Are Travel Nurse Requirements Different Than for Staff?

Travel nurse requirements overview

By Anita Wong, contributor

Travel nurses play an important role covering workforce gaps in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, providing quality patient care alongside staff nurses. Although travel RNs are on short-term assignments, typically 13 weeks, they must meet the same high standards as staff nurses. Here's a closer look at travel nurse requirements compared to those of staff RNs.


Travel nurses make up an average of 11% of total nursing staff in a hospital, according to a 2017 KPMG survey. Hospitals hire travelers to fill in vacancies due to local nurse shortages, vacation leave, attrition and retirements. Med-surg units and emergency rooms account for most of the demand for travel RNs, but travelers are needed in all departments, the survey notes.

A hospital can take weeks or months to recruit and train a staff nurse. A travel nurse can often be placed within a few weeks, helping healthcare facilities to fill staffing needs much more quickly.


All nurses require the appropriate state license to practice. An RN who is remaining within the state needs to keep their state license current and in good standing to work. Travel nurses who are regularly on the move must make sure they're licensed to work in each destination.

If you live in a state that's part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) and wish to work in another NLC state, you likely have a multistate license that allows you to practice. Otherwise, you need to obtain a single state license to practice, usually through licensure by endorsement. 


Research has shown that temporary nurses are as qualified as permanent nurses in terms of education and experience.

Minimum travel nurse requirements include:

  • Graduation from an accredited nursing school. Nurses with bachelor's degrees may find it easier to get work.
  • Passing the NCLEX
  • Completion of BLS and ACLS from the American Heart Association
  • Additional certifications such as PALS or NRP, depending on the unit
  • Credentials required to work in a specialty, such as CCRN, CVOR or CNO


Both staff and travel nurses require background and health checks, including drug screens. You must also have up-to-date immunizations. Requirements for vaccinations vary depending on the state and facility you're working in.

Your travel nurse agency can help ensure you're compliant before you begin a temporary assignment.

Orientation and training

According to respondents to the KPMG study, staff nurses benefit from an average of 17 days of orientation and training before beginning full-time work. A key travel nurse requirement is being able to care for patients immediately, without requiring a lot of direction.

A travel nurse may receive a few hours or a week of training, depending on the facility. Travelers must be self-sufficient enough to take on work responsibilities right away if asked.

"You must assume going in that the person who hired you expects you to be competent and able to perform at that level starting day one," explains Aaron Moore, a veteran travel nurse.


Similar to staff nurses, travel RNs are assigned a manager or supervisor while working at each facility. While you're accountable to the hospital for carrying out your responsibilities during the contract, you're also an employee of the company that placed you and accountable to them.

Direct patient care

According to KPMG, staff nurses spend about 10% of their time in continuing education, training and administrative tasks not linked to patient care. Travel nurses meet continuing education requirements outside of the contract and often don't need to attend all unit meetings, such as accreditation committees. This gives travelers more time to focus on patients.

Hours of work

Staff and travel nurses work the schedules set by the hospital in terms of shift length and rotation. Staff nurses, however, work an average of nine hours of overtime a week, compared to seven hours for a travel nurse, according to KPMG. Conditions regarding overtime hours are usually covered in a travel nurse's contract.

A nurse's job is to provide the highest level of clinical expertise and patient care, regardless of whether you're a travel nurse or staff. The difference is that travelers aren't tied to a single facility and can accept assignments in a variety of locations.

If you're interested in building your career while traveling, learn more about travel nurse requirements and browse current job opportunities at






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