Like any profession, travel nursing can have its ups and downs. You’ll have long and stressful days, but you’ll also meet amazing people who are there to help. You’ll get to travel the country, but you might have occasional bouts of homesickness. You’ll make good money, but you won’t get the traditional benefits of full-time work. You’ll need to embrace both the pros and cons of travel nursing to make the most of the opportunity.
Who is a travel nurse?
Travel nurses are RNs from various clinical backgrounds who work for independent staffing agencies. They are assigned to different care areas on a temporary basis to fill in short-term employment gaps.
Travel nursing is a specialty that took root when the field of nursing faced a nationwide shortage. Hospitals, clinics, and other care areas had unfilled positions, yet had patients needing care. To try and attract nurses to open positions, employers offered higher pay, housing, and covered the cost of relocating.
The nationwide nursing shortage makes travel nursing an appealing career option for both full- or part-time nurses. And even if a hospital or healthcare facility is fully staffed, they may experience seasonal shortages as the local population fluctuates or nurses take a leave of absence such as maternity leave. To find skilled nurses to fill these typically short-term assignments, these facilities often hire travel nurses.
Why are travel nurses important?
Travel nurses are an important part of the health care team because they help bridge the gap between supply and demand in the field of nursing. Mandatory nurse-patient ratios have led to increased patient safety and lower patient mortality. While this is a positive finding, and more and more states are passing legislation to implement staffing ratios, there are not enough nurses to fill the openings. Travel nurses assigned those open positions to help to increase patient safety and improve patient outcomes.
What are the educational requirements for travel nurses?
Those interested in the specialty of travel nursing should first pursue a nursing degree through a two or four-year university. Obtaining an associate’s degree (ADN) or bachelor’s degree (BSN) in nursing is required. A BSN is not required to be a travel nurse, but some health care facilities only hire BSN-prepared nurses. The staffing agency in which the nurse is employed should match the nurse appropriately based on educational requirements.
After completion of an accredited nursing program, successful completion of the NCLEX-RN is required for licensure.
Most travel nurse agencies require a minimum of one year of hands-on experience in the chosen specialty of nursing. Additionally, some agencies will only hire BSN-prepared RNs. International travel nurses should speak the language of the country they are to practice in, as communication is an important part of effective healthcare delivery. Nurses are encouraged to research agencies when considering travel nursing.
Pros of travel nursing
1. Perks and benefits of travel nursing
Travel nurses are often compensated handsomely, depending on the location of the job and the facility. Although statistics vary widely and they seem to differ according to which “expert” you’re consulting, a general range provided by Payscale.com is as low as “$41,000 per year to well over $109,000 per year”. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, although it doesn’t list travel nursing separately from registered nursing as a whole, reports median pay for registered nurses for the year 2019 was $73,300 per year, or $35.24 an hour. Moreover, agencies sometimes provide housing, pay many of the expenses, and offer numerous other tax-exempt perks.
2. Control when and where you work
If you enjoy having a sense of personal freedom, you should consider a career as a travel nurse. In many cases, you will have the freedom to choose when and where you work and select from jobs lasting a few weeks or even just a few days. You may be able to find work in an area in which you know you have an upcoming special event, a wedding, graduation, birthday, or the like. Since many travel nurses find employment through a recruitment agency, they will have access to that agency’s job boards, so they can choose their own schedule, a benefits package, and salary.
3. Variety in career experience
Each time you accept a new assignment, you will learn new nursing skills and get experience at facilities across the country, ranging from small rural hospitals, where you’ll be required to work in every position, to large, urban medical centers, where you can specialize in the nursing area of your choice. Every experience helps you grow as a nurse and makes you more attractive to prospective employers.
4. Work for an agency
A large variety of nursing recruitment agencies exist that maintain active job boards, which provide multiple opportunities to find employment in the area of specialization of your choice. Working with an agency gives you access to jobs that pay extremely well, including so-called “rapid response” crisis assignments or during a facility strike. Other assignments available through these agencies, such as “destination locations” like Hawaii, typically don’t pay as well – although they do provide the opportunity to vacation while you work.
5. Avoiding work politics
One of the difficult parts of working in a hospital is the politics and management issues. For most nurses, you see the same people and issues day in and day out, meaning you’re constantly embroiled in drama, whether you want to be or not. Not so for a travel nurse. When you travel from job to job, you’re able to focus more closely on patient care and avoid all the hospital politics. And if you find yourself in a hospital or clinic where the drama is overwhelming, that’s the blessing of short-term contracts.
6. Affordable housing
Being a travel nurse means that you get to remove one of the biggest stressors that most people face: housing. In general, travel nurse housing is provided with your job. That means you don’t have to find a new home everywhere you move. Common living expenses are eliminated or dramatically decreased as a travel nurse. In fact, in many cases, you’re provided with a fully-furnished home wherever you go. It’s also an excellent option for anyone who doesn’t know where they want to make their permanent home.
7. Adventurous lifestyle
The life of the travel nurse is well-suited for individuals who tend to feel “stuck” or “suffocated” or maybe even bored going to the same workplace every day. Travel nursing provides the opportunity to explore new environments. For example, if you like to hike and enjoy new scenery, you may be able to find a temporary job in a state with multiple hiking trails. Or, you may enjoy meeting people from other areas and exploring a variety of cities and towns.
