Travel Nursing: Required Education & Experience

A career as a travel nurse can be a highly rewarding and exciting experience, but what exactly do you need before you can begin? What kind of education and licensing is required, and how long will each of these steps take? Get answers to all these questions and more regarding what it takes to become a travel nurse.

Traveling Nurse Requirements: The Basics

Traveling nurses provide temporary medical assistance on short-term assignments that typically last between 8 and 26 weeks. Nurses often have the chance to choose where they want to be located and in what specialty they’d like to work.

To become a travel nurse, you need to have at least earned certification as a licensed practical nurse. That said, many hospitals and other medical settings require that you hold a bachelor’s degree and a valid license as a registered nurse, and travel RNs are much more common than travel LPNs. Read more on these requirements below.

Travel Nurse Education Requirements

Licensed practical nurse (LPN)

An LPN provides basic care such as taking vital signs, dressing wounds, assisting with tests, and administering medication. The role is known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in Texas and California, though it involves the same types of duties. There are opportunities for LPNs to work as travel nurses, though it’s less common than RNs.

Core classes

LPNs aren’t required to hold a college degree, but they do need education through a state-approved program. Common courses include anatomy, nutrition, physiology, mental health, and more.

How long does it take?

LPN programs typically last between 12 and 18 months. Once you earn your license and begin working as a nurse, your state might require continuing education or practice hours to maintain your credentials.

Are there online or accelerated options?

Many community colleges and vocational schools offer online LPN courses. These are typically completed along with clinical work at a local hospital.

Registered nurse (RN)

RNs deliver the most in-depth level of front-line nursing, with duties that include analyzing test results, determining treatment plans, and providing emotional support to their patients.

Should you get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree?

Currently, an associate’s degree is all you need to gain certification as an RN, however there’s been a move to require more nurses to hold a bachelor’s. The Institute of Medicine recommends that 80% of RNs have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) by 2020.

What’s more, many medical settings are requiring more advanced degrees on their own, so earning a bachelor’s or higher can open you up to more opportunities.

Core classes

Along with the typical classes of an LPN education, an RN education will likely include topics such as bioethics, microbiology, nursing research, and elderly care.

How long does it take?

An associate’s degree program usually takes around 2 years, while a bachelor’s program typically takes 4.

Are there online or accelerated options?

You can often find RN courses online that require you to conduct clinical experience in your local community. If you’re already an RN with an associate’s degree, online RN-to-BSN programs are also available. These are often geared toward nurses who are currently working and need to fit online classes into their current schedules.

You might also find accelerated or second degree programs designed for people who have a bachelor’s in another field and want to move into nursing. Students with good GPAs from their previous program may be able to complete their nursing education in just 1–2 years.

Nurse practitioner (NP)

nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with higher authority than an RN. These roles take on duties such as conducting exams, prescribing medication, and diagnosing illnesses.Though their responsibilities are more physician-level than an RN, they may still need to be supervised by a doctor.

Core classes

NPs must hold at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and gain additional training and certification in a specialty of their choosing. These specialties are often focused on a particular patient population, such as infants, pregnant women, and the elderly. Other common specialties include acute care, emergency room, anesthesiology, and rehabilitation.

Your core classes will vary depending on your specialty. That said, general MSN courses often include classes such as healthcare policy, ethics, and advanced biochemistry and pharmacology.

How long does it take?

Once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, you can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing. This typically takes 2–3 years, depending on your background. If you’re already an RN with core nursing education and experience, an MSN may only take 2 years. If you’re entering a program with a bachelor’s degree in a different subject, it will likely take around 3.

Are there online or accelerated options?

Online MSN programs are available for both current RNs and those with a bachelor’s in a different subject. The latter, however, will be required to gain more hands-on experience offline, such as conducting lab work and doing clinical hours.

Nursing License & Certification Requirements

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All nurses from an LPN onward must earn their license by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)
. Beyond that, many nurses choose to pursue certification in a variety of specialties through organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Travel Nurse Experience Requirements

Most medical settings that employ travel nurses require at least 1 year of experience in the area or specialty in which you want to work, however, some nursing specialties have more stringent requirements. Find out what those requirements are by contacting potential employers or nurse staffing agencies.

Are There Travel Nurse Programs?

