How To Jumpstart Your Travel Nursing Career in 6 Easy Steps

Rick Martinez

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You've read all about it, and now you're ready to take the next step to become a travel RN.

Even if you don't yet meet the basic requirements to start travel nursing, this article will be a great primer. And if you do meet them and are ready to dive in, then this is certainly for you. 

Step 1: Find the travel company that fits you best

Nurses have dozens upon dozens of options, and you are in the driver's seat.

It's crucial two remember that you are the client. You get to choose where and when, so make sure that you mesh with them when you seek a company. Not only that but the values that the company touts.

For example: are they family-owned and operated, or does that even matter to you? Do they have offices in multiple states, or are you ok with a single location? And nowadays, a big question is will they pay on a W-2 or 1099?

All of these things, and more, go into you choosing the right company for you.

I've personally traveled with a few like Cross Country, Fastaff, and of course, my fav, Bestica Healthcare.

Step 2: Find a recruiter you like and trust

After you've narrowed down your travel company list, the next thing is to find a recruiter you like.

This is where you really begin to tell if the company mission and values matter. It all starts and ends with the recruiters. And more than that is the vibe you might get the first time you interact with him or her.

Trust that first instinct.

Your recruiter is a crucial part of your entire travel experience. Think about it. They'll help secure the location and contract. They'll likely get your housing squared away. And they'll be the first person you fall back on when things go really well or when things go sideways.

They are your lifeline, so it is essential to have someone who is on their game.

Step 3: Explore your assignment options

As I write this, there are quite literally contract opportunities from coast to coast.

The options are endless, so be sure to make sure you meet the requirements of the place and facility you want to go to. For example, just because you have ER experience doesn't mean you're set and ready to take an inner-city Level 1 trauma center gig. So again, match your skills to the gig.

In fact, this is a great time to ask your recruiter about their company's placement system.

Step 4: Make sure your credentials are up to date

It goes without saying but having an up-to-date BCLS, ACLS, TNCC, etc…is really kind of important.

Beyond that is to assure that your credentials match the contract requirements. As far as nursing licenses are concerned, it's always a plus if you have a compact license. In fact, you're one of the lucky ones.

As a reminder, holding a license in a compact state allows you to travel to multiple states without getting a new state license for each one.

If a state is not part of the nursing compact, keep in mind that many are what we call "walk-through." That generally means that a temp RN license can be obtained in a one-day process. These "walk-through" licenses are usually good from 1 month up to 6 months.

Your recruiter should have the 411 on all you'll need to secure your first or next assignment.

Step 5: Pick your first or next travel gig

I've got over two decades of nursing and travel nursing experience. Some nurses are just starting. And others are into 3-4 travel contracts.

The point?

Find an assignment that matches your experiences and skills.

Not only in terms of how long you've been at it but also one that is within your comfort zone and scope. As an ER nurse, I wouldn't feel comfortable going into an SICU. And in turn, if your specialty is LTC, it probably may not be prudent to roll into a Tele or step-down gig.

The same applies to the day shift versus the night shift. This goes without saying, but don't flip-flop unless you've done either one.

Another thing to pay close attention to as related to choosing your gig is pay rates.

Pick the one that meets your goals. Choose the contract that will meet your monetary needs. And finally, remember that location and cost of living play a BIG role in your monthly expenses.

Step 6: Hit the road

This part can be as straightforward or as complicated as you make it.

Personally, I'm a massive fan of simple.

This will impact how you pack and what you pack. I may be cut from a different cloth, but the lighter and less I bring, the easier it will be to move to the next gig. For example, I once went to Europe for a whole week and only took a backpack and computer bag.

Besides the "what" to pack or take, be sure to arrive a few days before to acclimate to your new surroundings and get your bearings.

The final word

The final word is that if you're considering starting your travel nursing career, it's essential to have all the right tools in place.

This includes having an up-to-date BCLS and ACLS certification, making sure your credentials match the contract requirements for the facility at which you'll be working, picking an assignment within your scope of experience so as not to feel overwhelmed by a new environment, arriving early to get acclimated to any changes in climate or culture before beginning work on day one. These are just some of the considerations that need addressing before jumping into this line of work.

At range end of the day, you have way more control over your travel experience, and one thing to keep in mind is this simple mantra. "Go with the flow." Your flexibility will be one of your greatest assets.

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I'm a freelance writer and a nurse, exploring the world one beer, donut, and experience at a time. Writing about the travel nurse industry and healthcare, with the occasional emphasis on donuts. #NomNom

San Antonio, TX
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