How to Become a Travel Nurse Practitioner? (Answered by an NP)
Written By: Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Do you enjoy working as an NP but wish you had time to travel more or see more of the United States? Do you enjoy change and working with new people? Are you maybe even feeling burned out in your current job? Have you ever wondered what is a travel nurse practitioner? If you answered yes to any of these questions, travel nursing might be the perfect fit for you!
Travel nurse practitioners have the opportunity to work in new environments, work in parts of the United States they have never been, and meet new people. You get to work alongside new healthcare providers, which can help you learn new skills, expand your knowledge, and become more confident in the care you deliver as an NP. Below, I discuss skills necessary for a travel NP, what they do, average salary, and resources that may help you become a travel nurse practitioner.
What Does A Travel Nurse Practitioner Do?
So what does a travel nurse practitioner do? Travel nurse practitioners help fill voids in the inpatient and outpatient setting. These voids occur for multiple reasons, including patient overflow or increase in patient volume, maternity or sick leaves, and filling in when a person quits or retires until the organization or facility hires a new permanent employee. A travel NP may also be called a locum tenens provider.
The travel NP may be board certified in several specialties and work in inpatient and outpatient settings depending on your degree, license, and certifications. Typically, when applying for a travel NP position, it is for a job or specialty you have worked in the past and are experienced, confident and competent in the skills required. It is not uncommon to get little training before starting the job. The typical travel nurse practitioner duties include all duties they do in their permanent or previous job. This includes assessing patients, ordering diagnostic tests, interpreting the results, and diagnosing the patient. They also prescribe treatment plans and evaluate the patient’s response to the treatment plans.
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What Skills And Abilities Are Needed To Work As A Travel NP?
There are a variety of skills and abilities needed to be a travel nurse practitioner. These include general skills to help you succeed in new environments and skills specific to the setting and specialty you work. Below, I have provided a list of travel nurse practitioner skills that will help you be successful.
Teamwork is key in the delivery of excellent healthcare. No one person can meet all the healthcare needs of the patient. Everyone from the registration/receptionist to the clinical staff to the other healthcare service providers need to work together to ensure the patient's healthcare needs are met. As a travel NP, this may be difficult in the first couple days of a new assignment, as you do not know everyone yet, but for you to successfully deliver care to your patients, this skill is a must! You must develop trust and a working relationship with your co-workers quickly not to delay the delivery of high-quality care.
2. Professional Development:
All NPs, including travel NPs, should desire to grow as a practitioner and stay current with the trends in healthcare and your specific specialty. This helps ensure the care you are providing to the patient is the most up-to-date. This is achieved through the attendance of conferences, webinars, online education opportunities, and networking.
3. Excellent Communication Skills:
Communication goes hand in hand with teamwork. If you cannot communicate effectively, things might be missed or delayed, leading to poor patient care. Communication is not only essential between the clinical staff and healthcare team, but also between the patient and NP. As a travel NP, your communication skills must be strong. You enter new settings somewhat frequently and know how to communicate with your new team to deliver high-quality care.
4. Solid knowledge base:
The travel NP must be confident in their clinical skills and knowledge base. While they will work alongside other advanced practice providers or physicians, they must demonstrate the ability to interpret labs and diagnostic imaging, including appropriate treatment plans. They must be confident in performing specific skills related to their specialty and the medications they prescribe.
Flexibility is an essential skill in healthcare as things may change quickly, and we have to adapt. The travel NP frequently works in new settings, thus learning new computer programs, personalities of the staff, and organizational rules. The travel NP cannot get frustrated with these changes but instead adapt to their ever-changing environment.
Where Do Travel Nurse Practitioners Work?
The work environment depends entirely on the position accepted by the travel NP which is determined by the specialty worked. In other words, if you are an acute care board-certified nurse, you will work in the acute care or hospital setting. You may be a hospitalist, intensivist, or work in the emergency department. If you are board-certified in family practice, you will most likely work in a clinic setting as either a family practice NP or another specialty such as cardiology, pulmonology, or dermatology. You may also work in urgent care. Depending on the specialty you work and your board certification, you may assist with surgeries or work in a hybrid setting, including both clinic hours and rounding of patients in the inpatient setting. This is all dependent on the job you accept as a travel NP.
What Is The Typical Work Schedule For A Travel NP?
