PBDS & Travel Nursing: Should you take it?

Let’s pretend for a moment you are a hiring manager. You NEED a nurse like yesterday. You can’t find someone to hire on staff and you decide to go with a travel nurse to help the sudden influx of patients for the next 13 weeks. You need them to come in with the skills needed to care for the patients in your hospital. You know you have no one that can mentor them so they need to be clinically ready to hit the ground running.

How would you know who is truly skilled? A self-proclaimed skills checklist might just not make you feel confident enough. But a 5-hour test that reviews a nurse’s critical-thinking, technical and interpersonal skills? Now you are feeling better about paying that big price tag that comes with a travel nurse.

Nurses don’t all love it or agree it does a great job really accessing who is a qualified travel nurse. But no matter your opinion, this is the reality of getting some travel assignments. The test is called the PBDS, the “Performance-Based Development System”. It is a test most often used for medical-surgical, critical care, neonatal ICU, and OB nurses and was actually designed to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a new hire. That way the hospitals can better know how to support them and their clinical growth. But for travel nurses who get almost no orientation, the test suddenly became a pass or fail.

The Risk of The PBDS

Here is how it goes down. You got a job offer. You said yes. You traveled to the hospital, you moved into an Airbnb. But before you start you have to take this test on-site at your new hospital. It is taken before you can begin your assignment. If you fail, you no longer have the job offer. No time machines, no re-takes, just out of luck!

This is truly a risk of money and time (not to mention all the time and the nerves studying for such a big test). It is a great idea to have “the talk” with your recruiter before agreeing to the assignment. “What if I fail? What is our game plan?” Ask who will cover the cost of your travels to get there if you fail. And make sure you know the market- is that area a place that there are other job options that you could apply for right away if this contract falls through?

The PBDS is optional to travel nurses.

Yes, around 500 hospitals do require PBDS testing. Yes, most travel nurses pass. But you still don’t have to take the risk. There are many hospitals that do not require the PBDS to work for them. Your recruiter will know which assignments require this so just tell them your preference, but keep in mind it could stop you from getting to travel to some destinations.


How long does it take to complete? It takes around 5 hours and is a timed test.

What are the questions like? It consists of ten or more video scenarios and you get to evaluate the probable diagnosis and decide what you would do. This is not a multiple-choice exam, it is in written essay form.

What is the format? On a computer

Can I skip questions and go back? Yes, BUT you cannot replay any videos. Pay attention during the video and try to formulate your response before moving on, just and go back to touch up.

Can I prepare? I used to eat gummy bears while I studied in grad school. I would recommend buying the Costco size and breaking open the study guides. You must prepare, it’s not an easy test.

Tips from our travel nurses

Don’t overthink it! Just write exactly what you do, step by step. And in any area where you are not sure if the action you describe is correct, justify why you would do it. For example “I would check x in order to rule out y” instead of just saying “I would check x. Then I would check z.”

State the obvious: Answer everything as if you’re explaining to a new grad or student nurse. Here’s an example of what that looks like: Don’t just write “I would get a glass of orange juice” even though that’s a simple action. Describe that you need to open the cabinet, reach for the glass, take the glass out and put it on the counter…then go to the fridge, take out the orange juice, unscrew the lid…okay, okay, you get it!

Answer right after you watch the videos: You can only watch the videos once, but you can go back to clean up answers or add to them. So write your basic answers and thoughts immediately.

Use a formula to write your essay answers:

  1. Recognize the scenario.
  2. Prioritize your plan.
  3. Remember little things you always do that are second nature. Even something like ‘call the doctor’ has to be included, think of what happens in the first 60 seconds when you suspect an incident.
  4. Anticipate your orders, write it all out and write out all your nursing interventions, justifications, and what you’re doing in anticipation.

Is there a downside for travel nurses who do not take it?

You would miss out on the option of working in those 500 hospitals that require it- and some are top-notch facilities. Your recruiter should be able to tell you if it’s required. So it’s up to you, the power is in your hands whether you take this test or not! But it’s good to weigh the options. Let’s go over some pros and cons to help you make a decision:


  • These are real-life scenarios (no trick questions)
  • The test is about serious cases only, such as stroke, pain and MFs (so chances are, you know what to do! Confidence, people!)
  • Your results are portable! Meaning if you pass it at one facility, your results can travel with you to another facility that requires it. You don’t always have to sit for 5 hours and take it for all the best hospitals.


  • It’s sometimes used as an exclusive way to evaluate your competency.
  • It’s a challenging test. Five hours…yep!
  • If you don’t pass, your contract could be canceled.
  • It’s a big-time commitment that you need to be on-site for.
  • Even though your results portable, facilities could ask their travel nurses to take the test again before they start even if they’ve passed and worked with them before.

We support you no matter what you decide!

Good luck and I’m wishing you lots of gummy bears,

xo Laura

Put your learnings to work, find a job you'll love

Search thousands of jobs, from dozens of agencies, posted by vetted recruiters you can trust. 

We also think you'll love

Find the perfect vetted recruiter for your travel goals

We match you with the perfect recruiters who have the locations, benefits, and personality you want!

Taxable rate per hour

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city.

If you do not have a tax home all of your pay will be taxed and put in this field.

Good to know: Your taxable base pay is the only part of your paycheck that is legally considered income. The average taxable base pay is $20 but you might get offers higher or lower than this. It’s the only part of your paycheck that is taxed

Nomadicare’s purpose is to empower. It’s the lifeblood that flows through every single thing we create. We are here to make sure every traveler has all the transparent knowledge they need to make empowered decisions. We want you to feel confident so you can live your dream!

Nomadicare is partnered with dozens of companies and each of those companies have access to different settings, locations, and exclusive contracts. We know their benefit options and who have jobs in each location. We will match you to the best recruiters for you and your goals. Every single recruiter has been vetted and comes with the Nomadicare guarantee.
You can browse the open jobs from many of our company partners on the Nomadicare’s anti bait and switch job board. When you see one that catches your eye, the goal is to apply asap. Jobs are closing faster than ever with all the craziness this year so speed is our best friend. When you request an interview, we’ll instantly match you with the vetted recruiter who posted that job.
Typically 0-3 months before you are ready to start your next assignment is best. A short quiz will give us a picture of who you are, and what you are looking for. After the quiz we’ll have everything we need to match you with the perfect recruirer for your travel goals
If you know where you want to go and you’re ready to travel, Instant Matching is perfect for you. You can browse the open jobs from many of our company partners on the Nomadicare’s anti bait-and-switch job board. When you see one that catches your eye, the goal is to apply asap. Jobs are closing faster than ever with all the craziness this year so speed is our best friend.
We highly recommended being ready! Having all of your documents and being super responsive are key. Speed is the biggest factor in getting the job you want. We recommend using a free service like Kamana, which you can share your online resume, credentials, and licenses with a single link to any of our vetted recruiters when requesting an interview.
Graph Café, Chiang Mai, Thailand 🥇