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How to get started in travel nursing as a new graduate

Young female nurse learning how to get started in travel nursing as a new graduate

You want to work as a travel nurse, but you just graduated from nursing school — how do you get started on a travel nursing career? While it’s true that RNnetwork requires at least one year of clinical experience before you can begin traveling (and many healthcare facilities require even more), this doesn’t mean you have to put your dreams on hold. We asked a seasoned recruiter and several of our nurses for their tips on how to get started in travel nursing. Here’s what they said.

Write down a plan

When you’re working toward a goal like travel nursing and need at least a year to achieve it, it’s helpful to write the specific steps you need to take to get there. It may be helpful to ask yourself questions like:

  • What is your desired specialty and what experience does it require?
  • Do you have friends in that specialty you can talk to?
  • Are opportunities available to gain experience in your specialty at your hospital?

If you do have an opportunity to gain the needed experience at your current place of employment, write down a shift schedule and figure out if you can take extra work here and there in those areas. Even a few hours every month can add up to a lot of experience for when you’re ready to travel.

Talk to a recruiter when considering a specialty

If you’re not sure what you’d like to specialize in but definitely want to travel in the future, consider talking to an RNnetwork recruiter. They can tell you which specialties have the highest demand for travel nurses and what the average salaries are based on specialty and location.

“Pay varies from state to state and city to city, and there are always critical needs,” senior RNnetwork recruiter Dorothy Etchells says. “As a new travel nurse, your best bet is usually to go where there is the highest demand. Your dream spot might not be your first assignment, but you can get there eventually.”

You can also visit a travel nursing job board to see which specialties have the most available jobs. In-demand jobs can vary, so check back regularly to see which specialties consistently have the highest demand. Med/surg and ER nurses usually have many opportunities, but ICU and labor and delivery nurses are also in demand.

“In some specialties, like NICU, there might not be as many jobs — but there are fewer people trying to get that job, too,” Dorothy points out.

Get experience in a specialty you’re passionate about

While take-home pay and job availability is important, it’s also important to choose a specialty based on your personality and interests.

Smiling nurse

“New grads often go through certain clinical rotations where they go to different specialties, so I ask, ‘Where’s your passion, and where do you think is a good fit?’” Dorothy says. “Try to get your foot in the door of a hospital, and from there you can always pick up an extra shift where your passion lies. You can hopefully transfer to that department, cross-train, or start looking for different jobs, but realize you might have to start in med/surg.”

Once you find your passion, Dorothy says, get your BLS or ACLS certifications and continue getting experience. If it’s an option in your state, get your multi-state license through the eNLC.

Experience in other healthcare positions can be valuable as well. Matt Pietraszewski, an ER nurse from Maine, worked as an ER tech for a year during nursing school.

“I wanted to start from the bottom and work my way up,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a nurse and delegate to someone below me when I’ve never actually done their job,”

Consider whether you’re getting diverse experience

“Some specialties, like ER, ICU, and OR, require two years of experience because facilities offer very little orientation,” Dorothy says. “If you work one year in ER at Duke University versus a little community hospital, you might have plenty of clinical skills. Try to experience all you can.”

Dorothy notes that you can try to work on different cases within your specialty as well. For example, if you work in the operating room but only help with labor and delivery, you’re limited to fewer travel nursing jobs.

Allison Bouck, a critical care nurse from Chicago, recalls studying for a critical care certification exam and realizing she wanted less specialization in her career.

“I was studying for that test after working in burns for a year or less, and I realized there were so many things I wasn’t seeing every day,” she recalls. “In my last assignment, I was working in a medical and surgical ICU and saw general respiratory complications, STDs, high blood pressure, and GI surgery.”

Be flexible when choosing your first assignment

Travel nurse in Yosemite

Dreaming of seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska or relaxing on a beach in Hawaii? Those jobs are out there, but they may not be available right when you begin traveling.

“Many facilities want more experience. Some facilities want two years of clinical experience, and others want two years plus travel experience,” Dorothy explains. “There’s a certain risk with a first-time traveler, so a lot of facilities in really desirable spots want you to come in and not be homesick your first week.”

She recommends taking an assignment only an hour or two away from home for your first time. “This way, you know what travel is all about, but you’re still close to your support network,” Dorothy says.

When asked how to get started in travel nursing, Matt says it’s important to gather plenty of information.

“Do your research. A lot of people jump into travel nursing and kind of sink before they can swim,” he says. “Spend a lot of time talking to someone and be prepared, but don’t be too anxious about starting.”

Start putting money aside for traveling

One of the easiest ways you can prepare for a travel nursing career is by saving as much as you can for future assignments. You may end up with gaps between jobs, even for a month or two, and need a nest egg to fall back on.

Saving for travel jobs also ensures you have a bit of spending money when you do make it to your dream destination. You may even have the flexibility and income to travel the world when you’re not working.

Bob Goldnetz, an ICU nurse from Virginia, says he often works six days in a row to enjoy a week off. He also takes a month or two off between assignments to explore other countries.

“Being a nurse has been everything I ever could have dreamt or hoped for. I’m now the person I used to look up to, which I think is pretty cool. In nursing school it’s late nights and hard work, and there’s this far-off vision that you see,” he says. “It’s great to go to a country for a couple days or a couple weeks or even just another part of the U.S. It’s nice to take some more time to really get immersed and experience the culture in that place.”

Getting started in travel nursing is easy with the right preparation, and we’re here to help! Call us at 800.866.0407 or view today’s job openings.

About the author

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Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a healthcare writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.

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