7 Simple Steps to Begin Your Journey as a Travel Nurse

If you’re ready for a new adventure in your nursing career, travel nursing is the perfect place to start. A lot of people became restless with 2020 and are ready for something new in 2021. If you’re wondering how to get started with making this particular dream come true, we’re here to help. With just a few simple steps, you could be on your way to an exciting and fulfilling career as a travel nurse. 

STEP 1: Understand what a “travel nurse” entails 

First of all, make sure you understand what travel nursing actually means. As a travel nurse, your role will be to fill staffing needs for a variety of medical facilities, potentially in a variety of locations. Travel nursing is different than becoming a staff nurse: if you choose to sign with a travel nurse agency (and there are many reasons why this is beneficial), you will be an employee of the travel staffing agency, rather than the hospital or medical facility. Although this will not significantly affect your ability to care for patients, it’s important to understand this up front. 

Learn some terms associated with travel nursing, like tax home (which we will discuss later in this article), stipend (an allowance allotted for a particular thing, such as housing), pay package (the total overall pay, including hourly rate, stipends, and other benefits)and per diem (a daily allowance for living expenses such as food). 

STEP 2: Make sure you are adequately qualified

If you don’t already have your nursing education, make sure you pursue that first. Many hospitals are now requiring a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree for their staff nurses; it’s highly probable that they will begin requiring a BSN for their temporary staff as well. 

Once you’ve obtained your degree, pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), developed and administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. (NCSBN). Passing this exam is a requirement for becoming licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN) in the United States, which you will need to become a travel nurse. 

Once you’re educated and licensed, get some experience. Most hospitals require that their temporary staff have at least one year of experience as a nurse, and during slower times can require at least two years of experience. 

Many specializations are in high demand for travel nurses, such as ICU nurses. Consider becoming certified and experienced in more than one specialty to make yourself more marketable. 

STEP 3: Establish your tax home

Because travel nurses often work in more than one state, it’s necessary to establish what the IRS calls a “tax home,” which according to the IRS is the “general area of your main place of business, employment, or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home.” By not taking this crucial step, the IRS recognizes you as an itinerant worker–with a much higher tax rate. Speak to a tax professional about your plans before you travel. 

STEP 4: Research travel nurse staffing agencies

No two travel nurse agencies are alike. One may offer a better overall pay package, but another may have connections to the locations in which you are interested. Take time to research and interview different agencies: ask specific questions about pay packages, including hourly pay, stipends and per diems, and other benefits; find out where that agency has job opportunities and in what specialties; ask about policies such as housing and traveling with family or pets; and research the reputation of the agency. The reputation of the agency you sign with will affect your reputation as a travel nurse! Once you’ve found an agency that fits your needs, begin the onboarding and paperwork process. 

STEP 5: Find a recruiter

When interviewing staffing agencies, you will be assigned to a recruiter, or as we call them at Nurse First, an advocate. This person will become your lifeline as you travel, handling your portfolio, applications, housing accommodations, and many, many other aspects of travel nursing. It is vitally important that you find a recruiter you can work with closely. Once you’ve signed with an agency, you may interview more than one recruiter at that agency before you find one that fits your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the recruiters. They are used to it, and they know their function is important to you. 

STEP 6: Secure the travel nurse position you want

Once you’ve found an agency and a recruiter, it’s time to begin the process of securing your first travel nurse assignment. Your recruiter or advocate will work with you on your profile and your preferences, connecting you with a hospital and a location that matches your needs and qualifications. Depending on what agency you work with, they can also help you secure your housing accommodations. 

STEP 7: Get packing!

Now it’s time to get excited! Learn more about your new facility before you go. Check into their policies and procedures, and if possible, learn a bit about the culture of the facility. Begin learning all you can before you leave to make your transition as smooth as possible. 

Learn about your new location too. Research the area where you’ll be staying: is there mass transit available, or will you need to secure other transportation? Are grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses close to you? Will you have roommates (some agencies have this option available)? What parks, museums, or other attractions does the city hold? 

Travel nursing can be a rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. Taking the steps necessary to make it happen can lead to the adventure of a lifetime!

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