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How to become a travel nurse

Travel nurses are nurses who work in a specific location for a temporary amount of time, usually about 13 weeks. They generally fill in for absent nurses, who are ill or on maternity leave. Travel nurses choose where they work around the country, or even abroad, and can take time off between jobs. Sometimes living and travel costs are included in a travel nursing salary, making it a very sought after career path. To become a travel nurse, it is necessary to become a registered nurse first. To do this, it is essential to first complete a nursing degree.

  1. Useful school subjects
  2. Undergraduate study
    1. United States of America
    2. United Kingdom
  3. Registration
  4. Postgraduate training
  5. Personal skills
  6. Highlights
  7. Sources
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Useful school subjects

To study a nursing degree, biology is normally a required subject. Other science subjects can also be very useful, especially subjects like chemistry, math, physics, and psychology. Requirements tend to vary from institution to institution, so it is always worth checking specific entry requirements. In terms of travel nursing, learning languages may be useful if nursing abroad is a desirable career path.

Undergraduate study

United States of America

Degrees in nursing vary depending on location. In the USA, there are three potential routes to becoming a nurse:

  • a diploma in nursing
  • an associate degree in nursing (ADN)
  • a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN).

A diploma in nursing involves a year of training in a hospital setting, under the supervision of a qualified nurse. Nurses with this qualification tend to provide very basic nursing care, such as patient monitoring. These courses often do not have prerequisites, but do sometimes require minimum scores on SAT, ACT, or TOEFL exams.

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ADN programs are longer, and last between 15 months and 2 years. They tend to be taught at community colleges, and focus on technical skills. Nurses with this qualification are able to treat patients. 

The BSN degree lasts for a total of four years, and is available at many universities. The first 2 years focus on theoretical study of subjects like biology, psychology, chemistry, anatomy, and nutrition. The next 2 years then focus more on nursing, with the study of topics such as disease, child health, and psychiatry. The degree also includes study of the healthcare system, including subjects such as health economics and health informatics.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommends that nurses complete the BSN, as this is by far the most in-depth and lengthy training program. In some states nurses are also encouraged to undertake a Masters of Science Nursing (MSN). This qualification allows nurses to take over supervisory roles or the roles of Nurse Practitioners, which can help to supplement a doctor’s office.  

In addition to becoming a Registered Nurse, in the USA it is possible to also become a Licensed Practical Nurse. This career path only requires one year of training, normally at a technical or community college. This must be followed by completion of the NCLEX-PN exam. Licensed Practical Nurses have a more basic role than Registered Nurses, working mainly to provide care to patients, and reporting their status to their supervising nurses and doctors.

United Kingdom

In the UK, there is only one degree in nursing, which can be completed at a number of universities, including the open university. Often this degree is free, as nursing degrees are generally funded by the NHS. A typical nursing degree is three years in length. Half of the degree involves carrying out supervised work in hospitals, and other medical care facilities.

UK nursing is generally divided into 4 main categories, and prospective nurses must choose which area to focus on during their degree. These categories are:

  • adult nursing - caring for those over the age of 18
  • children’s nursing - caring for children and young people up to the age of 19
  • learning disability nursing - enabling those with learning problems to cope and live independently
  • mental health nursing - working with mental health patients in a variety of settings

A handful of universities offer a dual field course, where two of these specialisms are studied.


After completing a nursing degree, all nurses must become registered in order to practice nursing legally. In the UK, an application is reviewed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which assesses the candidate’s suitability to becoming a nurse.

In the USA, nurses must register with the board of the particular state they want to work in, and pass the corresponding exam, known as the NCLEX. As travel nurses can move between states, it is important that they register in each state they work in.

Postgraduate training

There are no specific courses designed at becoming a travel nurse, and a degree in nursing is generally the only requirement. However, some employers do require at least a year of experience working in a hospital setting, in the area of nursing the candidate wants to work in. It is possible to complete master’s and postgraduate degrees and training to become more specialised in certain areas of nursing, which may provide a competitive edge when applying for travel nursing jobs, but they are not essential.

Personal skills

Being a nurse can be a stressful and pressured job, and being a travel nurse has a lot of flexibility, so there are certain personal attributes that can be beneficial. These include:

  • Able to work flexibly, in a range of settings and locations
  • Able to adapt quickly to new surroundings
  • Enjoy travelling
  • Good communication skills
  • Good listening skills
  • Able to work in a team
  • Knowledge of language (if working abroad)
  • Able to work well under pressure
  • Good organisation
  • Competency in practical the components of nursing
  • Being caring and compassionate
  • Good mental and physical stamina
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