Are you thinking of becoming a travel nurse? If so, you have a lot to think about! The travel nursing industry is always in need and continues to grow across the country. There are many benefits to being a travel nurse. However, there are also some drawbacks to consider before making your decision.
In this blog post, we will discuss the pros and cons of being a travel nurse to help you decide whether or not it is the right career for you!
What Is a Travel Nurse?
A travel nurse is a registered nurse who works on short-term contracts in different areas of the country. These assignments typically last between 8 weeks and six months, depending on the needs of the hospital or healthcare facility. A typical contract starts at 13 weeks and can be extended if the facility and the nurse want to.
Travel nurses are hired for various reasons, including seasonal increases in patient care needs, staff shortages, special projects, or to cover for an employee on leave (such as maternity or an injury).
Can Only Nurses Travel?
No! Travel nursing is not just for registered nurses. Many other healthcare professions can benefit from travel. Other professionals that often take travel jobs include:
- Physical therapists (PT) or PT assistants (PTA)
- Occupational therapists (OT) or OT assistants (OTA)
- Speech and language pathologists
- Medical technologists (radiologists, ultrasound techs, etc.)
- Social worker
- Medical scribe
- And more…
What Do You Need to Get Started as a Travel Nurse?
You will need special qualifications to become a travel nurse or medical professional.
- Firstly, you must be registered as a nurse in the state where you will work.
- You should also have at least one year of recent nursing experience and a valid license to practice within that state (the exact requirement for experience varies with companies and professionals).
- Additionally, you may need certifications or additional training related to your assignment (though not typical).
Since these are required for being a medical professional, you should be covered and ready to go- especially if you have a license in a compact state.
The Pros of Being a Travel Nurse
Travel nursing can be a lucrative and rewarding career. Let’s dive into the pros. We’ll also include expert notes from experienced travel nurses we chatted with to write this article.
#1 Excellent Pay
Travel nurses receive excellent pay rates compared to their non-travel counterparts. Some stats from 2022 show that a travel nurse makes an average of $51 per hour, while their nontravel counterparts make closer to $38 per hour. Thus, if a travel nurse works a full schedule throughout the year, they can expect to make well over $80,000.
Reality check: While salary reports are unclear, this high hourly rate likely includes tax-free “per diem” money for accommodation.
#2 Spend Your Cash the Way You Want
You will get a tax-free living stipend for each week that you’re on assignment. For most housing markets (the amount varies from state to state), the daily amount is very generous and will more than cover your living expenses. While the market is quite hot for finding rentals right now, there are still affordable options across the country when you look at monthly furnished rentals like these.
Expert tip: Many travel nurses will choose to live “below their means” to they can pocket some extra cash while on assignment. (For example, some nurses travel with an RV.) Or they can use the extra money to explore the area too.
#3 Flexibility and Freedom
Since travel nurses are on short-term contracts, they have greater freedom and flexibility regarding when and where they work. You can choose assignments that fit your lifestyle best, whether in a big city or a rural area. You can also choose the type of facility you’d like to work in and the patients you would be caring for.
You can also determine your own hours and days off- which is hard to come by with traditional nursing jobs.
Reality check: You can be picky with your assignments, which is great. However, there will likely be some compromise, too, when negotiating a contract.
#4 Explore New Places
Travel nurses get the opportunity to experience new places. You may find yourself in a new city every few months, giving you plenty of time to explore and take advantage of your specific location.
Expert tip: Many travel nurses will try to take on trips during their days off, allowing them to visit nearby areas or take a longer vacation between assignments to explore.
#5 Make New Friends
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a travel nurse is meeting new people. You will likely meet nurses and other healthcare professionals at your job, allowing you to make new connections and lifelong friends.
#6 Learn New Skills
Travel nurses can develop and hone their clinical skills in various settings. This is because travel nurses typically take on assignments at different facilities, often requiring them to adapt to new protocols and procedures. This can be a great way for nurses to challenge themselves and keep up with the latest medical trends.
#7 Skip the Work Politics
Travel nurses don’t have to worry too much about the typical office politics in a regular job. This is because they are only at a facility for a short period of time, meaning that any potential political drama can be avoided altogether.
#8 Find Your Dream Job
Travel nurses have the luxury of finding their dream job. They can take on assignments all over the country, and even across the globe if they choose, giving them a chance to find the perfect environment for their career goals. Sometimes, a short-term contract can turn into a long-term opportunity when it’s the right fit for all parties.
#9 Help Underserved Populations
The transient nature of a travel nurse’s job allows them to help underserved populations in need. Rural areas and inner-city facilities often have staffing shortages, so travel nurses are needed to fill the void. This allows nurses to make a real difference in these communities- which is why many got into the profession, to begin with.