There are no specific hours or work schedules for a travel NP. Instead, it is based solely on the job accepted. If you take a hospitalist job, you may work four 10 hour days, three 12 hour days, or work overnights. If you work in a clinic, you may work four 10 hour days or five 8 hour days. You may have to work weekends and a holiday. You may also be on-call. It is important to note that the hours and schedule are determined before accepting the contracted travel NP job.
What Is The Difference Between Travel NP And Travel Nurse?
The difference between a travel NP and a travel RN is based entirely on their education and scope of practice. They typically work in specialties they are board-certified in or familiar with. Both the travel NP and the travel RN are contracted employees, which means they sign a contract to work for an organization for a specific amount of time. Once their contract is up, they can move on to their next assignment or opportunity.
As I stated above, the travel NP and the travel nurse's one difference is their scope of practice. The RN can assess patients, administer medications, evaluate the patient's response to the intervention and notify the provider of changes in the patient's status. On the other hand, the NP assesses and evaluates the patient just like the RN, but they also interpret diagnostic results and order medications and treatments based on these results.
Pros Of Becoming A Travel Nurse Practitioner
There are many pros of becoming a travel NP. First, you get the opportunity to travel. This can be as far from home or close to home as you would like. This is an excellent opportunity for the NP to work in a city they always wanted to visit or live, without committing to moving there. You also get the chance to change work environments throughout the year, which may decrease burnout in some nurses. It also provides the opportunity to see how other departments/clinics deliver care, learn new skills, and network. Who knows, you may also walk away from an assignment with new lifelong friends! Also, it is not uncommon for the travel NP to make more money than the organization's permanent staff. Lastly, the skills you learn and your experiences will allow you to build and expand your resume for your future goals.
Cons Of Becoming A Travel Nurse Practitioner
I do not believe there are cons to becoming a travel NP, but there are points to consider. The first point is that you are traveling. This is why many people choose to become a travel NP, but for others, it may take you further away than expected from your friends and family. You may travel 30 minutes from your home or travel across the country, which may not allow you to see your family and friends for several weeks or months. As a travel NP, you frequently work at new locations meaning your work environment is constantly changing. While many people may find this a pro, it does mean learning new computer systems, charting guidelines, people, towns/cities, hospital systems, and work environments. Right, when you start to feel comfortable, your contract might end, and it is time to move on to the next opportunity. The most important thing is understanding your contract and finding your passion and joy in the travel NP jobs you accept.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Travel Nurse Practitioner?
The time it takes to become a traveler nurse practitioner varies depending on the route you select. On average, it takes 6 to 8 years of schooling to become an APRN, plus an additional 3-5 years of nursing and NP experience. This time is average, as many factors may influence it. You also do not need the experience to apply to NP school or become a traveler, but it is highly recommended to set you apart and demonstrate your skills.
You must have a BSN degree before applying for graduate school, which typically takes four years. If attending a traditional four-year program is not a good fit for you, or you wish to pursue a different path, you may complete your ADN degree first and then attend an RN-to-BSN program. After obtaining your BSN, you apply for graduate school. On average, it takes 2-3 years to complete your MSN, but this is variable on whether you attend part-time or full-time. After completing your MSN, you may choose to complete a terminal degree such as a DNP. This may add another 1-2 years, again depending on if you attend full-time or part-time. On a side note, it is possible to complete a BSN-to-DNP program which typically takes 3-4 years depending on if you attend full-time or part-time.
Regarding years of experience, I recommend 1-2 years of nursing experience before applying to graduate school. This is not necessary, but it will teach you essential nursing skills to benefit you in your NP career. After graduating from NP school, it is not uncommon for the agencies to recommend a minimum of 1-2 years of nursing experience before you become a travel nurse practitioner. This is due to the limited training you will get at your facility, making you more comfortable and overall more successful traveling NP.
How Much Does It Cost To Become A Travel Nurse Practitioner?
The cost of becoming a travel nurse practitioner is not much different from that of becoming a nurse practitioner. The first step is to obtain your BSN, which on average costs $40,000-$200,000. How you complete your BSN will have a direct impact on your first step. For example, the cost of completing a four-year degree in a traditional program may be different than someone who first completes the ADN and then their RN-to-BSN. Also, attending a public vs. private institution or paying out-of-state tuition for a public university will influence the cost. Lastly, attending part-time vs. full-time may affect cost.
