Nursing, Travel Jobs

How to Prepare for a Career in Travel Nursing 

Treyvon Kurr
Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the travel nursing industry, registered nurses work for independent staffing agencies. An agency will temporarily assign a travel nurse when a care area needs assistance. Travel nurses can have varying clinical backgrounds and expertise and are there to fill in when a permanent staff member temporarily leaves their position for any reason.   

As with most healthcare professions, pursuing a travel nursing career is a noble endeavor. Travel nurses accommodate severe care shortages and are there to help when demand outweighs supply.  

As a bonus, taking on a travel career can be incredibly rewarding, allowing you to see the world and satisfy your itch for adventure. But as with most career paths, there are pros and cons to outweigh, and travel nursing can be tiring and stressful and make it tricky to build personal relationships.  

But you’ve already considered the pros and cons and are ready to take the plunge. So let’s look at the best ways to prepare for a career in travel nursing.  

Be Financially Savvy and Keep Tax Time In Mind 

Travel nurses get a per diem, which is an allowance for meals, housing, scrubs, and other expenses. The government may decide the per diem amount you receive based on location, and there is usually a maximum amount. 

You may think you have a good per diem amount, but travel = risk, so being financially sound is imperative.  

For example, there is a slim chance housing isn’t up to your standards or is simply unliveable. In this case, you might have to shell out extra emergency money to be comfortable. Or perhaps something went wrong with your accommodations, and you need to wait in a hotel room until they’re ready. Tip: consider changing agencies if this becomes a trend.  

It’s also important to carefully review contracts with new agencies and ensure you know how reimbursement works. You will have to pay upfront for some expenses and then wait for reimbursement. While this is never fun, you will eventually get paid back.  

Always have the option of using cash, credit cards, or debit cards while abroad.  

Entering the travel nursing industry will also completely change how you do your taxes. Be sure to keep a receipt book of all travel expenses. Also, keep a “tax home” on record with the IRS. This is your general area of residence or where the agency is located and will help you avoid paying taxes on your reimbursements.  

Do Your Research  

One of the best ways to prepare for your first travel assignment is to read about travel nursing firsthand.  

Try following blogs from established travel nurses to learn what they do when push comes to shove. They will also give you valuable insight into balancing work and personal life while jet-setting. You can also consume other media, like podcasts.  

Perhaps you’ll learn something you never forget, like the best hotels in a geographic area or which agencies are the best to work for.  

There’s also the more pressing research of finding the right agency for you. Try not to succumb to nagging recruiters. Instead, take the time to figure out what agency has the best benefits, assignment frequency, pay, and policies.  

Keep Your Certifications up to Date and Gain Specialty Experience 

A travel nurse is only as good as their certifications, which must always be up to date. The required ones are the Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and the Basic Life Support (BLS) certifications.  

Additional certifications will vary depending on the specialty you work in. For instance, you may need Critical Care Certification (CCRN) or Wound Care Certification (WCC).  

Also, when staffing shortages arise, there is nothing more appealing than a travel nurse with bonus certification. Additional certifications that will make you more appealing to employers include:  

  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification 
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Certification 
  • Certified Emergency Nurse 
  • Progressive Care Nursing Certification 
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support Certification 

Network With Other Travel Nurses 

Become pals with a travel nurse who has already taken the path you’re about to embark on. They can help you prepare for interviews and give you the inside scoop on the industry.  

Similar to reading blogs and podcasts, they’ll also be able to give you the lowdown on what to expect in certain geographic locations.  

You may even be able to travel with new friends in the industry and work in the same unit. This will help ease feelings of homesickness and make the experience more fun.  

Become a Master of Travel 

Keep a checklist of what to pack, and follow it every time.  

Ensure you always have identification, like your passport, driver’s license, and anything else that proves you are who you say you are. Never carry just one type of ID. After all, you never know what could go wrong.  

Pack functional clothes and maybe a few outfits for socializing. And don’t assume there will be toiletries available. Pack your own, keeping in mind airport security requirements. Hopefully, you can become so good at packing that you don’t have to check a bag every time you travel (which can be super annoying). You can always pick things up at the store, but you want to avoid doing that wherever possible.  

If you’re renting a car, make sure you have roadside assistance available if you need it.  

Key Takeaway 

Preparing for your first travel assignment isn’t something to take lightly. It’s important to learn all of the steps it takes to thrive in your new travel nursing career. Eventually these tips will become second nature and you’ll look back at the early stages of your career with fond memories.  

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