#10 Have Fun and Learn Life Skills
Travel nursing is booming, so you can take advantage of the travel opportunities while learning valuable life skills like budgeting, planning, and adapting to different cultures. It’s a win-win situation that can provide great personal and professional growth.
The Cons of Being a Travel Nurse
Those are some great perks! But what’s the catch? Let’s review what you need to consider before jumping into travel nursing.
If you’re used to living near family and friends, leaving them behind can be a challenge. Even if you’re surrounded by new faces, it may not feel the same as having your closest loved ones nearby- leading to feeling homesick sometimes. However, some travel nurses will actually use their travel assignments as opportunities to reconnect with family and friends across the country too.
#2 Being a Scammer Target
Travel nurses get a generous stipend, and unfortunately, scammers are trying to take it from them. Ranging from outrageous rental prices to renting nonexistant or rundown spaces, travel nurses need to be wary of potential scams.
Expert tip: Read our full article here on how to avoid rental scams and keep your hard-earned cash.
#3 Trouble Finding Accommodation
Finding suitable accommodation can be another challenge for travel nurses. You will likely need to find a space to live in each new location, which can take time and effort. Furthermore, the short-term monthly rental market is booming, so you may find higher prices than expected, and you’ll often have to move fast on opportunities.
Expert tip: Stay flexible and think creatively. You may need to stay in a hotel for a bit, share a rental with another nurse, rent a private room, etc. Read our full article on tips for finding accommodations.
#4 Lack of Stability
Travel nursing does not offer the stability that some nurses may seek in a job. You are likely to find short-term contracts and frequently switch locations, which can be stressful if you’re trying to plan long-term. Additionally, you may have difficulty finding work when it’s slow season (not typical but possible).
#5 Paperwork Galore
Travel nurses are responsible for ensuring that all their credentials and paperwork are updated for each job. This can often be a tedious task, as you may need to submit additional certifications or licenses depending on the facility you’re working at. Make sure you have a system for staying organized to prevent major stress.
#6 Insurance Coverage Gaps
If you’re a full-time travel nurse, you may have coverage gaps between jobs or have to pay a high rate for interim coverage. Research any insurance needs you may have while on assignment, depending on your location and state laws.
#7 Your Taxes Can Get Messy
From maintaining a tax home to filing taxes appropriately, tax filing time can be a major headache for travel nurses. Make sure to research and understand the laws in your state before you start traveling- as they may differ from where you currently reside.
Expert tip: Hire an accountant that specializes in travel nursing!
#8 Having Low Taxable Wages
Having low taxable wages means you pay fewer taxes, right? Yes! But for any nurse who wants to purchase a home or car off of credit soon, this might be a problem. Since travel nurses often have low taxable wages, they may have trouble qualifying for a mortgage or loan.
#9 Always Being the “New Guy”
Sometimes, there is a stigma associated with travel nurses of being a “temporary” or “new” team member. You may face resistance from other staff or have difficulty building relationships if you’re only in one place temporarily. In many cases, understaffed facilities often have limited onboarding capabilities for new travelers, making the initial start a steep learning curve.
#10 Sudden Changes
Ultimately, you never know what you’ll encounter as a travel nurse (both a blessing and a curse). From last-minute cancellations to unideal contract changes or no time off, travel nurses need to be prepared for the unexpected.
To finish up this article, let’s quickly review a few circulating myths that may affect your decision.
Myth #1: You Will Get a Bonus Per Contract
This is not typically the case with traveling nurses, depending on the facility you’re working at.
Myth #2: Your Housing is Paid for When on Contract
This really depends on the contract. Most travel agencies can find you housing, but then you’ll have to forgo your daily stipend. While most opt to find their own housing to get the full stipend, some don’t want to deal with the hassle and will let their agency find housing. However, you never know what type of housing they’ll find either- so be wary.
Myth # 3: All Your Travel Expenses Will Be Covered to Get to a New Contract
Not necessarily. You will get so much per “mile” for moving to a new location. Depending on the cost of gas, your vehicle, and if you’re flying- this may not cover all the costs entirely.
Myth #4: You Can Be Picky
While you can find some pretty cool jobs, the reality is that some locations will be very competitive or now work with your contract schedule. You’ll find that being flexible is best for finding the best opportunities.
For more myths, read more about our travel nurse tips.
Travel Nursing is an Adventure
Overall, being a traveling nurse is an exciting opportunity with many benefits. From exploring new places to honing clinical skills and making lifelong friends, it’s an experience unlike any other.
However, it has drawbacks like missing family and friends, feeling disconnected from your home base, and adapting quickly to different protocols in each facility.
Whether travel nursing will be an adventure or a major drag is ultimately a matter of perspective. But if you’re willing to take the plunge and try traveling nursing, you won’t be disappointed!