It was a an ordinary shift and I just passed my last med, settled my patients in bed, and caught up on my charting. After a deep sigh, I heard the rumbling of my stomach. While hurrying to the nurses lounge for my latest rendition of leftovers, I bumped into my colleague Brittney who was standing behind the door. “Oh sorry!” I stated, but then soon realized that we weren’t the only ones in the lounge. Actually, there were a few nurses standing around, and no one was eating. Feeling awkward, I asked what was going on, and Brittney announced that that shift was her last at the hospital. Brittney was one of the great nurses on the unit, so I was sad to see her go. “Oh no! Where are you going?” I asked. She proclaimed with a huge smile, “I’ve decided to try travel nursing!”
Being a new nurse at the time, I had no idea what travel nursing was. So when Brittney announced her departure from the unit to travel the world as a nurse, I was completely intrigued. Why did I not know that you could temporarily experience various cities, states, and countries on your bucket list AND make money while doing it? I instantly Googled how to become a travel nurse and what the career entailed. Unbeknownst to me, while I may have been new to the idea, there was a ton of information to sort through and a whole new world to discover.
After several days of online searching for eligibility, personal testimonies, and compensation ranges, I finally got the nerve to call the agency referred to me by Brittney. She spoke highly of their professionalism and willingness to accommodate their employees. After the somewhat lengthy application process and assessments, I had to make the decision of where I wanted to go, what shift I wanted to work, and how I wanted to be set up when I got there. It’s important to have these things in mind beforehand to help streamline the process and prevent pressure of taking unwanted assignments.
Most agencies report a standard rate salary based on experience and what the facility (e.g., hospital, outpatient, rehab, etc.) is willing to offer. Many of the facilities request travelers to assist short-term with lack of staffing due to nurse strikes, healthcare crises, maternity leaves, or voluntary terminations. Keep in mind, most facilities want at least two years of recent clinical experience and some certifications to be eligible. However, the application and eligibility requirements are just the start. If you aren’t familiar with your chosen area, the assistance of the agency can be helpful to obtain adequate housing. Some nurses choose to stay with relatives or friends, while others acquire Air BnBs, extended stay hotels, or furnished corporate housing.
Depending on your circumstances, travel nursing can be lucrative, but it’s up to you to determine its worth. Some nurses prioritize making as much money as possible, while others feel location and work environment matter most. Many travelers even bring family or pets along for the assignment as well. Depending on the size and connections of the agency, some work accommodations can be fulfilled. I would encourage anyone to find out what it most important for you before speaking with a recruiter. One of the biggest rewards of traveling is not “belonging” to a unit long term, as most contracts last 6 to 13 weeks. This allows you to bypass a lot of unit politics or part ways after your term if you see fit. On the other hand, if you happen to mesh well with the assignment, they can offer an extension to your contract for some additional weeks or months.
As far as compensation, travel nurses have had a reputation of being well paid. While that can be so, it depends on many factors, including location, certifications, shift differential, stipends, and specialty. Most agencies offer the option of tax free stipends versus base pay, as well as travel, education, and housing reimbursements. Furthermore, health and retirement benefits can apply as well. While many may not consider these benefits as cost effective or accommodating than those offered to full-time regular staff, they can be just fine for healthy and single travelers, or you can opt out completely for governmental or spousal insurance instead. Overall, these factors can greatly affect your take home pay or choice of agency.
Many people visualize travel nurses drinking expensive champagne in the Mediterranean on their days off, while doing minimal work for maximum pay. That is a misconception, as travel nurses face benefits and challenges like any other nurse. However, it can be a diverse and rewarding career if you allow it. While some prefer the stability of regular staff nursing, others fit well the ever changing role of the traveler. Regardless of your reason for the transition from full time staff employee to travel nurse, make sure you do your research, talk with those who have succeeded in the journey, consult with a tax representative, and do what’s best for you.