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Pros & Cons of Travel Nursing

*Original post released on 1/26/2022

The allure of travel nursing is all too real, especially for new grad nurses with an itch to travel. Trust me when I tell you, however, that travel nursing isn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and big fat paychecks. Before you pack your bags and head out on an assignment, it’s incredibly important for you to seriously consider the pros and cons of doing so. I’ll use this article to break down some of the most common pros and cons that I came to realize during my time as a travel ICU nurse. I’m not trying to deter you from pursuing a travel gig; instead, I want you to be fully armed with the benefits and downsides so you can prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, socially, physically, and financially.

Without further ado, let’s start off with the cons so we can end on a good note! Let’s face it… there are specific reasons as to why travel nursing contracts are SO lucrative at this point in time. For instance, the facilities requesting nursing contract employees are usually short handed in terms of staffing or have patient demands that are beyond the capacity in which their current staffing situation can handle. Why is this important for you to know? This means the shifts you’re assigned to work will likely be more labor intensive, and you may be expected to accept a larger workload than you’re typically used to. For instance, during my most recent contract in an ICU setting, instead of the typical 1:2 ratio I was used to, conditions were 1:3 or 1:4 ratios more often than not. It’s also highly likely that you’ll get floated to whichever location within the facility needs the assistance. I’ve been a sitter, a med surg nurse, tele nurse, ICU nurse, triage nurse, etc. And if you’re trained in ICU, good luck arguing your way out of working in a lower acuity unit because these facilities deem you capable of working anywhere with your skill level and training.

Also important to note are some of the things that happen when you hop on the travel nursing bandwagon. For instance, if you’re giving up a staff position, keep in mind that you’re also giving up the benefits tied to that position (health insurance, life insurance, 401k contributions, loan repayments, etc.). You’ll have to purchase or participate in these programs either through a third party or via the travel agency you’re working with…and that can get quite pricey and/or be associated with work commitments to be able to qualify for coverage. I went from paying a couple hundred dollars for insurances per month to over $700. BIG adjustment financially.

Other costs to keep in mind include the costs of moving. This hits each person differently depending on how short the contracts are, how far the move is, how many contracts are taken in the year, whether you extend at a facility or accept a new contract, etc. The more you move and the farther away you move from your original city of residence, the higher those expenses will accrue to be. Keep in mind that larger cities, especially touristy locations, will typically have higher costs of living associated with multiple areas of expense (groceries, rent, gas, recreational activities, etc.). Do your research ahead of time and decide if the eye-catching popular travel destination is worth eating into your hard earned profits. Only you can make that decision for yourself.

Travel nursing contracts are not as family friendly either. The schedules are less flexible and you’ll have to plan your vacation time around contracts because the facilities will expect your availability to be open for their needs. The hours worked can be longer than expected at times, traffic might be beastly and eat into your precious family time, and these factors can be a bit isolating. Plus, if you have a significant other and/or little ones, it can be difficult to just pack up and move every 8 to 13 weeks. Their job may not be flexible enough to allow for it and it may be hard for your children and family as a whole to adjust to each new job or place.

Lastly, I want to talk about some of the uncertainties involved with travel nursing. While this may have only been a personal experience and exception to the rule, I had a hospital back out of my contract with less than a week before my anticipated start date. I had moved my husband, dogs, and self across the country over 1,500 miles for that contract only to have them cancel it. This was even after the contract had been signed! I was told the hospital’s needs and circumstances had changed so they were within their right to change or cancel the contract altogether. We had to scramble to find another contract within the same city which only further delayed my start date. The living expenses of being in a major metropolitan area were stacking up and it consumed all of our savings until the contract began. NOT an ideal situation in the slightest. It is for this reason that switching contracts generates unnecessary anxiety for me and could for you as well.

Okay, okay. Enough negative talk for now! Let’s dive in to discussing all the benefits and perks that are associated with travel nursing! Perhaps the most obvious to anyone, the traveling! During pandemic times, nursing is in demand nearly EVERYWHERE. If you’re willing to accept the pay rate (and nearly every contract will be more than you are making in a staff position), the world is your oyster. And again, the compensation is also a huge perk of travel nursing. For the conditions discussed initially in this article, hospitals and facilities are offering nurses two or more times their typical staffed salaries to be relief workers in times of need. Depending on how much you’re willing to work each week, the shift type, unit, etc. you could make upwards of more than 100k annually, and many nurses have been.

The capacity for growth you could experience during a travel contract, both individually and professionally, is limitless! Perhaps one of the most lucrative professional opportunities lies in the networking that occurs with other healthcare professionals and nurses across the country. If you are saving to return to school and advance your career, this benefit of travel nursing is priceless in and of itself. Additionally, you have the ability to select your contract. This means that depending on your level of comfort, you could potentially be exposed to multiple trauma levels and nursing specialties. These facilities want and need YOU, not the other way around. The ball is in your court, so use these circumstances to your advantage!

With the compensation of travel contracts being so lucrative, it’s often possible to take longer breaks in between job assignments. This can afford you recovery time, family time, leisure travel time, etc. to simply enjoy what life has to offer. You are in control of your career and when/where you decide to work next. The power in this fact is incredibly empowering. Moreover, with all the moving, you learn to live with the bare necessities. You’ll begin to find more joy in moments and experiences rather than material items. This change in thinking and state of mind is a gift in itself.

Lastly, when taking a travel nursing assignment, you can find personal fulfillment in knowing that you’ve helped out a unit or facility that was desperately in need of assistance. Not only will they be grateful, but so will your patients and their families. Furthermore, these contracts afford you increased exposure to patients and people of different cultures, languages, and backgrounds. You’ll learn a lot about an area through the people you care for. These experiences are invaluable.

As you can see, there are plenty of pros and cons associated with travel nursing. These are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of factors to consider prior to making the move from staff to traveler. Make your decision carefully, weighing the pros and cons of your unique situation, and consider taking the plunge to pursue travel nursing. Side note, I don’t think travel nursing is well suited for anyone who has been a nurse for less than a year. You’ll receive minimal training/orientation and be expected to hit the ground running, being completely self sufficient. This is a tall task for a new grad nurse with a year or less experience. I hope you found this article to be enlightening and helpful in your travel nursing endeavors!

Until next time, happy studying!

Andra Alyse

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