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Switching Careers? Become a Travel Nurse!

Posted on: May 18, 2021


written by

Risa Kerslake, RN

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Your role as a travel nurse is to step in for regular staff nurses or to be an additional help on a short-term basis. This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased need of hospitals and clinics. Travel nurses primarily relocate all over the country, but there are opportunities to work internationally. If you've been considering this path, but aren't sure where to begin, read on for the steps to take to become a travel nurse.

Get your year of experience

You need to have at least a year of nursing experience in the area you want to work in as a travel nurse. Sometimes, if the demand for travel nurses is low, you may need to have two years of experience. Emergency departments, ICU, OR, Cardiovascular ICU, pediatrics, and Labor and Delivery are some of the more common specialties that health care facilities need.  If you are certified in that specialty, you can be even more in demand. While it may be disappointing you can't start traveling right away, it's important to get some experience because travel nursing requires you to pick up your job quickly and be adaptable to change. 

Know your licensure and certification requirements

Most travel nurse positions require an RN. More and more you'll usually be required to have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) over an Associate Degree. You will also have to be licensed in the state you're practicing in. Oftentimes, if you're able, it's easiest to have a compact license. This gives you the ability to practice in every state that is a Compact State using one license. Currently, there are 34 states that participate.

You might need to have a certification if you want to work as a travel nurse in a specialty area such as obstetrics, critical care, or pediatrics. You will probably be required to have your Basic Life Support (BLS) and possibly your Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certifications. 

Gather all your nursing licenses, certifications, and other records all in one place, so you are prepared to work with your employer. Your recruiter at Barton will work with you to streamline this process.

Find a travel nurse agency

Before you're placed with an assignment, you need to find a travel nurse agency. The school you received your nursing education at can sometimes get you connected with agencies, otherwise, you can look for those that are recruiting nurses. At Barton Healthcare Staffing, we help you find the right assignment based on your preferences of location, specialty, and length of assignment. Different agencies work with different specialties and health care facilities, so you can work with several agencies to find the best fit. Look at the different pay structures, what they provide for insurance, or if there are sign-on bonuses or other incentives. Working with an agency is a requirement to travel nursing, but it doesn't cost you anything and much of the employment details will be taken care of through your agency. 

Connect with other travel nurses

The best way to learn about the ins and outs of this career path is by talking with other travel nurses. This is especially important if you are new to travel nursing. There are many social media groups specific to travel nurses that you can join. Figure out if you know anyone who is currently working as a travel nurse and ask your questions. Networking with others is a helpful way to find support, navigate finding an agency and assignments, and deciding what to do about housing. Connections with other travel nurses help you learn from different opportunities and what you should look out for.  

Research different assignments

Some places, whether it's the city or health care facility, are more competitive than others. So while certain places seem more enticing to work, keep an open mind to other locations. You'll also want to look at your housing options with where your assignment is located. Agencies usually provide housing that's furnished with utilities covered. You may also have the option of a stipend to find housing on your own. Sometimes you could have the opportunity to stick with an assignment close to home. This way, you wouldn’t have to relocate. 

After your recruiter submits your request for an assignment, you'll have an interview over the phone with the employer. After you accept, you'll sign a contract with the facility. You can negotiate the terms of the contract, which your agency recruiter can assist with if you have questions. This contract will include all the details of your assignment, so it's important you review it carefully. 

Take a deep breath

Travel nursing is very different to what you're currently doing. It's easy to feel overwhelmed especially if you're just starting out. It can help to make a list of the things you need to get done now that your assignment is set. Find ways to decrease stress and take some time to relax before your move. Travel nursing is growing quickly due to the demand and now is a great time to set yourself up for a new adventure.

Ready to begin your journey into traveling healthcare? Contact the Barton Healthcare Staffing team today to get started!

Risa Kerslake, RN
About Risa Kerslake, RN

Risa Kerslake, RN, BSN is a Minnesota-based nurse and freelance writer. She has experience in a variety of settings including psychiatric nursing, triage, and case management. Learn more about her freelance writing at