Travel Nursing Tips

Starting Your Travel Nurse Career: A Comprehensive Checklist

Comprehensive Checklist for New Travel Nurses

Are you considering a career in travel nursing but don’t know where to start? When I started, I felt the same way.  Therefore, I created a checklist to help aspiring vagabonds.  This comprehensive checklist will take you from daydream to day one.

1.  Build your skills

The minimum experience required to become a travel nurse is 1-2 years in your specialty.  Some facilities have a minimum of 2 years experience required.  To build your skills further, I recommend that you consider taking a float pool position.  Being in the float pool will build your confidence, expand your knowledge base, make you more marketable to employers, and accustom you to frequently changing environments.

2.  Save and Budget

Starting your travel nurse career will require a healthy savings account.  Upfront costs such as state licensure, travel expenses, housing, and medical insurance (if you choose private insurance) can add up quickly.  Although you should get reimbursed for most expenses, having funds set aside will make the transition much easier.

Signing a new contract every 3 months means that you will need to adjust your budget every 3 months.  Consider how much net income you will require before you submit for a position.  Check out my article Travel Nurse Income and Budget for a transparent example of my budget during my first assignment.

Note:  AAA is a fantastic investment.

3.  Gather Your Paperwork

CamScanner is a free app that allows you to take a photo and convert it to a PDF.  You can use the app to organize and share paperwork with your agency.  Upload the following:  immunizations, annual physical, license/certifications, respiratory fit testing, PPD, nursing school diploma, and identification card.

CamScanner App for Travel Nurses | Vagabond RN

4.  Find a reputable agency and recruiter

To start a career in travel nursing, you must find a reputable agency and recruiter.  They will be the liaisons between you and your potential employers.  The Gypsy Nurse lists the top-rated agencies in the article Best Staffing Agency. Although ratings are important, your must find an agency that can meet your unique needs.  To find the best fit, I recommend having a few copies of Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Travel Staffing Recruiter on hand to use during your initial discussions with potential recruiters.

Jax Beach, FL | Vagabond RN
My recruiter, Gabrielle, and me-Jacksonville Beach, Florida

5.  Apply for state licensure

As soon as you decide your desired travel location, you need to research the requirements for state licensure and apply.  Let your recruiter know where you want to go so that they can prepare to look for open positions. The time it takes to obtain each license varies widely. Once you receive your licensure, you can submit for jobs.

6.  Learn about Taxes

As a travel nurse, you may qualify for tax-free stipends.  The Gypsy Nurse has an entire category full of articles on taxes.

7.  Decide on an ideal start date

Consider what your ideal start date will be.  Give yourself enough time to pack and organize your belongings.  Also, keep in mind that you will need to give your permanent job notice of your leave.  Most facilities require a minimum of 2 weeks notice.

8.  Request a list of open positions in desired area

Your recruiter should have already given you an idea of what positions are available in the area.  However, once you have your state licensure, you can start the serious job search. Let your recruiter know what your ideal facility would be including desired location, facility size, pay, etc.  Request a list of facilities that fit your needs and research your options.

9.  Prepare for your Interview

You will most likely have an phone interview.  Once you submit for jobs, you could get the phone call at any time.  Therefore, you need to make sure you have your questions written down.  Don’t know what to ask? I will be sending out FREE printables of my interview questionnaire to all of my e-mail subscribers next month.

10.  Submit for jobs with your recruiter

Finally, it is time to submit for jobs!  Let your recruiter know which facilities you would like to submit to and they will do the work for you.  Then, interested facilities will call for a phone interview within a few days (sometimes the same day).

11.  Choose a Position and Sign Your Contract

It is time to make a decision! When you find a good fit, your recruiter will send you a contract and ask for your electronic signature.  The contract should include the following–dates of contract, unit, shift, float policy, weekend/holiday policy, requested time off, hourly guarantee, hourly rate, housing/per diem stipend, and overtime rate.  Some facilities do not guarantee hours and have a set number of hours that you can be cancelled (look for a clause such as “traveler can be cancelled 24 hours in a 13 week period without pay.”).

12.  Put in Notice at Your Permanent Position

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to put in your official notice at work.

13.  Pre-Employment Screenings

Your agency will send you information on required pre-employment screenings, such as a drug screen.  They will also give you a deadline to complete the requirements. It is important to meet the deadline so that your orientation date is not pushed back.

14.   Find Housing

You can find your housing on your own or you can have your agency find it for you.  For me, finding housing is the most stressful part of travel nursing.  So far, I have used VRBO, Airbnb, Zillow, and local property management companies to find my housing.  Ideally, you will want a fully furnished, short-term rental. Make sure the properties or management companies you are looking at have honest, real reviews.  Many travel nurses have been the victims of housing scams.

15.   Pack

Time to pack!  Considering you can only bring what fits in your car, only pack the essentials.  You may need to obtain a storage unit depending on your situation.

16.   Make your Bucket List! (and plan your road trip!)

Once you complete all the stressful tasks, it is time to have some fun!  Research your new home and find out what the location offers.  Make a bucket list (if you haven’t already).  I make my bucket list in two forms: list form and visual form.  This is also the time to plan out your road trip and book your hotels along the way.

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17.   Explore Your New City

Read my tips on exploring your new location.

18. Prepare for Orientation

Your agency should e-mail you orientation instructions. Complete all requirements and gather necessary paperwork that you may need on your first day.  Read 10 tips for successful travel nurse orientation.

When starting your travel nurse career, it is common to feel overwhelmed.  The transition isn’t merely a career change; it’s a lifestyle change.  It can be daunting to reach outside of your comfort zone.  However, you might find that change comes easy when you let it.

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Starting Your Travel Nursing Career | Comprehensive Checklist

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