By Sarah Wengert
While it seems like everyone wants to explore a career in travel healthcare these days, it does require certain qualifications and experience before you sign your first contract. In fact, one of the most common questions our recruiters hear from future nurses and aspiring travelers is, “What qualifications do travel nurses need?” In short, before travel nursing you need to earn your ADN or BSN degree, pass the NCLEX, earn the appropriate licensure and certifications for your location and specialty area, and have 1-2 years of recent, in-hospital experience. Now, let’s dive a bit deeper and further demystify the process of securing the proper requirements to become a travel nurse!
Degree Qualifications for Travel Nursing
First step: Nursing school! You’ve probably already got the heart and compassion part down pat, now it’s time to get your nursing education and earn your BSN or ADN degree. Of course, before you’re accepted to nursing school you’ll also need a high school diploma or GED.
Registered nurses must earn one of two degrees: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). At most nursing schools you can earn your ADN in two years and your BSN in four years. Either degree will put you on the path to becoming an RN, however some jobs may require a BSN. Earning your BSN will also better prepare you for leadership roles and usually means earning higher pay over the course of your career.
Many RNs start by earning their ADN and then later attend an RN-to-BSN program. These programs are available as both in-person and remote formats and typically take one to two years if you attend full time or three to four years if you attend part time. The availability of remote programs is especially fantastic for travelers who want to earn their BSN while already working as a travel nurse.
You’ve probably heard scary nursing school stories — the studying, the memorizing, the long hours, and clinical rotations. It’s no cakewalk, but many folks have come before you on this path and if you’re committed to a career in nursing you can make it happen!
NCLEX Qualifications for Travel Nursing
Much like a recent law school graduate must pass the bar exam to actually practice law, nursing school graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX) to begin their practice. Passing the NCLEX is where you officially become a registered nurse. Milestone achieved!
Nursing students typically start preparing for the NCLEX in the final year or final semester of nursing school. If nursing school gets a bad rap for difficulty, then the NCLEX is its bigger, badder sister. But again, nursing is your calling and you won’t let anything get in the way of your dreams. Study up and you got this!
Licensure Qualifications for Travel Nursing
After you pass the NCLEX, it’s time to get licensed in the state where you’ll practice nursing and/or get your compact state license. Each state has its own requirements, fees, and timeframes for processing license applications. You’ll need to be licensed in each state you practice in and can typically apply for license by examination or endorsement. In many states you can even receive a temporary license while awaiting your official license, which is often helpful for travelers when starting an assignment in a new state.
Another handy licensure tool for travel nurses is the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), also known as a compact state license. Compact states are members in the NLC, which allows a reciprocal licensing benefit to nurses who hold compact licenses. For example, if a nurse has a compact license they can practice in any compact state without obtaining a new, state-specific license for that state. However, if you take a travel nursing assignment in a non-compact state you’ll need to apply for and earn your license in that specific state. As of June 2022, there are 39 NLC states and jurisdictions, with a few states pending legislation to join the NLC.
Certification Qualifications for Travel Nursing
Earning various certifications is good for your skill set and professional prospects. Certifications can be general — such as Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) — or very specific to your specialty and role.
First, research shows that certified nurses make fewer mistakes on the job, meaning less patient death and injury. Facilities appreciate certifications because they translate to better quality patient care and less wasted spending. Second, your certifications will set you apart as a travel nurse candidate. In fact, hospitals often require and/or prefer certifications relevant to a travel job opening. We think this is so important that we offer licensure and specialty certification reimbursement as a benefit to all current Medical Solutions travelers!
Experience Qualifications for Travel Nursing
Aspiring travel nurses should expect to get about two years (one year minimum) of recent, in-hospital experience before starting a travel nursing career. Now, if you already worked your tail off in nursing school and did clinical rotations, passed the NCLEX with flying colors, and are able to land a perm nursing job, then why wouldn’t you be able to hit the road as a traveler? It’s a totally fair question, but there are actually several good reasons why and it’s ultimately about protecting you, facilities, and patients.
Travel nurses are expected to hit the ground running when they arrive at a new assignment. Orientations are often short and there’s a lot to learn when you start at a new hospital — like meeting your colleagues and understanding the hierarchy, learning hospital protocol, navigating a new charting system, and simply finding your way around in a new space. In order to be able to provide great patient care from day one, while also finding your way in a new place, your clinical skills must be road-tested and rock solid.
For you, experience requirements help protect your license, bolster your resume, and facilitate a successful travel nursing experience. You don’t want to have a negative first experience, overstress yourself, or let your patient care suffer because you rushed into a travel healthcare career. For hospitals, experience requirements help reassure them that their travelers will reliably provide great care from day one of an assignment — which they really need to depend on, it’s why they’ve hired additional staff after all! And most importantly, travel nursing experience requirements ensure better patient health outcomes and better overall patient care.
Whether you’re currently in nursing school or already working your first perm job to gain the necessary experience to travel, it’s never too early to search travel nursing jobs just to get a feel for what kind of assignments are currently available or to contact our team to get connected with your own personal recruiter who can start to understand what type of assignments and locations you’d like to pursue. That way, once you have the qualifications for travel nursing, you’ll be ready to pounce on the perfect first travel nurse assignment for you!