As a nursing student who has been bitten by the travel bug, the road to travel nursing may seem like a long and drawn-out process. You know that you have to graduate, pass the NCLEX, and become a nurse, all before you can become a travel nurse. But the truth is, all of these steps are put in place for a reason and it’s necessary to put in the work and take your time as a student, and as a nurse, before becoming a travel nurse. But, to speed up the process and make the most of your time as a student there are a couple of simple things that you can do in nursing school that will help prepare you to become a travel nurse!
Before reading further, don’t miss: 10 Reasons to Be a Travel Nurse
How to Become a Traveling Nurse – Tips for Students in Nursing School
While you’re just beginning your nursing career as a student, you may be dreaming of working across the United States, hopping from state to state, seeing new places, and meeting new people every 13-weeks. Visions of becoming a travel nurse may fill your head while studying for pharmacology or while sitting through that boring lecture on reproductive health. You may even be wondering to yourself, “how do you become a travel nurse?” But snap back to reality! The truth is that if you eventually want to become a travel nurse, it’s incredibly important that you take every step beforehand seriously and put in the time to perfect your craft as a nurse before going out on your own and being thrown into different scenarios at different hospitals.
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Get Your BSN
While you can become a nurse with an Associates Degree (AD) if your goal is to become a travel nurse I highly recommend getting your Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN). A lot of units, especially Magnet Hospitals, are making their nurses go back to school to become BSN educated and most units will not hire traveling nurses with an AD. And if they do, it will just be that much harder to stand out from a sea of nurses who are BSN educated.
If you’re wondering what a Magnet Hospital is, it is a certificate given by the American Nurses Credentialing Center that recognizes nursing excellence in a hospital. This means that nurses are highly trained (most having their BSNs), nurse turnover is low, and both job and patient satisfaction is high.
Read More: The 4 Requirements to Be a Travel Nurse
The most important thing to do when in nursing school is to study hard so that you can pass your classes. Without doing this, you’ll never become a travel nurse. If you’re struggling don’t be scared to reach out and ask for help. Form a study group with friends or visit a teacher during office hours. If you still don’t understand something, be honest with your teacher about it. They want you to understand just as much as you want to understand.
Work Hard in Clinicals
Attending clinical as a student nurse may seem time-consuming and honestly, sometimes… worthless. But take this as an opportunity to further decide what you like to do and what kind of population you want to work with. The more clear you become on your goals once you graduate from nursing school, the better you can direct your clinical experience to make it worth your time.
For instance, if your school doesn’t offer an ER rotation but you really want to work in an ER, ask a teacher if it’s possible for you to shadow for one day. When I was in clinical, I was not scheduled to go to the NICU. I had to request to go and thank goodness I did because I ended up loving it!
If you get a clinical rotation that you really love and could see yourself working in when you graduate, don’t be afraid to speak to the manager about it. On the last day of my rotation in the NICU, I took my resume in and gave it to the manager and asked her if they would be hiring when I graduated. They weren’t hiring at the time but it is still good practice to start speaking with managers and getting comfortable around authority as soon as you can.
Figure Out What You Like and Don’t Like
Being in nursing school is the perfect time to figure out what you like as a nurse and even more importantly, figuring out what you don’t like. Do you enjoy working long hospital hours? Or do you want to work in a clinic? Do you enjoy pediatrics? Or adults? While you don’t have to have it all figured out by the time you graduate, it’s important to narrow down what you want so that you can get a job on a unit that you love bringing you one step closer to becoming a travel nurse.
As stated above, you don’t have to have it all figured out before graduation. However, if your main objective is to become a travel nurse as soon as possible, I would highly recommend figuring out what you like so that you can go straight to that unit when you graduate. You will typically need two years of work experience before becoming a travel nurse and you don’t want to waste any time. If you switch units in those two years, your time starts over. For example, if you do Med-Surg nursing for six months and then NICU nursing for 1.5 years, that doesn’t add up to two years. You need two years of experience in one unit before becoming a travel nurse.
But, don’t let this stress you out. It is 100% okay to switch specialties. I believe that it is harder to be a nurse in a unit that you don’t love versus switching units until you find the perfect fit for you. While switching units will delay your plans for traveling, it won’t stop you from eventually traveling.
Now, you might be wondering, what if you want to be a NICU nurse but they aren’t hiring any new grads? If you want to become a travel nurse right away you could always work Med-Surg for 1.5 years (you can typically travel nurse with 1+ years of experience on Med-Surg versus two years of experience required for other specialties), and then when you’re done travel nursing try to get a job in a NICU or whatever unit you want to go into.
Work in a Unit That Will Help You Become a Travel Nurse
Once you’ve graduated from nursing school and passed the NCLEX, the most important step comes in. Pick a job on a unit that will help you become the best nurse that you can be so you can be the best travel nurse you can be. For example, if you choose to work in the NICU, try to get into a level III surgical NICU or a level IV NICU. These will have the sickest babies and will allow you to gain experience with all different types of patients. If you work in a level II NICU, don’t be discouraged. You can still be a travel nurse but your options will be more limited because you won’t be able to work in level III and IV hospitals.
Once you get into a unit that will allow you to grow and learn, keep an eye out for anything and everything. Always ask questions, take classes that will allow you to learn more, and ask to take care of critical patients. The more comfortable you become, the easier it will be to jump into travel nursing.
Read More: 6 Essential Tips for New Nurses
As a nursing student who wants to eventually become a travel nurse, there are minor things that you can do to make your transition into travel nursing easier. By following the tips listed above you will be one step ahead of the other nurses in your cohort. Remember that the road isn’t easy, there will be bumps along the way, but if you can dream it… you can achieve it.
I work with a big hospital and will be starting their nurse residency program this fall. After completing I can do whatever I want with them for the next either doing their travel program or staying locally. My question is can a nurse take travel assignments like once or twice a year and still stay with their home hospital? My hospital corporation is only in 11 states. So would taking a summer contract with say Aya healthcare would be a breach?
Hi Alicia, I’m really unsure. I would just connect with a recruiter and explain your situation and see what they say about it! You might also want to read over your home hospitals employee handbook. If you’re willing to go PRN, I know a lot of travel nurses who stay at their home hospital by working the bare minimum shifts required to keep a PRN job. Good luck!