After completing your BSN, the next step is to complete your MSN. Just like your BSN, the cost of this degree varies depending on the school selected and the status (full-time or part-time) you attend. An added cost may be completing your DNP. You may achieve your DNP through completing a BSN-to-DNP program or an MSN-to-DNP program.
Lastly, certifications may influence the cost. While there are no specific certifications for a travel NP, a few certifications are required to practice. For example, you must have an active BLS license, and depending on the setting you work in, ACLS and/or PALS may also be required. If you are in a specialty such as oncology, they may require a specific certification before accepting your application. Regardless, these certifications cost money, and while they may be covered by your employer or contract agency, be prepared to pay for them out of your pocket.
Step-By-Step Process Of Becoming A Travel Nurse Practitioner
The process of becoming a travel nurse practitioner involves many steps and takes several years. Below, I have listed a step-by-step process of becoming a travel NP.
1. Get your BSN:
To apply to graduate school, you must complete your BSN. This can be done by completing a traditional four-year program, or you may attend an ADN program first and then complete the RN-to-BSN program. It does not matter what path you choose. All that matters is that you receive your BSN.
2. Pass NCLEX-RN:
To be a practicing RN, you must pass the NCLEX-RN. This is a certification exam for nurses, and you must pass the NCLEX-RN before becoming a licensed RN.
3. Gain experience as an RN:
This is not required, but I believe it is important. This is the time for you to learn skills and gain expertise pertinent to nursing and healthcare. It also exposes to you various specialties and options for the nurse, specifically the nurse practitioner. If you have a passion coming out of nursing school or have a specialty in mind that you would like to do as an NP, I recommend you gain experience in those areas.
4. Apply to NP school:
The next step is choosing NP schools to apply to, including the specialty you wish to pursue. Before submitting your application, be sure to complete all pre-requisites for your application to be considered.
5. Attend and graduate NP school:
Once you are accepted into NP school, you must attend and graduate from the program.
6. Apply for the board certification exam:
Towards the end of your NP program or right after graduation, you will need to apply to sit for the board certification exam specific to your specialty. Most schools will help you with this process if you have questions.
7. Pass the board certification exam:
You must pass the board certification exam before getting your APRN license. Depending on your specialty, there are exam prep courses available to you and numerous apps for your phone and computer with practice questions to help prepare you for the exam.
8. Complete residency or fellowship programs in your specialty:
This is not required, but as a travel NP, you will be competing against people from all over for the position. Therefore, completing a residency or fellowship program in your specialty will help set you apart from the other applicants. It demonstrates your desire to learn and your competency in the specialty.
9. Gain experience as an NP:
Again, this is not required, but I do recommend experience before you become a travel nurse practitioner. This allows you to gain experience and confidence in your NP specialty, which will prepare you to become a successful and comfortable travel NP.
10. Apply for travel nurse practitioner jobs:
Narrow your search to specific cities or states you want to work. Then search for travel NP jobs in your speciality. Apply for these jobs.
11. Enjoy your new experience:
Once you accept your position, get excited for your new experience!
Top Travel Nurse Practitioner Programs
There are no specific programs for those interested in becoming a travel nurse practitioner. Therefore, I recommend you find a specialty, family medicine, emergency medicine, dermatology, etc. and focus on attending those NP programs. Completing these programs and experience in the area will help distinguish you from other applicants.
Recommended Certifications To Enhance Your Job Role As A Travel NP
In regards to certifications, there are no certifications specific to your role as a travel NP. Instead, your certifications are based on the specialty you work in. However, the following three certifications will not enhance your job role but are commonly required to become a travel NP and apply for the job.
BLS is required for most, if not all, healthcare providers and those who work in healthcare settings. This certification teaches you how to identify several life-threatening problems, use an AED, and how to deliver high-quality, effective CPR. This course also teaches you how to provide initial care to the choking patient.
ACLS builds upon the information learned in BLS but solely focuses on the adult patient. You learn early management and recognition of cardiac and respiratory arrest, cardiac arrhythmias, stroke, and sepsis. You also learn the pharmacologic management of these conditions. Lastly, you learn about airway management and effective communication skills. This certification is primarily required for those delivering care to the inpatient, emergency department, surgery center, and urgent care.
