Many hospitals turn to travel nurses when they’re in critical need of more – or specialized – nurses. In exchange for traveling to fill a critical need, these nurses make double – sometimes triple – the rate of permanent nurses.
The life of a traveling nurse is both challenging and rewarding. If you’re considering a career in travel nursing, here’s a look at some of the major pros and cons.
Travel – As a travel nurse, you typically have to work at least 50 miles from home to secure a stipend (but there are other options). While some people take positions that barely meet that 50 mile requirement, many choose to go further and explore new cities. A typical contract is thirteen weeks, making travel nursing a great way to get paid while exploring the country.
Higher Salaries – Travel nurses are paid more than permanent staff for various reasons, including the difficulty of the job and the critical need of the hospitals. On top of this, they also receive an hourly, non-taxed stipend intended to cover their travel and living expenses—making for some very highly compensated nurses.
New Friends – Travel nurses who take new positions every few months get to make lots of friends from all over the country. Often, in addition to working together, they’ll travel together or live together, which makes the frequent uprooting less lonely.
Resume Building – When a hiring manager sees that you’ve been a travel nurse, they immediately know that you have a variety of experience, perform well under pressure, and are flexible. They know that you’re used to getting up-to-speed in new environments quickly and are used to dealing with crises, making you a very desirable candidate.
Community Aid – People become nurses because they want to help people – and travel nursing is a great way to help people in communities that would otherwise struggle to get adequate medical care. Hospitals usually utilize travel nurses when they are in dire straits, which means that your presence has a meaningful impact.
Block Scheduling – Many hospitals offer block scheduling to their travel nurses – for example, lumping your shifts on Monday-Wednesday so that it’s easier for you to travel the distance to work. While some nurses choose to commute daily, many will opt to work further away and stay close to the hospital for their shift days and then go home for the rest of the week – something that’s only possible with block scheduling.
Overtime Pay – It’s typical for nurses to make time and a half when working overtime – and the same is true for travel nurses. The difference is that, because their standard rates are so much higher, the 50% increase packs a much greater punch. Many travel nurses choose to work 48 hours per week contracts, which then guarantees overtime pay.
Feeling Lonely – Perhaps the most obvious con to being a travel nurse is that it can be lonely working far from home. Many people in this field struggle with being homesick and adapting to a new environment every few months. Luckily, the travel nursing field is full of people experiencing the same thing that are happy to bond with each other and fill in for missing friends and family.
Stress Management – Hospitals generally hire travel nurses because they’re short-staffed or facing a crisis, and so these nurses are often the first staff to be floated between departments. All of that can be stressful. Many travel nurses find that managing a stressful job is worth the tradeoff of higher pay – but it’s important to know this ahead of time and think through how you cope with stress before going down this career path.
Risk of Cancelled Contracts – It can be a huge inconvenience to travel nurses who accept a new contract, securing housing, and relocate, only to have the contract canceled at the last minute. Hospitals are allowed to withdraw despite a signed agreement if they no longer have a need. Working with a recruiting firm can help ensure that you’re able to get a new position quickly.
Strict Requirements – The requirements for travel nursing vary between hospitals. In general, travel nurses typically need a BSN, a couple of years of experience in a permanent role, to pass an exam, and to complete services (like the Tdap vaccine) before starting. It’s important to keep in mind that being a nurse doesn’t automatically mean you’re eligible to become a travel nurse – but a recruiter can help you work through the credentialing process to make the transition to travel nursing easier.
Cost of Living – We’ve talked a lot about how travel nurses make a lot more money than permanent staff – but keep in mind that living expenses vary widely depending on where you’re working. For example, you might get a $5,000 contract in California, but it’s expensive to live and work there. The money doesn’t go quite as far in some of the metropolitan areas that need travel nurses. The good news is that many nurses have learned how to stretch their budget to make it work.
Deciding to Extend – If your travel assignment is going well, it is common for the hospitals to offer an extension. That is great if you are enjoying the work and the location, but it can come with a catch. If the hospital hired you at an inflated crisis rate it is likely that, when offering an extension, they can cut your crisis pay rate. Carefully weigh whether the reduced pay is worth sticking around for another term in that role.
As with any career, travel nursing has many pros and cons that you’ll need to consider carefully. Think about your lifestyle, personality, and goals before making a move from permanent nurse to traveling nurse. Travel nursing is financially rewarding and ensures that you never get bored with your work – an excellent combination for someone that doesn’t have strong attachments to where they live.
Photo Credit: Canva
by Kaylee Vadini, National Recruiter, Planet Healthcare