Nursing MSN & DNP

| 31 July 2023

The data in this blog is for general informational purposes only and information presented was accurate as of the publication date.

How to Become a Travel Nurse in Seven Steps

travel nurse working with a patient

The nursing field is currently experiencing a shortage that is expected to get worse: studies show 100,000 nurses have left the field since 2020, and more than half a million plan to leave by 2027.1,2 Fortunately, travel nurses are working to fill these gaps and are reaping the benefits of higher pay and a better work-life balance.

Learn how to become a travel nurse and explore how the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences’ School of Nursing can help you achieve your career dreams.

What is a Travel Nurse?

how to become a travel nurse

A travel nurse works a temporary contract to fill gaps in coverage at underserved areas. For example, you might fill in for a nurse in a pediatrics office who is on maternity leave for ten weeks, or you might fill a vacancy in an ER for two weeks while they hire a full-time employee after a suddenly vacant position. These temporary jobs are also common in underserved locations, such as urban or rural areas, or areas with a lot of patient fluctuation, such as tourist areas.

You can opt to renew your contract or move on to another position at the end of your contract. If you love the job and facility, you may be able to sign on full-time.

What Does a Travel Nurse Do?

travel nurse job duties

A travel nurse has the same duties as a staff nurse at the facility. Specific responsibilities vary based on the particular type of nursing job, but in general, you can expect to:

  • Care for the patients on your caseload
  • Interact with patients and their families
  • Administer medication
  • Collaborate with other members of a patient’s care team

As a travel nurse, you’ll be expected to jump in with both feet on your first day, so you’ll have to adapt quickly to new systems, technology and expectations. You’ll report to the lead nurse, just like every other nurse on the team.

Seven Steps to Become a Travel Nurse

If you are considering becoming a travel nurse, here are the seven steps you must follow.

1. Earn a BSN Degree

First, start by getting a degree in nursing. You’ll need at least an associate’s degree (ADN), or a more advanced degree such as a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). This process can take two to four years, depending on the degree and program.

2. Prepare to Sit the NCLEX-RN Exam

Apply to licensure or registration to your state’s nursing regulatory board to start the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) registration process.3 Once eligibility is granted, you have one year to register to take the test with Pearson VUE and pay your testing fee.

3. Take and Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Once you’ve completed your nursing program, take the NCLEX-RN. The exam covers everything ranging from management of care to pharmacological and parental therapies to basic comfort and care, and you’ll take it online.

4. Obtain RN Licensure

The next step is to apply for RN licensure. If you only want to practice in your state, you can apply through your state board of nursing. If you want to practice in multiple states, apply for a multistate license from the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC), which includes 40 member states.4

To apply, you’ll pay a fee, pass a background check and submit evidence of degree completion and your NCLEX-RN scores.

5. Gain Field Experience

Because most travel nurses need to be able to hit the ground running, it’s a good idea to get at least one year of field experience under your belt before you start applying for travel nursing positions. Most nurse staffing agencies require at least one year of experience in your specialty, but some may require more. 

Common travel nurse specialties include5:

  • Emergency Room (ER)
  • Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
  • Neonatal
  • Progressive Care Unit (PCU)
  • Labor and Delivery (L&D)
  • Pediatric

6. Level Up Your Nursing Degree

why you should earn an advanced degree as a travel nurse

To maximize your success as a travel nurse, earn an advanced nursing degree or a post-graduate nursing certificate in your role specialty. To maximize your success as a travel nurse, earn an advanced nursing degree or a postgraduate nursing certificate in your role specialty. An advanced degree or certification will qualify you for more positions.

There are two types of advanced nursing degrees: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

You can earn an MSN degree in various role specialties, including Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP). If you want to pursue jobs in nursing leadership, consider earning your MSN in Nurse Executive or Nurse Educator. With an MSN degree, you’ll be able to apply for a nurse practitioner position.

As the terminal degree for nurses, the DNP includes training in system leadership, evidence-based practices and healthcare policy, preparing you for leadership roles in the nursing field.