8. Meeting new people
Finally, the travel nurse lifestyle is ideal for anyone who loves to get to know new people. At each location, you’ll meet new colleagues at the facility where you work, and you’ll make new friends outside the office. Travel nursing puts you in touch with people that you would never meet otherwise—people from different cultures, neighborhoods, interests, and hobbies. The options are endless when traveling and you’ll find yourself with budding friendships and relationships all around the country that you can visit whenever you have a chance.
Watch the following video to know – travel nursing pros and cons
Cons of travel nursing
1. Multiple licenses
Typically, travel nurses are required to have active licensure for each state in which they work, which can require the necessity to plan ahead and obtain a license before accepting a job. However, a “large majority” of states in the U.S. are covered under what’s called the Compact RN license. Obtaining licensure is a fairly straightforward procedure. You must provide a background check, proof of an active license, and a fee, which you or the agency will make payable to the state nursing board. According to our reports, some states allow faster processing of temporary licenses, so you can take an assignment on short notice. Additionally, if you’re hired for a specialty position, such as a job in medical/surgical nursing, intensive care, labor/delivery, or the emergency room, additional certification(s) may be required.
2. Career trajectory
One of the benefits of travel nursing is the opportunity to expand your knowledge base and to network and form valuable, strategic relationships with decision-makers in the work environment. A career as a travel nurse provides the opportunity to build your resume by working at hospitals around the country, including “top-rated hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Cleveland Clinic, John Hopkins Hospital, among others. This type of resume-boosting experience helps in gaining admission to graduate schools or a permanent position at another prominent hospital. However, finding time to form professional relationships that could lead to advancement may be difficult, particularly on short assignments. The travel nurse is always the “new kid” in the workplace and, by definition, somewhat isolated. Nurses who travel may find they are in a holding pattern when it comes to professional advancement.
3. Maintaining your tax home as a travel nurse
As we mentioned above, tax-free money is one of the pros of travel nursing pay packages. However, you must maintain a tax home in order to qualify for the tax-free money. Doing so is both costly and challenging. This certainly makes it one of the cons of travel nursing.
4. Managing medical coverage can be difficult for travel nurses
There are a few scenarios that can make managing medical coverage as a travel nurse difficult. First, you’ll undoubtedly change coverage when you change agencies. Different medical plans are accepted by different doctors and cover different medications. This can impact your continuity of care.
Second, travel nursing companies typically pay for coverage only when travelers are working. Therefore, your benefits can be canceled if you take time off in between assignments. That said, you will qualify for COBRA coverage when your employer coverage is canceled. As a result, you can skirt the rules to your advantage. However, you may not be comfortable doing so. Obtaining your own medical coverage is one alternative to this con of travel nursing.
5. Compensation and budgeting
Every time you accept a position, you sign a new contract, which means varying rates of pay. If you work for a travel nursing recruitment company, they may provide a travel allowance, health insurance, and even a condo or apartment for your contract period. Compensation is typically based on a number of factors, including job location; timing of the contract period. All these factors, while they also can be considered benefits, make it difficult to plan and stick to a budget.
6. Potential for travel nurses to be negatively perceived by permanent staff
We mentioned above that networking and making new friends is one of the pros of travel nursing. Unfortunately, the opposite can be true as well. The staff at some hospitals have a negative view of travel nurses. They might believe that travel nurses are “stealing their hours”. Some believe utilizing travel nurses diminishes patient care. These hospitals can be unwelcoming and even a little hostile toward travel nurses.
7. Logistics of travel
Whether you’re traveling for a long or short assignment, frequent travel is not easy; in fact, any profession is difficult when travel is part of the job duties. Common problems encountered by traveling nurses include, but are not limited, to:
- The stress of frequently arranging travel plans, including moving expenses, packing, arranging flights, etc., if you work independently of an agency
- Time change adjustments
- Arranging insurance between contract periods
- Language and cultural barriers (primarily international travel)
- Unfamiliar weather
- Personal medical issues; i.e., prescriptions, seeing new physicians
- Adjusting to new living spaces
- Working undesirable hours – travel nurses are often required to work weekends, nights, and weekend shifts
- Adapting quickly to other nursing departments and medical personnel
- Travel nurses have access to a number of excellent online resources that feature helpful information on almost every topic, including job postings, blogs, packing tips, tax information, checklists, networking hints, certification resources, and more.
At some time, almost every travel nurse becomes homesick. If you have to leave your spouse, children, pets, or close relatives behind, Skype or FaceTime may not be enough. Even for single nurses with no children, being away from home for extended periods of time can take its toll. However, having a “strong sense of independence and a support system available,” will help. Some other hints to help combat loneliness during your life on the road, including getting a pet, using the Meetup app, joining a gym, learning a new hobby, volunteering at an animal shelter, getting out and about in your new area, and socializing with your new co-workers.
As the old saying goes, “One man’s poison is another man’s porridge.” What may be a “con” for one individual could be a “pro” for another. Part of passionately pursuing a career goal is turning negatives into positives. Travel nurses help staff nurses who are experiencing burnout, and often, the travel nurse is greatly appreciated in her/his temporary position. Additionally, they often provide healthcare in underserved rural areas, which many nurses find extremely rewarding. If travel nursing appeals to you, give it a test drive! You will gain valuable experience, meet new people, see the sights, and learn a lot about yourself in the process.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Augustine of Hippo