Preparing for a Career as a Travel Nurse

Let’s Start The Journey written on a paper tag.

Whether you are browsing or getting ready to embark on your first travel nurse assignment, you need to stay organized and be prepared. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help make the process much smoother and an easier transition. 

Having a mentor and educator to explain every step in your travel nursing journey can help save you time and heartache. I’m here to be that travel nurse mentor for you. Since I had to learn some things the hard way, I’ll share the nitty, gritty details so that you can learn from my experiences. Hopefully, I’ll be able to ease your fears by clearing up any misconceptions you may have about the travel nursing career.

Gain the Experience

First thing is first – you’ll want to gain clinical experience. Obtain at least 1-2 years of experience in your specialty. If you will be working in a specialized unit, such as Labor and Delivery or ICU, some travel agencies may require you to have even more experience before traveling. 

As you work your staff job, make sure you are developing strong clinical and time management skills. I want you to ask yourself, “Am I comfortable taking care of the sickest patient on my unit without needing a lot of assistance?” That answer is a good indicator of whether or not you are ready to become a travel nurse from a clinical skills standpoint. If your answer is no, don’t be discouraged. 

Take the time you need to excel in your clinical skills by asking for higher acuity patients. These experiences and skills will come in handy when you live your life on the road as a travel nurse. Travel nursing can be a competitive market, especially at the most desirable facilities with the highest pay, so make yourself more marketable by gaining enough experience to help ensure your success. 

Start Saving

Before you jump into travel nursing, build yourself a decent savings. I usually encourage nurses to have enough money to cover a minimum of three to six months’ worth of bills. There will be unexpected expenses and sometimes delays with travel nursing. If you want to live the travel nursing dream, you don’t want one financial hiccup to ruin your success. 

Identify Your Goals

Next, I want you to do some soul searching. Sit down and write down why you want to be a travel nurse and any goals you have for the career. Keeping your why in mind can motivate you to keep going when work gets you down. Create a list of your must-haves and deal-breakers for your travel nursing career to communicate with your future recruiter. And for fun’s sake, start a list of destinations and hospitals you would like to visit and keep adding to this list throughout your journey!

Prepare to Be Away From Home

Think ahead and start to take care of your home logistics and prepare to be away from home. This would be the perfect time to research what having a tax home means and understand tax laws for travel nurses. Don’t worry if you don’t have a full-time residence that you maintain and pay for when you’re not working as a travel nurse. While you’ll have to pay taxes on all of your income and stipends, you’ll still likely be more profitable than you would at a staff nurse job. 

Build Your Travel Nurse Profile

You can start to build your travel nurse profile, including your resume, licenses, certifications, immunization and titer records, physicals, and references. Be sure to keep all of these up to date! This would be an excellent time to apply for any state licenses that you may need, so make sure to look at that state’s BON for that process. If your certifications are expiring in the next couple of months, take the time to get those updated before you embark on your travel nurse journey. Mentor tip: I usually keep a notebook filled with these items and take them on assignment with me. I also securely upload them as a PDF to quickly email them to travel nurse companies.

Research Travel Nurse Companies and Recruiters

Next, you are ready to start researching companies and recruiters. Network with other travelers and see which travel nurse agencies they recommend. Interview recruiters and make sure they seem like a good fit for you. You want to feel like your recruiter is responsive and working hard to get you what you want while keeping your best interests in mind. Keeping an open line of communication with your recruiter is the key to success!

Get Ready to Start Traveling

Congratulations, you are almost on your way to becoming a travel nurse! You can start the application process when you are about eight weeks out from wanting to travel. While you may be ready to pack your bags, I highly encourage you not to burn any bridges with your staff job because you may want to come back someday. Give them the proper notice for terminating your employment. Soon enough, you’ll be on the road as a travel nurse! 

My only regret in travel nursing is not starting sooner. Deciding to go is the hardest part! But don’t worry – I’m here to help you have the confidence you need to succeed in your endeavors! You’ve got this!

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