Earning an advanced nursing degree will also help you maximize your earning potential as a travel nurse. For example, an RN makes an average base salary of $87,000, but an RN with a master’s degree earns $102,000 and a DNP earns $111,000.6,7,8 

7. Find a Nurse Staffing Agency 

When you are ready to start looking for travel jobs, find a nurse staffing agency. These agencies work with healthcare providers to find travel nurses to fill short-term positions in exchange for a percentage of your contract. 

While you can find travel nurse positions on your own, it’s a time-consuming process. Nurse staffing agencies make this much more manageable. They also provide health insurance and retirement benefits you wouldn’t receive working a short-term job. 

Once you’ve signed with a nurse staffing agency, they’ll send you job opportunities and serve as the go-between for you and the facility that needs you. They can help you find housing and advocate on your behalf if any problems arise in your contract.

Five Benefits of Becoming a Travel Nurse

Working as a travel nurse comes with its challenges, like any job, but it has several key benefits that make it a promising career option for many nurses.

1. Opportunity to Travel 

Many people can’t travel because of work obligations, but when traveling is part of your job, it makes it easy to see the world.9 Whether you’re staying in your home state, crossing state lines or seeing the world, you’ll be able to pack in a lot of adventure as a travel nurse. 

Because you’ll be living in the area, you can explore on your time off. Hit the beach, visit historical sites and meet new people as you eat like a local.

2. Higher Salary

Many travel nurses are filling vacancies at places in desperate need of nurses to maintain required nurse-to-patient ratios.10 As a result of this high demand, many facilities will pay more. In addition, you’ll be able to work where pay is naturally higher due to a higher cost of living (although you’ll likely have to pay more in housing).

For example, a nurse in California, with a projected shortage of more than 44,000 nurses, would make more than a nurse in Florida since it has more nurses than jobs.11

3. Housing Stipends 

Nurse staffing agencies recognize that you’ll need money for a place to live while fulfilling your contract, so in addition to your take home pay, you’ll receive a housing stipend.12 These stipends are untaxed, so whatever you don’t spend on housing stays in your wallet. The key is to find housing that is less than your housing stipend so that you can pocket the rest as part of your income. 

4. More Bonuses and Incentives

In addition to a housing stipend, some contracts will include untaxed stipends for travel or food. Some agencies also provide a bonus when you complete a contract or a referral fee when you refer another travel nurse.13 Depending on where you travel, the agency may also cover your licensing fees so you can practice in a new state.14

5. Job Satisfaction 

Burnout in nursing is real, with 45.1% of nurses reporting that they feel burned out at least a few times a week.15 But travel nurses have more flexibility in when and where they work, which can increase your work-life balance and decrease burnout. For example, you can choose to take two weeks off between every contract to decompress or catch up on other aspects of your life. 

As a travel nurse, you can also avoid office politics since you’ll only be there for a few weeks or months.16 Plus, if you are unhappy at your site, you can rest easy knowing it isn’t a permanent position and you’ll be able to leave when your contract is up.


Still trying to figure out if travel nursing is for you? Here’s some more information that might help you make your decision.

What Will My Workdays Look Like? 

Because there are so many different specialties and settings for travel nurses, it’s difficult to say exactly what your workday will look like. However, you can expect to work an 8-hour, 10-hour or 12-hour shift in which you report to the lead nurse and do similar duties as the staff nurses:

  • Overseeing patient care
  • Examining patients
  • Completing paperwork
  • Educating patients and their families
  • Coordinating care with other team members
  • Taking vitals
  • Administering medication

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make? 

The average hourly wage for a travel nurse is $37.84.17

However, how much you earn can vary widely depending on:

  • Where you work
  • Your level of education
  • Your specialty
  • How many weeks you work

Do Travel Nurses Get Paid More Than Staff Nurses?

Most travel nurses make a similar take home hourly wage as staff nurses. However, travel nurses also earn travel, housing and food stipends. These stipends are tax-free, and whatever they don’t spend, they can keep. In addition, they can earn additional bonuses or incentives.

How Many Years Does it Take to Become a Travel Nurse?

In general, it takes three to five years to become a travel nurse. You’ll need two to four years to complete your degree, plus at least one year of field experience.