PALS builds upon the information learned in BLS but is for the healthcare providers delivering care to the pediatric patient. You learn management and recognition of cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, and arrhythmias, including pharmacologic management.
There are several other certifications available to the NP, but they are all based on your specialty. Therefore, once you identify the area you want to work, look for certifications specific to your specialty or job that will help build your competency and credibility in that area. This will only help distinguish you from others when applying for jobs.
List Of Fellowships & Residency Programs For Travel Nurse Practitioners
There are no specific fellowship or residency programs for those becoming travel nurse practitioners. That is because a traveling NP can select and apply for a job geared towards their expertise. Therefore, the residency and fellowship programs that the travel NP can complete are based on their specialty or desired specialty. Completing a residency program in your desired specialty will help demonstrate your competency in delivering care and set you apart from the other applicants once you become a travel nurse practitioner.
Continuing Education Requirements For Travel Nurse Practitioners
There are no specific continuing education requirements for travel NPs. But there are requirements based on the state they are licensed and certifications they hold. Most, if not all states, require a certain amount of continuing education hours to re-license. It is important to note that you must maintain good standing or licensure with your RN and APRN licenses. Your APRN license will often require a specific amount of pharmacology continuing education hours. For more information, please visit your state board of nursing.
Besides continuing education hours for your state APRN and RN license, there are most likely continuing education hours specific to the certification if you carry any additional certifications. Depending on the certification, it is not uncommon to include watching webinars, taking quizzes, or re-taking the certification exam. They may accept attendance at one of their conferences for continuing education hours as well. Regardless, I recommend you check with the organization you received your certification through for specifics regarding continuing education.
On a side note, it is not uncommon for the re-licensure of your RN and APRN license to fall on different dates or years than your certifications. Therefore, it is vital to keep some files with this information to ensure you have completed the required hours and are compliant with the requirements.
Starting Salary Of A Travel Nurse Practitioner
The starting travel nurse practitioner salary is $36.87 an hour, which totals to $76,680 a year if you work 40 hours a week. These numbers are averages and vary on multiple factors. This includes whether you work in a rural or urban setting, privately owned or large organization and if you have experience. It is important to note that at the time of this article, Sept. 2021, it is not uncommon to see higher wages due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Average Salary Of A Travel Nurse Practitioner
Now that I have told you the average starting salary of a travel NP, are you wondering what is the average salary of a travel nurse practitioner? The average travel nurse practitioner salary is $50.65 an hour or $105,347 a year. Again, this is on average and can be influenced by multiple factors. For example, if you work in a rural vs. urban setting, the pay may be different. Working for a large organization vs. private practice or working inpatient vs. outpatient may all affect the salary of the travel NP.
Job Outlook For Travel Nurse Practitioners
The job outlook for those who want to become travel NPs is incredibly promising. With the aging population, current Covid-19 pandemic, and advancements in technology and healthcare, there will be a need for more travel NPs to help meet the healthcare needs of the people. There has also been a shortage of healthcare providers nationwide, and travel NPs can help temporarily fill those voids. Due to the vast areas NPs can work, there are opportunities for travel NPs of all specialties. These voids are often due to illness, maternity leave, or patient overflow. They may also fill the position of a person who recently retired until the organization/company hires their new full-time employee.
Useful Organizations & Associations
There are no specific organizations dedicated to those becoming travel nurse practitioners. Instead, you join organizations based on the career path you choose. For example, suppose you are an emergency department NP. In that case, there is the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners of the Emergency Nurse Association, or if you are a hospitalist or critical care NP, there is the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners is a national organization for all nurse practitioners. It supports NPs through education, numerous resources, and networking opportunities. The goal is to empower the NP to be confident and successful in advancing quality healthcare through advocating, leadership and research.
Finally, Is Travel Nursing The Right NP Specialty For You?
So, have I answered your question what is a traveler nurse practitioner? Are you more interested now more than ever? This is a booming career path for the NP. You get to travel, work in new environments and are always exposed to new opportunities and relationships. Becoming a travel nurse practitioner will leave you feeling fulfilled, having the opportunity to care for patients across the nation.
Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Kasee Wiesen is a practicing family nurse practitioner. Her nursing background includes emergency medicine, pediatrics and peri-op. Education is a passion of Kasee’s, and she has taught BSN, RN-BSN and DNP students, and has enjoyed every moment of it!