs their duties in any hospital or healthcare facility; the operating room. The OR is undoubtedly one of the most delicate hospital environments, and it takes a highly skilled traveling nurse to ensure it remains aseptic and clean throughout. An OR nurse acts in the best interest of their patients, is knowledgeable, and compassionate. The specialty also entails collaboratively working with doctors and surgeons. 

Furthermore, an OR travel nurse may serve in various operating room environments, such as assisting the surgeon during surgery, preparing patients scheduled for surgery, and delivering post-operative care. Regardless of the heavy tasks in the operating room, an OR temporary nurses are one of the highest-paid. A hospital or healthcare facility is usually willing to offer generous compensation because surgery is a crucial revenue source. 

8. Psychiatric 

An RN psychiatric travel nurse travels to deliver mental health care in various locations. A nurse in this field will find nursing job opportunities at some of the best hospitals in the state. A psychiatric nurse may work in different settings, including outpatient facilities and a hospital. 

They assess and evaluate patients who exhibit the signs of mental illness or have been diagnosed. They work as part of a collaborative team that includes physicians and psychiatrists. The minimum educational requirement to become a psychiatric travel nurse is an associate’s degree from a nursing program, passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and a nursing license in your state of practice. Additionally, a psychiatric nurse is reportedly one of the highest-paid. 

Is There a Difference Between a Travel Nurse and a Staff Nurse? 

Here are a few major differences between a staff nurse and a travel RN. 

Hospital Politics and Staff Meetings 

As an employee, a staff nurse has certain obligations that include boring and mandatory staff meetings, inevitable involvement in hospital politics, and one-on-one performance evaluations by management. As temporary nurses, travel nurses are not involved in any of the unit politics. 

Vacation Request Binder vs. Qualified Nurses 

One of the most challenging aspects of staff nursing careers is the inability to plan your vacation schedule well in advance. Although you can request time off months, days, or a year ahead, if you’re fortunate enough to get approval, you’re informed on relatively short notice. One of the perks of a travel nurse is that getting days off is a breeze to coordinate, provided that you request the dates to be included in your travel nursing contract. 

Non-Paid Leave vs. PTO 

Staff nurses receive paid time off (PTO), one of the greatest perks of being in full-time employment. Therefore, when their requests are approved for vacation time, they can rest easy knowing that paychecks keep rolling in. As a traveling nurse, it’s advantageous to take vacations without approval from a boss. 

It’s, therefore, no surprise that a plethora of qualified nurses with a travel nursing job takes at least a month off between assignments. Travel nurses hardly receive PTO from their travel nursing agency. They take time off without compensation. 

‘Housing Stipend’ and ‘Incidentals and Meals’ Are The Two Favorite Phrases Of A Travel Nurse 

Nurses are familiar with the visceral pain that stems from looking at the tax deduction section of their paycheck. Depending on the state a nurse practitioner resides in, up to 40% of their income can be taxed. 

As a traveling nurse, you receive non-taxed stipends that foot the costs of incidentals such as food and housing. These non-taxed stipends, for instance, the housing stipend, cover a large portion of a travel nurse’s paycheck. 


A traveling nurse is obligated to file separate taxes in each state they’ve worked in when tax season rolls around every year. Therefore, if each travel nurse assignment you got was across the country, you’ll file taxes for each state you worked in as per the different deduction percentages. 

While the non-taxed portion of income is a godsend for a travel nurse job, there’s no denying that tax season is a beast. In an employment nursing position as a staff nurse, you can delight in a more straightforward tax process. 


When you’re employed as a staff nurse, pay negotiation is the least of your concerns. The compensation is based on the years of nursing experience with incremental raises. As a traveling nurse, you must learn excellent negotiation skills that you were not taught in nursing school. 

If you play your cards right, you can negotiate pay packages greater than most staff nurses, including those with more years of nursing experience under their belt. The average pay for a travel nurse ranges from $1300 to $2300 per week and can take home well over $100,000 annually. 

Prerequisites for Becoming a Travel Nurse

Let’s delve into the qualifications to become a travel nurse. 

Step 1: Obtain the Necessary Education

The first step of becoming a travel nurse is pursuing the available nursing degrees to penetrate the nursing job market. The travel nurse requirements include an RN license. The first step of acquiring a license to practice is a nursing degree from an accredited nursing school. At the minimum, an aspiring traveling nurse must have an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) that takes 2 to 3 years. 

Most hospitals now require all new hires to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Although this trend hasn’t spilled over to the realm of travel nursing, should a given medical facility want to offer a travel nurse permanent employment after the travel nursing assignment is complete the bachelor’s degree might be a requirement. 

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX RN Exam to Gain Licensure to Practice 

After graduating from a nursing program, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN) must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) that the National Council of State Boards of Nursing develops and administers. If you don’t pass the exam, you can sit for it again after a 45-day wait. 

Step 3: Get Sufficient Nursing Experience 

To become a traveling nurse, you need at least 1-year experience in the type of care you want to specialize in. The specialties that are in the highest demand for travel nurses are Home Health, MS-TELE, CVICU, ER, ICU, L&D, PICU, PACU, flight nurse, Case Management, Mother/Baby, NICU, Post-Partum, PCU, CVOR, and pediatrics. 

A registered nurse who has earned certifications in these specialties is in higher demand. With high demand, the travel nurse requirements can be raised to a minimum of 2 years of experience. The same can be true for a hospital or medical facility that is more sought-after by nurses, for instance, a large teaching facility or a magnet hospital. 

