While nurses are always in high demand, especially with a nationwide nurse shortage, travel nurses are even more coveted because their specialized skills and flexibility can help fill gaps in health care. Travel nurses help maintain important nurse-patient ratios that keep patient safety high, and open unique opportunities to the nurse.
It may take some time and research to determine not only how to become a travel nurse, but how to get the kinds of travel assignments you want. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of going where you wish to go. You can’t go wrong with improving your skills, which increases your marketability as a travel nurse and increases demand for you. Building upon your existing education and experience as a nurse not only increases your own education but makes you much more marketable.
Travel Nurse Education Requirements
Travel nurse education requirements start with becoming a registered nurse (RN). There are three main paths to an RN degree: attend a nursing school that is hospital based, typically a four-year program; pursue an ADN degree, which takes two years, and then, later on if you wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you can add two years for your BSN. Or go straight for the BSN, a four-year program.
While you don’t need an advanced degree to get a great travel assignment, extra training makes you more valuable when it comes time to hire a travel nurse.
Whether you pursue a BSN degree, an MSN degree, or a nurse practitioner credential, advanced degrees in nursing can set you apart from the competition, and make you a more marketable candidate for travel assignments. Not only will more assignments be available to you, but you may be able to command a higher salary. As an example, certified registered nurse anesthetists earned a median salary of $113,930 as of May 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, significantly more than a typical RN salary.
If you plan to pursue an advanced degree, but worry about finding time to attend school while taking travel assignments can’t go hand in hand, don’t fret—there are ways to get your degree. Online programs in nursing abound, allowing you the flexibility to work toward an advanced degree from almost anywhere.
Once you have settled on the degree program you want to follow and you have completed your training (anywhere from two to four years), you’ll need to take the N-CLEX exam. You will need to apply for your license before you can take the exam through your state’s Board of Nursing. Eligibility varies on a state-by-state basis, as well, so be sure you’re looking up the correct guidelines for your state. You’ll have to apply for an authorization to test (ATT) that is good for up to 90 days.
The N-CLEX identifies four “categories of needs” every nurse must be able to meet:
- Creating a safe and effective care environment, focusing on things like infection control.
- Having psychological integrity, which demonstrates you can cope with the stresses of your job and that you can adapt to change.
- Health promotion and maintenance, which means your focus is on prevention and early intervention and not on curing problems.
- Physiological integrity, meaning you care for patients properly, putting their health and comfort first.
Travel Nurse Certifications
While there is not a specific travel nurse course, exam, or certification, one way to rise above the competition as a travel nurse is to achieve one or more additional certifications in one of many nursing specialty areas. There is a vast number of such certifications to choose from that include a wide range of topic areas, such as critical care; oncology certified nursing; certified wound care nursing; certified registered infusion nursing; medical/surgical nursing; intensive care nursing; labor and delivery/women’s health; and emergency room nursing to name just a few. Within each of those certification areas are sub-specialties as well.
One nursing organization identified the following as specialties that are in demand and higher paying:
- Cardiac catheterization
- Cardiovascular operating room
- Pediatric intensive care unit
- Cardiovascular intensive care unit
- Neonatal intensive care unit, level three
- Oncology nurse (medical/surgical)
Each specialty has its own certifying organization. For example, if you wanted to pursue a career in intensive care nursing, for example, you could achieve certifications in critical care nursing through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. There are different requirements for various certifications including classes and years of experience.
Travel Nurse Skills
Beyond general nursing skills, don’t forget that many healthcare organizations are in need of nurses with non-medical skills such as administrative and computer skills. Travel nurses who can demonstrate these additional skills will have a better chance of getting assignments. For example, most, if not all hospitals across the country have or will be transitioning to electronic medical records (EHR) as a result of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ federal mandate to use them. Most health information is making its way into digital form, including the administration of medication, and other key health information. Nurses who demonstrate expertise in scanning and recording medication, for example, will prove to be in demand. But there are a number of ways comfort with computers and data will benefit a nurse in any environment you travel to for an assignment. From health records, to health equipment, to electronic communication, computer skills are crucial in this digital age.
Another important skill set for nurses to brush up on is information technology. Nurses who are experts in data input and transfer can be of immediate service to hospitals that are transitioning their patient info into electronic medical record systems.
Lastly, nurses should not be going into the profession if they don’t have important personal or “soft” skills. Flexibility and adaptability are especially important, since travel nurses will be stepping out of their routines on a regular basis, and interacting with all new staff and patient populations depending on where you end up.
Nurses who are multilingual will have a special advantage in environments where patients speak languages other than English. You can offer more than just improved communication, but potentially cultural sensitivity and comfort to people who may not be expecting to find healthcare professionals that speak their language.
Nurses who exhibit good teamwork and time management skills are doing more than just making their work environment more pleasant: they’re contributing to improved patient satisfaction and outcomes; increased engagement among staff; and higher job satisfaction to name a few.
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