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5 Requirements to Becoming a Travel Nurse

October 2, 2015

Travel RN

One of the beauties of being a travel nurse is that for the most part, you get to avoid all of the day to day politics that go on in a typical nursing unit. You don’t have to worry about staff meetings, going to in services or sitting on committees; all you have to do is take care of your patients.

Now don’t get me wrong, travel nursing is not all butterflies and rainbows, you will still have professional responsibilities. Your recruiter will help keep you up to date on these things but it is ultimately up to you  to make sure your licensing is in order, you are maintaining your continuing education, you have the skill set for the job and that you are legally working as a travel nurse.

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1. Home is where the taxes are

Prior to embarking on your career as a travel nurse, you will first have to determine if the government agrees that you are exactly that, a TRAVEL nurse.

There is this general rule of thumb in the traveling world that if you are traveling over 50 miles from your home that you are legally qualified to consider yourself a traveler. Let me tell you that there is no written rule about distance. The government will allow you to earn tax free money as long as your place of employment is far enough away that you have to stay overnight prior to returning home.

“Home” is also the key word here. In order to obtain tax free stipends, you must maintain a “tax home.” There is a specific form that you will have to fill out prior to signing on with your agency stating that you do in fact have a tax home. If you do not have a tax home, you can still be a travel nurse, but you will not earn tax free stipends.

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2.  Years on the job

Not just anyone can be a travel nurse. Most travel nursing agencies require that you have been a practicing bedside nurse for at least one year. If you are specialized in the areas of ICU, cath lab or OB, most agencies require that you have at least one year of additional experience in that specialty before traveling.

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3. Necessary certifications

You do not need a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) to be a travel nurse, however, many hospitals prefer Bachelors trained nurses. There will be some certifications that are required prior to starting a travel assignment.

You will of course have to have a current Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification for those specialties that require ACLS. Some facilities require other certifications such as the NIH stroke certification.

Your recruiter will let you know what certifications are necessary prior to beginning your assignment. I recommend getting a certification in your specialty such as CCRN for critical care nurses, as this will give you an advantage in the interviewing process over other potential candidates.

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4. Licensed to nurse

Once you have decided where you want to travel to, you will have to obtain a nursing license for that particular state.

If you are lucky, you will have come from a state that is part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) also known as a compact state. This allows you to travel to multiple states without having to obtain a new license. If your home state is not part of the NLC then you will have to obtain either a permanent or temporary license for each state you plan on traveling to.  Your recruiter will help you find the fastest way to get licensed.

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5. Keeping up with your CEUs

Maintaining your RN license, as some of you may know, isn’t a complicated task. There are some states that require a certain number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to renew your license as well as a small fee every two years.

If you have a compact license, all you have to worry about is maintaining your home licensing requirements. If you obtain a permanent license in another state then you have to meet the minimum CEU requirements for that state and pay the renewal fee every two years in order to maintain it.

Some states such as Florida and Washington require specific CEUs in the areas of pain management and HIV awareness, prior to starting an assignment there despite what type of license you have.

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Being organized and planning ahead are not requirements of a travel nurse but they can sure help minimize headaches. I recommend keeping all of your paperwork in a folder and with you at all times.

Your folder should include your certifications, licenses, and immunizations. You must be able to present these documents at any time while you are working. I have to admit that keeping up with the paperwork can be a little overwhelming at times. Keep in mind that the headache is only temporary, your experience will last a lifetime.

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By Crystal Gustafson, RN

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Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal at Google+ or you can visit her blog at