Have License, Will Travel


By Claire Brocato, feature writer

While a sense of adventure is necessary to “take to the road” as a travel nurse, being practical and well prepared is also an important part of the equation, especially when it comes to getting your licenses in order.

To steer clear of headaches and potential pitfalls, travel health care experts advise nurses to decide well ahead of time where they want to accept assignments and to apply for a license in their target state as soon as possible.

“Nurses who are planning to travel should allow plenty of time to apply for a new state license,” explained Tammy Nation, RN, vice president of operations at a nurse staffing organization. “Each state has different requirements for licensure endorsement, and in some instances, the process can take two to three months or longer.”

Certain states, including Florida and New York, require prerequisite contact hours, while more than a dozen state boards require notarized copies of nursing licenses or birth certificates. In some instances, nurses need to provide their college transcripts or passport photographs, and 12 states now require fingerprint checks through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which can take three months or more to process.

“Timing is critical,” Nation said. “For instance, if a travel nurse wants to work in Miami a month from now and hasn't even applied for licensure in Florida, we can’t even consider sending her there because it generally takes a minimum of six to eight weeks to be licensed in that state.”

“We encourage nurses who are planning to embark on a travel career to make licensure their first plan of action,” she said. “If they take that step early on, they can hit the ground running once they submit their application to a travel nursing company, and can immediately begin interviewing for assignments in their desired locations. It saves a lot of time and makes the process much smoother.”

Planning and preparation

“No matter where you’re planning to work as a travel nurse, your first priority should be to research the licensing requirements in your desired state,” advised Julie Nelms, quality management manager at NursesRx, a travel health care company in North Carolina.

Once you know what is required, you can build time into your schedule for the necessary verifications, education requirements and other qualifying factors.

A good starting point is The National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s Web site. This organization’s site maintains contact information for all state boards, making it easy to access the information you need.

While travel nursing companies, such as NursesRx, often provide assistance in the licensure process by sharing important details and explaining the procedure, the bureaucratic restrictions of the licensing system make it necessary for nurses to do the legwork themselves and to personally submit the required documents and credentials.

“If a nurse applies for a travel position but isn’t licensed in the assignment state yet, chances are the job will go to a more prepared traveler,” Nelms explained.

Temporary and permanent licenses

Many states will issue a temporary license if you supply proper documentation from your home licensing state. Even so, this process can take six to eight weeks. In most states, a temporary license is valid for three to six months.

Industry experts report that many travel nurses rely on a temporary license or permit in order to practice in a specific state. However, some state boards—including New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Washington and Utah—do not issue temporary licenses. In addition, many states will only issue a temporary permit if you apply for a permanent license.

A handful of states have a “walk-through” licensing policy, a process that allows you to obtain your temporary license within a day or two, providing you already have an active license in another state. To prevent delays, travel experts recommend checking with the local board to get specifics on their exact requirements before applying for a license.

“It’s a good idea to apply for a permanent license when you apply for a temporary one,” Nelms added. “If you’re planning to travel on an ongoing basis it will save you time, money and possible hassles further down the road.”

Multi-state licensure

Up until a few years ago, travel nurses had no choice but to obtain a license in each state where they took assignments. That began to change in 1997 when the National Council of State Boards of Nursing created the Nurse Licensure Compact. At its core, the compact is an agreement between participating states to honor each other’s RN and LPN/LVN licenses, much like state laws accept another state’s driver’s license.

To participate in the compact, a nurse’s primary state of residence must be one of the 18 member states. Primary residence is determined by where you declare residence on your federal tax returns.

“The mutual recognition model is a great boost to travel nursing,” Nation commented. “It saves time and money, and allows nurses to move between compact states with ease, without worrying about paperwork and licensure delays.”

“While most of our seasoned travelers know about the nurse licensure compact and its parameters, there is still a fair amount of confusion about who can qualify,” she noted. “It is imperative that travel nurses are aware of how the nurse licensure compact affects their licenses and the renewal process. That is why, at Medical Express, we go to great lengths to educate our travelers about the compact and its requirements.”

Staying current

Travel health care experts agree that maintaining permanent licenses is one of the keys to a successful travel nursing career.

“With one or more valid licenses in hand, a travel nurse can move between assignments with no delay,” Nation explained. “That’s why it’s so important to know what’s required to stay current with each license.”

The requirements for maintaining licensure vary from state to state. Some state boards mandate a certain number of clinical practice hours while others call for additional continuing education credits.

Established travel nursing companies, including Medical Express and NursesRx, have credentialing departments that are dedicated to helping travel nurses keep track of their licenses, including the expiration dates and continuing education requirements.

“By planning ahead and being proactive, you’ll go a long way toward sidestepping licensure problems and ensuring a successful and enjoyable travel assignment,” Nation added.

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