There aren’t programs specifically designed for travel nurses. If you plan to pursue a career as a traveling RN, you can do so following the successful completion of the same programs attended by nurses who plan to get permanent positions.

What to Look for in a Degree Program

The most important thing when exploring degree programs is to verify that the school is accredited. Accreditation guarantees that the program meets a certain quality of standards. You can check accreditation through agencies like the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Consider next the type of program that’ll best fit into your schedule. You may want to attend a full-time, on-campus program, or perhaps online classes with offsite clinical work might be a better option.

Is Financial Aid Available?

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There are financial aid options available for students of all kinds of background and education levels. Depending on your unique situation, you may qualify for loans, grants, or scholarships through private lenders or the federal government.

When researching financial aid, the best way to start is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This assesses your unique situation to determine how much money the government thinks you can contribute to your education and how much need-based assistance they’ll provide.

Keep in mind that any loans given through the government or a private lender are expected to be paid back. That said, qualifying nurses may find that they can be relieved of paying some or all of their loans. Our guide to student loan forgiveness covers this in more detail.

Pursuing scholarships is also a great way to help you fund your education. You can find scholarships that are open to a wide range of students, as well as others designed for those with specific specialties, cultural identities, medical situations, and more.

Multi-State Nursing License

If you’re a nurse working in the United States, it’s necessary to obtain a license for each state in which you practice. The time frame for securing a license varies state by state, so it’s important to do your research in advance of pursuing a travel nurse position in a particular location. For example, many states estimate that licensure takes between 2 and 4 weeks, while other states like California can take up to 6 months.

One of the best options to consider is the multi-state Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). This license allows nurses to work in any state that’s a member of the initiative. As of 2018, there are roughly 30 states that have enacted NLC legislation.

You may also find that you want to pursue an opportunity in a “walk-through” state. Currently, there’s a handful of states that allow nurses to be issued a temporary license while they wait to receive their permanent one. These are typically issued within 48 hours and are valid for anywhere between 1 and 6 months depending on the state.

Requirements

Getting any U.S. license, whether for an individual state or the NLC, requires passing the NCLEX exam. Beyond that, each state has its own requirements for gaining your license. You may need to provide proof of citizenship or permanent resident status, transcripts from your nursing program, and Live Scan fingerprints.

Once you have your state license, you’ll be required to renew it on a periodic basis if you wish to keep it. Most states require renewal every 2 years. Others require as frequently as once a year, while there are others that go up to 4 years.

Cost

The cost of applying for a permanent license varies by state, ranging from as low as $50 to as high as nearly $300. In most states, a temporary license is a fraction of the cost. You may also need to pay additional fees for things such as fingerprints or a background check.

Certifications

Once you’ve earned your RN license, there are more than 200 certifications you can choose to pursue. Some specialties may require these credentials, while for others, the goal of certification may be to simply become more competitive in the job market.

Certification involves passing an exam to assess your expertise. These can also be renewed periodically by pursuing continuing education. The cost and requirements of gaining certification varies greatly based on the credentialing board and your chosen specialty.

Advancing Your Career as a Travel Nurse

Like with many jobs, you can earn a higher salary through additional education and experience. Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t provide specific salary information for travel nurses, they list the median annual salary for all RNs as $70,000.

With additional education, such as an MSN, you could advance to a role like a nurse practitioner or nurse midwifeThe BLS lists the average annual salary to be over $100,000 for both roles.

Earn your BSN while working

If you graduated from an LPN or associate’s degree program, one of the best ways to advance your career is by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This can often be done as you continue to work as a nurse, so you can gain new skills without taking time off.

Since you already have an educational background in nursing, you can likely earn your BSN in a shorter period of time. What’s more, many hospitals offer tuition reimbursement programs that could help you pay to advance your education.

Continuing education and new specializations

For those who already hold a BSN, MSN, or doctoral degree, the best way to continue moving up the ladder is by pursuing courses that lead to new specialty certifications. Not only do additional certifications demonstrate your commitment to nursing, but they can give you the confidence to quickly take on any new assignment that you might come across in your travel nurse career.

Ready to Get Started?

Starting or advancing your career as a travel nurse begins with the right education. Use the Find Schools button to research programs in your area that fit your needs.

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