Travel nursing is the single best move I have made in my career. I have learned so much, grown as a person, had more time for my passions, and been compensated well. While there are so many pros to travel nursing, there are also cons that don’t always get talked about. This post will aim to give a balanced perspective about the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a travel nurse. If you’re considering becoming a travel nurse, feel free to reach out with questions!
Pros of Travel Nursing
As a travel nurse, you are filling a critical staffing hole, for this reason, hospitals will pay more to attract nurses. This has been especially true since COVID and the great nursing shortage we are currently experiencing. Do keep in mind that if you were not a traveler before COVID, the current rates are greatly inflated but likely won’t stay this way forever. Another financial bonus as a travel nurse is that you may qualify for tax free stipends, this means a portion of your pay will be tax free making your take home pay higher. Check out this great post explaining tax free stipends.
There is so much room for professional growth in travel nursing. In medicine, there are some many different perspectives depending on the size of the community you’re working with, the socioeconomic status, and diversity of population. I love seeing the creative approaches hospitals have (while still working within the realm of evidence based practice). I take new things I learn from every assignment and integrate them into my nursing practice. Aside from different perspectives, I’ve also learned so much from working in different areas of the hospital. As a travel nurse, you are usually the first to float to other units, and while this can be a downside, it’s also a huge strength and a resume builder. As an ICU and ER nurse, I have had the opportunity to work in various ICUs, Step Down, Tele, Medical/Surgical, Observation, PACU, and ER.
Travel nursing pushes your boundaries and forces you to grow as a person. By leaving the safety net of your home and exposing yourself to new places and situations, you will be challenged in so many ways. These challenges force you to assess the way you think and see the world. No doubt, travel nursing will make you a different person in the best of ways.
Opportunity to Live Anywhere
As a travel nurse, you can work and live just about anywhere. There are contracts in every state and even U.S. territories like Guam and US Virgin Islands! If you’re trying to figure out where you want to settle down after travel nursing, this can be a great way to test out cities. Also if you just love to travel, this is a great way to immerse yourself in a place and really get to know it.
Opportunity for Extended Time Off
As a travel nurse, you decide when you take a contract. If you budget properly, you can take extended breaks between contracts. Personally I have taken two five month breaks to travel the United States in a campervan. You can time your contracts also to take the holidays off as well. It can be more difficult to get time off during a contract but it’s not impossible to negotiate if you request specific dates before signing your contract.
Cons of Travel Nursing
As a travel nurse, you are filling a temporary staffing need, this means that if the hospital no longer has a need, your contract may be cut. Additionally, needs in the industry fluctuate. For example, during COVID when elective surgeries stopped, needs for OR and PACU nurses dropped. It’s really important to have a financial cushion before traveling to ensure that you can ride out a dip in the market or an unexpected contract cancellation.
Lower Taxable Income
While paying lower taxes may seem like a pro, there are some situations where it is actually a con of travel nursing. When you are applying for a loan, most lenders will not take your travel stipends into account as income, this means you may not be approved for as high of a loan. Your taxable income also affects how much you receive in Social Security. At retirement, your 35 highest years of salary will be calculated to determine your monthly benefit payment. If you plan to travel nurse for a significant chunk of your career, you may want to take this into account in your retirement planning. Another thing to consider if that unemployment benefits and disability are calculated from your taxable wage, this may mean these benefits can be significantly lower.
Onboarding for Each Assignment
For every new assignment you have medical compliance including a physical, drug test, vaccination titers, N95 fit testing. Additionally you have hospital compliance including orientation modules and computer training. Depending on the assignment, you may or may not be paid for all the hours of orientation. It’s a frustrating but necessary part of travel nursing.
First to Float
As a travel nurse, you will be the first to float to another unit. This can be a pro or a con of travel nursing depending on how you look at it. As a pro, you get more experience in different areas of the hospital and can use it as a resume builder. As a con, it can be stressful to work on units other than your home unit. It’s important as a travel nurse to advocate for yourself and make sure that you get adequate training to each unit you will be working on. In the end, it is still your license and your patient’s lives on the line so don’t be afraid to speak up!
Away From Family and Friends
This is one of the really difficult things about travel nursing. Making trips home between contracts, facetiming and having people visit you on contract can make it easier. If being away from family is too difficult, you can still travel nurse by taking local assignments or assignments within your own state. There are so many ways to make this career work for you!
Experiencing new places is one of the most fun things about travel nursing, it can also be extremely tiring though. Learning a new city and hospital every 13 weeks can wear on you. You can make this easier by trying to extend your contracts (you can extend up to a year if the need is there). It’s important to engage in self care and know when you are feeling burnt out. You always have the option to take a contract close to home if you need a break.
I hope this has provided you with a balanced outlook on travel nursing. As with any career, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies but for me, the pros have outweighed the cons. For more information on travel nursing and van life check out this post. Feel free to reach out with questions or a referral for a travel nurse recruiter! Now get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow!