Travel Nursing: Is It Right For You?

If you’ve ever picked up a nursing magazine, you’ve probably been mesmerized by those glossy ads for working as a travel nurse in exotic Hawaii, lounging on the beaches of Florida, or skiing in the beautiful mountains of the Colorado Rockies. It sounds too good to be true, to make big money and get paid to travel. Maybe not too good to be true, but it isn’t for everyone. Here are some things to consider before you pack up your bags — and your life — and become a travel nurse.

Couples And Families Can Do It, But Travel Nursing Is Best For Singles

While a few nurses travel with children, it’s difficult and obviously can only really be done outside the school year unless you have a spouse who can home school. Your nursing travel agency can set up accommodations, but they aren’t going to splurge on a two bedroom apartment because you have kids with you. In fact, many are moving to hotels with kitchenettes over temporary apartments, so your living quarters can get cramped. According to Gypsy Nurse, you can request a larger living space if you are willing to pay for the difference. But you’ll have to deal with daycare in an unfamiliar city unless your kids are old enough to stay alone at your hotel or apartment.

Some nurses only bring a spouse or significant other, as the pay rates are more than enough to support two. The best of both worlds with couples is when both are nurses with flexible specialties so they can get assignments in the same city or even the same hospital. In those situations, one will often take the lodging provided by the company, while the other asks for a housing stipend to find their own.

While couples can make travel nursing work, it’s no surprise that becoming a travel nurse is ideal for singles. It’s a great way to see the country and scope out different cities you may want to consider for permanent residence. It’s also a great way to choose cities where you can stay a little cooler in the summer up north, and warm up a bit down south in the winter.

Travel nurses’ airfare is included in the perks of travel nursing. [Image by iStock]

The Perks of Travel Nursing

While any job has its pros and cons, first let’s focus on the benefits of being a travel nurse. The most obvious benefit is getting to do a lot of traveling without paying for it. In fact, you make a very good salary to travel plus get free accommodations from your travel agency as well as airfare or mileage reimbursement if you drive.

If you choose to do travel nursing full-time, as some nurses do, your belongings can be put into storage, so you don’t even have to make payments on an apartment at home, wherever you have your home base. Obviously, if you’re going to choose this option, you need to have plenty of friends and family to visit between assignments along with all of the great vacations you can take in between.

Speaking of which, that flexibility in determining your own schedule is another one of the great perks of being a travel nurse. Presuming you keep your bills at a reasonable level, it’s possible to take vacations between assignments for extended periods of time. And given that most assignments last anywhere from one month to 13 weeks, that’s a whole lot of vacation time if you choose when you’re a travel nurse.

If you choose a travel assignment in a city or with the company you’re considering committing to full-time, travel nursing makes a great way to test drive both the location and the job position that needs to be filled. Your experience working as a traveler will be a bit different than as regular staff, which brings us to some of the less than stellar aspects of travel nursing.

Travel nurses will always be the outsiders on an assignment. [Image by iStock]

Travel Nursing Challenges

When you interview for a travel nurse position, it’s critical to ask plenty of questions, such as their policies regarding floating to other units. Specifically, ask if you as a travel nurse will always be the first one sent to another floor unit, or if you’ll take your turn like the rest of the staff. Having said that, even if the person you interview with guarantees you’ll be treated “just like regular staff,” recognize you may walk into an entirely different situation.

Speaking from first-hand experience, on a hospital travel assignment working the 3-11 shift in a hospital that scheduled both eight and 12-hour shifts, despite that promise to be treated as everyone else, I found myself being pulled or “floated” to another unit from 3-4 days a week. Worse yet, it was usually for four hours of my eight-hour shift, so I would barely get report from the nurse I was relieving, get my assessments done, and chart them before it was time to give report to the nurse relieving me, go to another unit, get report again from the nurse I was relieving, and start over for the last four hours of my shift.

That’s double the amount of time spent giving and getting shift reports, double the assessments, and double the paperwork for one eight-hour shift. Not to mention barely being able to remember your own name much less the names of your patients — or anything else about them — when you report off to the next nurse.

It wasn’t that the person interviewed necessarily lied, the problem was the person that did the interview wasn’t the person that determined who was floated to another unit to cover shortages. The floor charge nurse on my unit kept reciting the old adage that the traveler was always the first one to float, and it took an intervention by my agency with the recruiters at the hospital to remind them of the agreement and reduce my float days down to one or two a week. Suffice it to say it was a very long 13 weeks.

Most people are generally friendly and try to be helpful, but recognize that some co-workers will resent the fact that you’re making more money and won’t be shy about bringing it up. Some will also be reluctant to help you out with finding the supplies you need and getting familiar with the procedures at the facility, as being a traveler means jumping right in without any orientation or at least not anything wrote remotely as in-depth as a regular employee gets before starting work.

Unfortunately, your status as an outsider also means you might be given the most difficult and stressful patients on a unit. Whoever makes the assignments isn’t necessarily trying to be hostile or mean, but often trying to protect their own staff from burnout.

To succeed as a travel nurse, you must have enough experience and confidence to be able to work fairly independently without an in-depth orientation and be thick-skinned enough to tolerate those coworkers that resent your higher wages even though they could choose to travel, as well.

Perhaps one of the most significant factors to consider in travel nursing is the impact it will have on your personal life. Living on the road makes any kind of personal relationship challenging unless that person travels with you. You may get homesick for family and friends or just being in your own home curled up on your own couch watching TV or reading a book.

Travel nursing can be one of the most rewarding choices in the nursing profession, despite the challenges. If you can handle the downside of working as a travel nurse, it’s a great way to travel and see new places until you’re ready to settle down.

[Featured Image by iStock]

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