How Do I find a Nurse Staffing Agency?

You can find nurse staffing agencies using networking sites like Indeed and LinkedIn or through recommendations from the travel nurses you know. Once you discover a nurse staffing agency, it’s important to do your due diligence to ensure they are the right fit for you. You’ll want to learn the following:

  • Health insurance and retirement benefits 
  • Partner facilities 
  • If they have jobs for your specialty
  • Where they are located
  • How much they charge

Finally, read reviews and talk to travel nurses who have worked with the nurse staffing agency in the past. 

Choose USAHS for Your Nursing Education 

Whether you are already a travel nurse or are just getting started, expand your job opportunities with the USAHS School of Nursing. Our MSN and DNP programs and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificate program with specializations in Family Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and we’ve been a leader in graduate education for health sciences for over 40 years. 

Apply now to take advantage of our flexible start dates and innovative blended learning programs.

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers one online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with five popular role specialties: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP), Nurse Educator and Nurse Executive. The nurse practitioner specialties feature a required on-campus clinical intensive, whereas all specialties feature optional on-campus immersions. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Take your nursing degree to the next level of specialty practice.

The RN-MSN (FNP, PMHNP, and AGNP) degree program is designed specifically for registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing and an active unencumbered RN license. The program strengthens the leadership abilities of nurses who have foundational professional experience. Students enrolled in this degree path complete four bridge courses before proceeding to the role specialty courses to achieve a Master of Science in Nursing with a chosen nursing role specialty. The initial four bridge courses within the RN-MSN program focus on concepts applicable to the acute and primary care settings, such as team-based care delivery, quality and safety, leadership, and ethics, which provide the foundation for the advanced practice role specialty tracks. 

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program with BSN- and MSN-entry options. The BSN-entry track features two role specialties: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and Nurse Executive. The FNP specialty features one required on-campus clinical intensive, whereas both specialties feature optional on-campus immersions. Become a nurse leader and manage interprofessional teams with your DNP degree.  

The information provided on this website is based on self-reported data and is intended for general informational purposes only. PayScale is a limited data source that relies on voluntary submissions from individuals and employers.

Please be aware that the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of the data may vary due to its voluntary nature and limited scope. While efforts are made to maintain the data’s accuracy, we cannot guarantee its absolute correctness or currency.


  1. American Hospital Association, “Study Projects Nursing Shortage Crisis Will Continue Without Concerted Actions,” last modified April 13, 2023, 
  2. Brendan Martin, Nicole Kaminki-Ozturk, Charlie O’Hara, and Richard Smiley, “Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Burnout and Stress Among U.S. Nurses,” PubMed, last updated April 5, 2023,
  3. NCLEX, “Registration Process,” NCLEX, 
  4. NCSBN “Nurse Licensure Compact,” Nurse Compact, 
  5. Travel Nursing. “Top 10 Highest-Paying Travel Nurse Specialties,” Travel Nursing, last modified July 23, 2023, 
  6. Payscale, “Salary for Certification: Registered Nurse (RN),” Payscale, 
  7. Payscale, “Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree, Payscale,
  8. Payscale, “Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree,” Payscale, 
  9. Jennifer Schlette, “13 Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse,” Nursing Process,
  10. Alexa Davidson, “Nurse-to-Patient Staffing Ratio Laws and Regulations by State,” Nurse Journal, last modified March 21, 2023, 
  11. Catherine Burger, “The States With the Largest Nursing Shortages,” Registered Nursing, last modified May 29, 2023,
  12. Jennifer Schlette, “13 Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse,” Nursing Process, 
  13. All Medical Personnel, “Refer & Earn – Travel Nursing,” All Medical Personnel,
  14. Travel Nurse Across America, “Your Way Is Paid,” Travel Nurse Across America, 
  15. Brendan Martin, Nicole Kaminki-Ozturk, Charlie O’Hara, and Richard Smiley, “Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Burnout and Stress Among U.S. Nurses,” PubMed, last updated April 5, 2023,
  16. Jennifer Schlette, “13 Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse,” Nursing Process,
  17. Payscale, “Average Travel Nurse (RN) Hourly Pay,” Payscale,


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