As you’re on the quest for a permanent nursing job to gain experience, keep an eye out for positions in the fields that pique your interest in a travel experience. Travel nursing usually ushers in opportunities to gain experience that isn’t available in your local healthcare facilities. Nonetheless, you must fulfill the stipulated requirements as you’ll be expected to hit the ground running. 

Step 4: Licensing Requirements

Another requirement for becoming a traveling nurse is to have a nursing license to practice in the state where you travel. As of 2020, 34 states are members of the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (ENLC), which implies they accept your active nursing license from any of the other 33 states. 

The states that are not part of the ENLC will require you to apply for licensure in that state before you can become a licensed practical nurse. The processing period may range from a few weeks to several months. You must be licensed before you can accept a travel assignment from a travel nursing agency. 

While some states in the application process can become members of the ENLC, others might not. If you want to become a travel RN, we recommend relocating to one of the member states to acquire licensure as soon as possible.

Step 5: Set Up Your Tax Home

One of the perks of travel nursing is the tax-free compensation that includes the travel reimbursement. Nevertheless, you must be prepared to qualify and accept the perks, failure to which you must declare them as income and be taxed in them. 

For eligibility, you must maintain a legitimate tax home. Individual circumstances can change a scenario that taxes can also complicate. To avoid unwarranted surprises, consult your advisor or attorney. 

Step 6: Research the Benefits You Want

Travel nursing comes with a boatload of benefits to boost your income level. An impressive travel nurse agency offers a vast assortment of perks that lure in travelers in droves. It’s essential to clearly understand the pay packages that the staffing agency offers and have a list of items you must secure in your contract. These packages will differ from those you’ve experienced as a permanently employed registered nurse. 

Step 7: Vetting a Travel Nursing Agency 

There’s no shortage of agencies for travel nurses. However, the top two websites committed to ranking and vetting travel nurse agencies are Travel Nursing and Highway Hypodermics

These online platforms provide knowledge, coaching, the latest news on travel nursing, and a basis of experience as a travel nurse. They have a strong social media presence in addition to printed materials. Vet your potential travel nurse agency and be prepared to inquire about your desires, needs, and expectations. Discover whether the staffing agency has a travel nursing assignment in any of the geographical locations on your bucket list and the types of facilities that pique your interest. More importantly, find out the compensation packages offered by an agency, their process, and how long it typically takes to find a travel assignment. 

Step 8: Have All Your Ducks in a Row 

Preparing and organizing your documents and always ready to present makes you an ideal travel nurse. A medical facility such as a hospital expects that you have all the necessary qualifications and ready to hit the ground running on arrival. You’ll require presenting all your documents ranging from your nursing license, social security card, nursing certificate, and other diplomas and driver’s license to direct deposit information. 

Having all these on file ready to present to a travel nursing recruiter in addition to when you report for your travel assignment. It’s through staying organized that you’ll become a preferred travel nurse to a recruiter. 

Step 9: Secure Your Travel Nurse Assignment 

It’s time to secure a travel nursing job. Reach out to the travel nurse recruiters or agencies that you’ve vetted and request an assignment. Once you submit your application, you can go through the interview process, get your feet, and see where the travel nursing journey takes you. 

What to Consider Before Becoming a Travel Nurse

The appeal of travel nursing is undeniable. If you choose this specialty, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the sights and sounds of the country while earning an above-average travel nurse salary

You can take embark on different adventures while embracing lucrative travel nursing assignments that elevate your resume. That’s where travel nursing recruiters or agencies come into play. Let’s explore what you need to keep in mind before choosing one. 

1. A Stable, Experienced Travel Nursing Company 

Check the track record of your potential travel nursing agency. How long has the company been in operation? You can ask the nurses in your hospital who are also travelers to weigh in the different companies. Additionally, nursing blogs are a great source of information to gain insight into their reputations. Highway Hypodermics and other annual ranking lists can be useful. 

2. Housing Options and Great Average Salary

How do pay rates compare among the different travel nursing recruiters? Discussing the net pay when examining the full compensation package of a travel nurse staffing agency gives you insight into your overall pay. 

When it comes to housing, travel nursing recruiters significantly differ, with some offering a vast assortment of housing options and others offering low or high-quality options. Another alternative is to receive a housing stipend, allowing you to find your preferred accommodation or stay with a family member or friend and cut down on costs. 

3. The Perks You Want 

Benefits can differ significantly from one travel nursing agency to another. If something is essential to you, such as paid vacation time, rental vehicles, 401 (k) plans, and health insurance, choose recruiters who can accommodate your preferences. It’s worth noting that benefits can affect your pay rate. 

 4. Quality and Number of Travel Nursing Jobs

Take a look at the available assignments that travel nurse recruiters have available. If the destinations don’t tickle your fancy, it might pay off to continue searching for a reputable travel nursing company with the job opportunities you want. 

5. Recruiters Who Make Your Life Easier 

Having travel nursing recruiters who are easily reachable and an ideal fit for you would be a dream come true. Some recruiters simplify the application process by using your resume to input information on job applications, and once you’re ready to begin, they’ll handle the paperwork. 

6. Trustworthy Recruiters

Ensure you feel at ease with your travel nursing agency and that they are trustworthy. Be keen on how your personalities mesh together, their experience in the industry, any pushiness, and your instincts. With a great travel nurse recruiter, you can easily overcome agencies that a tad bit behind in the field.

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