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How to Get Your First Job as a Travel Nurse

Though there are a wealth of travel nursing opportunities out there, landing your first position can seem daunting. Here are some tips on how to get your first job as a travel nurse.

Gain nursing experience

Many nurses would love to jump into the traveler’s life right after nursing school, but agencies and hospitals require that you have one to two years of traditional nursing experience before you set off on your big adventure. If you’ve got your heart set on traveling, be savvy when you choose where you’ll get your nursing experience:

  • Pick a specialty that’s good for traveling, such as ICU, ER, or med/surg.
  • Keep in good standing with your supervisors and colleagues. The better impression you give, the stronger recommendations you’ll get.
  • If you’re choosing a homebase, too, consider settling down in one of the 25 states that has a compact nursing license, including travel nursing-favorites Texas, Arizona, and Colorado. This will make it that much easier for you to launch right into your travel nursing career.

If you want more on gaining experience, check out our beginner’s guide to travel nursing.

Choose the best travel nursing agency

Though some travel nurses choose to go it on their own, the majority partner with one or more travel nurse staffing agencies. The recruiter at your agency can help you navigate the complex world of being a traveling RN — from the intricacies of pay rates to the myriad housing options to the hospital that will best suit your goals and needs.

When considering which agency to choose, be sure to ask yourself these crucial questions:

  • Do you feel comfortable, heard, and motivated when you’re talking to my recruiter?
  • Does the agency clearly explain the entire salary picture, including base rate, bonuses, and overtime pay?
  • Do they offer a wide variety of positions in places you’d like to travel to?
  • Do their housing options meet your needs as a traveler?
  • Does agency staff support your vision, goals, and requirements for your career?

Want more info? Check out our blog on picking the best travel nursing agency.

Decide where you want to travel

While you don’t need to have a five-year plan of destinations you’d like to hit (though if you do, that’s awesome!), it’s good to have an idea of where you’re attracted to and what you’d like to get out of your gigs. Narrowing down your target city or state will focus your job search.

In researching the best places for you, consider both your personal preferences and your career aspirations.

Personal preferences

  • What kind of climate are you most drawn to? Do you want sun 24-7 or are you only happy when it rains?
  • Would you prefer to work in a city, suburb, or rural town?
  • What activities would you like to pursue in your downtime? Do you want a place with a lot of outdoor activities? A thriving cultural mecca? A foodie’s dream?
  • Do you want a social town, where it’s easy to make friends? Or a place where folks tend to leave you be?

Career aspirations

  • Do you have your sights set on any hospitals in particular?
  • Is it important to you to land at a teaching college?
  • Do you want a state with mandatory nurse-patient ratios? (This one’s easy . . . head to California!)
  • Is there a particular demographic that you’d especially like to work with?
  • Is high salary the most important factor for you?

Put together a stellar application

You’ve got your experience, you’ve narrowed down where you’d like to travel, and you’ve signed with your favorite agency. Time to get your application in order!


The heart of your nursing application is your resume. When writing your resume, you want to make sure you:

Beyond the rules and tips, you want to make sure that your resume (and your cover letter) give nurse leaders a good idea of who you are, how you work, and what you value in the workplace.


You can go fast alone, but you can go far with a good team behind you. Powerful letters of recommendation can do what your resume can’t — explain what it’s like to work with you, to watch you care for a patient, to see you grow and strive in your career. The foundation for strong recommendations is strong relationships, so be mindful throughout your career of always putting your best foot forward.

Skills sheets

Don’t skimp here! Keep track of your skills so that you can give potential employers a complete picture of your clinical prowess. It may be difficult to remember how proficient you are in assisting with a pericardiocentesis or how often and well you’ve cared for patients with each type of diabetes. Keep track of your skills progress as you go — this will help you with your skills sheets, your resume, and your confidence.

Want some more pointers? Check out our secrets to writing the travel nurse resume that will get you the job of your dreams.

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