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How to Start a Career in Travel Nursing

Starting a career in travel nursing can be somewhat intimidating. I know because I felt the same way before I accepted my first travel nurse assignment in California. Was I experienced enough? Which travel nursing agency should I choose? How would I pick my recruiter?

Shortly after completing my first assignment in California with Kaiser Permanente, I accepted my second travel nursing contract at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center. If you told me before I started working as a travel nurse that it would be my second travel nursing assignment, I would have never believed you. Initially, I was overwhelmed with doubt and uncertainty about a career in travel nursing, which is why I am going to tell you everything you need to know to become a travel nurse today.

Build Your Resume and Gain Experience

As a travel nurse, the more experience you have, the better. “How much experience do you need before starting a career in travel nursing?” is one of the most frequently asked questions I get.

To be honest, there is no set number of years or experience level required, because it is different for everyone. Some nurses with one year of experience may gain more experience than nurses with two or three years of experience due to working in an acute care setting with patients who need a higher level of care. Most travel agencies will not even consider you for hire unless you have at least one year of experience, though. Usually, experience at a Magnet recognized or Level 1 Trauma Center is preferred and makes your resume stand out.

Apply for RN Licensure by Endorsement

The term “licensure by endorsement” means obtaining your license in a state that differs from your home state or the state that you hold a permanent address in. Each state has different endorsement licensure requirements, so read all of the details on the state’s Board of Nursing website before applying. If your home state is an Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) state, you can apply for the compact license and upgrade your RN license to a multi-state license.

Choose a Travel Nursing Agency/Recruiter

Now that you have your resume together and the necessary state licensure required to travel, it’s time to find the right travel nursing agency and recruiter. Truth is, there’s really no such thing. It’s really about knowing what to look for and what to ask when choosing a travel agency and recruiter.

One easy tip is to ask other travel nurses for their personal recommendations. They have most likely worked with several travel nursing agencies and recruiters and will tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly about each. Another option is to ask travel agencies and recruiters what states and hospital systems they hold a contract with currently. Some travel nursing agencies are limited as far as where they can assign contracts, which will in turn limit your job offers and options for travel in other states.

Accept a Contract

After you’ve selected a travel agency and a recruiter, it’s time to look for your first travel nursing assignment. These are usually sent to you by your recruiter in the form of an email or text message.

Initially, you can view a few details, such as estimated pay and stipend, location, specialty, shift offered, and the contract duration. After deciding which assignment you prefer, your recruiter will submit you to the hospital and wait for HR or the manager to accept the offer. Some hiring managers prefer interviewing. This can be a phone or written interview. After you interview, you will be offered or denied a position.

Work on an Assignment

Now that you’ve accepted your contract, it’s time to complete all of the pre-hospital paperwork. Pre-hospital paperwork varies hospital to hospital, and it consists of anything from an EKG exam to a multiple-choice knowledge exam specific to your specialty.

Once all pre-hospital paperwork is complete, you will take necessary drug tests and labs specified by the hospital before starting orientation. Usually, orientation can last anywhere from a few days to a week and consist of presentations about the hospital’s mission, policies, and procedures. Depending on your unit, you may also have to take additional classes to learn about the different equipment and modes of care specific to the unit you are working on.

Start Your Travel Nursing Career

Believe it or not, this is the hardest part. Even after completing all the above, leaving your full-time job with familiarity of policies, equipment, and coworkers can be more difficult than most people think. One way to increase your chances of starting a career in travel nursing sooner than later is to have your Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

The majority of top-tier hospitals are striving to obtain American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program by hiring BSN degree nurses over associate degree nurses. Achieving Magnet recognition by the ANCC is the highest and most prestigious award any hospital can receive, ensuring high-quality standards and patient care.

If you are a registered nurse looking to work in a Magnet-recognized hospital you must, at the very least, have a bachelor’s degree. Concordia University, St. Paul offers an online RN to BSN program that provides the flexibility to study at a time and place that works best for you. The program’s coursework builds on your nursing experience and prepares you to work in a variety of health care settings for diverse patient populations. Plus, the RN to BSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

This blog post was written by guest contributor Nurse A. Lee. A. Lee is a registered nurse who blogs about her career and travels. You can follow her on her blog or on Instagram @nurse_alee.