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Academics | 6/28/2024

Exploring Travel Nursing: What Is a Travel Nurse, and How Do You Become One?

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A travel nurse is a registered nursing professional who takes on temporary nursing positions in high-need areas. Learn how to enter this career path through nursing education at MCPHS.

Nurses are in high demand worldwide, meaning there aren’t always enough healthcare professionals working locally to fill every necessary role. When an organization faces staffing shortages or needs extra hands, they call on travel nurses. But what exactly is this type of nurse, and what job responsibilities do these medical professionals take on?

Continue reading to learn about travel nursing work and discover how you could enter this important field. 

What Is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who takes on temporary positions in healthcare facilities across the country or even internationally. These positions can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, offering nurses the chance to explore new regions, work in diverse clinical settings, and meet different challenges head-on. Travel nurses are highly skilled professionals who adapt quickly to new environments, ensuring high-quality patient care regardless of where they're assigned.

So what exactly does a travel nurse do? The typical duties of a traveling nurse can vary widely, encompassing everything from direct patient care to supporting existing staff and implementing healthcare plans. Contracts for travel nurses often specify the length of the assignment, the type of work to be performed, and the nurse's schedule. These contracts provide a clear framework for the temporary roles that travel nurses fulfill, offering both stability for the healthcare facility and flexibility for the nurse.

How Did This Nursing Style Get Started?

When the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the globe, there were staffing shortages that made headlines — and also highlighted travel nurses' extreme value. But this profession has been around for much longer than that. The concept of the travel nursing job began in the United States in the 1970s as a response to the nursing shortage in certain areas. 

It has since evolved into a sophisticated sector of the nursing profession, with travel nurses now playing a crucial role in maintaining healthcare standards during staffing crises, seasonal peaks, and remote locations. This evolution has been driven by the growing need for healthcare services and the desire among nurses for more flexible and varied career options.

How To Become a Travel Nurse

To embark on a career as a travel nurse, you must first become a registered nurse (RN) by obtaining either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The path you choose will be based on your career goals, the time you wish to invest in your education, and the requirements of the travel nursing work you seek. Both pathways require passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to ensure you're prepared to provide safe and effective nursing care.

Becoming a travel nurse can look different depending on your situation and educational desires, from traditional nursing programs at universities to accelerated courses designed for those changing careers. For those looking to further their nursing education and explore the world of travel nursing, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) offers a range of programs designed to prepare you for this dynamic field:

Undergraduate Nursing School Programs

Bachelor of Science in Nursing - Postbaccalaureate

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing - Postbaccalaureate program is designed for individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree and want to gain the skill sets necessary to enter the nursing field. This 16-month program allows students hands-on experiences through clinical experiences in both classroom settings and within prestigious healthcare centers.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing - Accelerated

A Bachelor of Science (BSN) is an accelerated 32-month program that helps students gain real-world experience while studying and accomplishing nursing courses. The BSN program covers a wide range of materials, from chemistry and biology to pharmacology and community health. 

Master and Doctoral Nursing School Programs

Family Nurse Practitioner Bridge Program - (RN to MSN)

Through the Family Nurse Practitioner Bridge Program - (RN to MSN), students can build on their associate’s degree without needing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This allows a smooth transition from undergraduate to graduate-level coursework,  offering clinical experience as students expand their collegiate nursing education. 

Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner

A Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program is a 24-month, part-time course of study that provides students the flexibility to work while earning a nursing diploma. Like the Bachelor of Science in Nursing - Postbaccalaureate program, the Master of Science in Nursing - FNP path offers students the opportunity to advance their bachelor’s degree with a specialty in family nursing.

Master of Science in Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

A Master of Science in Nursing - Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program allows learners to achieve a specialty in psychiatric mental health in just 24 months. This part-time, online program helps nursing students build a firm, foundational knowledge of dementia, depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions. 

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a program that helps students earn an advanced degree in the hopes of achieving the highest level in the nursing profession. This 24-month, online doctoral program focuses on organization and systems leadership. Those who wish to enter this program must hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which will give them the foundational knowledge necessary to excel in this course of study. 

Travel nursing can be a lucrative career choice, with salaries often higher than those of permanent staff nurses due to the urgent need and temporary nature of the positions. Nursing job openings are plentiful, with opportunities in various specialties and locations. Nurses can expect competitive compensation, comprehensive benefits, and the chance to gain experience in different healthcare settings. 

Travel Nurse FAQs

How long does it take to become a travel nurse?

Becoming a traveling nurse typically requires one to two years of nursing experience, in addition to the education and licensure requirements. This experience ensures that travel nurses are well-prepared to adapt to new environments and meet the demands of their assignments. The timeframe to become a travel nurse can vary, but with dedication and the right qualifications, it's an achievable goal for those interested in this career path.

How long can a travel nurse stay in one place?

Travel nurses often stay in high-need areas for the duration of their contract, which can range from a few weeks to several months. This flexibility allows travel nurses to experience living in different parts of the country or world, while also providing essential services to communities in need. The length of stay is typically agreed upon before the assignment begins, ensuring both the nurse and the healthcare facility have clear expectations.

What are the benefits of being a travel nurse?

The benefits of being a travel nurse are vast and varied. From competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits packages to the opportunity to travel and experience new cultures, travel nursing offers a unique career. Additionally, travel nurses often enjoy flexible schedules, professional development opportunities, and the chance to work in many healthcare settings they may not otherwise be able to, enhancing their skills and broadening their experiences.

Can you do travel nursing without experience?

For those considering a career in travel nursing, it's important to have a solid foundation in nursing and some experience in the field. While specific requirements can vary by agency and assignment, most travel nursing positions require at least one year of recent experience in a clinical setting. This ensures that travel nurses are ready to hit the ground running and provide high-quality care from day one.

Next Stop: MCPHS

If you're ready to take the next step in your nursing career and explore the world of travel nursing, MCPHS offers a range of programs to help you achieve your goals. With a commitment to excellence in healthcare education, MCPHS can provide you with the knowledge, skills, and support needed to succeed as a travel nurse. 

Apply to MCPHS today and start your journey toward an exciting and fulfilling career in travel nursing.