The need for travel nurses has always been there. Even pre-pandemic hospitals were short staffed and dealing with so many unknowns that they regularly turned to travel nurses to fill gaps in staffing needs for short periods of time.
Not surprisingly, the demand for travel nurses has significantly increased in the last years, but so has the number of registered nurses choosing to leave their full time staff jobs to take their profession on the road.
According to the Washington Post, “2020 was the year travel nursing took off, with 30% growth over the pre-pandemic year of 2019, this year has propelled it to new heights, with an additional 40% growth expected, according to an independent analyst of the health-care workforce.”
It’s no secret that a vast majority of nurses in the US and around the world are becoming fatigued due to staff shortages and difficult conditions that have no end in sight.
A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded that “the nursing profession continues to face shortages due to lack of potential educators, high turnover, and inequitable distribution of the workforce.”
This results in hospitals needing staff as well as full-time nursing professionals who’ve been working around the clock wanting a change.
A travel nurse is a very valuable asset for a medical facility; they can make up for a shortage at any given hospital and can relocate in a matter of days. On the other hand, many registered nurses are turning to this nomad lifestyle because it allows them to change up their full-time job and try something totally new, while still being able to do the job they know and love.
Travel nursing has a lot of pro’s and con’s, so you should definitely take some time to consider these before making the leap.
1. Higher pay
Travel nurses are always in demand because hospitals always have shortages. If a medical facility really needs staff to work, oftentimes they will increase the amount they will pay you for your contract and offer additional monetary perks like signing and relocation bonuses.
The vast majority of nurses who choose to go into travel nursing do so in order to raise their income. The average annual salary for a travel nurse was $108,070 in 2021, according to Indeed.com. That is significantly higher than the average mean salary for staff nurses, $75,330 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
2. Travel while still doing the job you’re passionate about
The clue is in the name; travel nurses get to travel! Being able to see the parts of the country you always wanted to is by far one of the biggest advantages of being a travel nurse. They have the opportunity to scratch that wanderlust itch while still gaining experience and furthering their careers. Experiencing new places, as well as meeting patients and co-workers you normally may never have crossed paths with can have a profound effect on your development on both a personal and professional level.
If you become a travel nurse, you’re also in control of where you’re headed next. Staffing agencies will come to you with opportunities for where they need the most help, but the choice of if and when you accept is totally up to you. So, you can plan to be near a beach in summer and closer to home in the winter, or simply choose to go wherever the work takes you!
3. Tax-free living stipend
Travel nurses move around often, which can incur a lot of expenses. Thankfully, they are eligible for a tax-free stipend for things like housing costs at their new location, travel to and from their new temporary position, meals and other types of expenses that pertain to them doing their job.
While the stipend amount varies by state, these extra stipends are classified as reimbursements and not income, therefore making them non-taxable. So, a travel nurse can bring home a higher total pay when compared to a staff nurse, who pays taxes on all of the income they bring home.
Although travel nurses do not have paid time off, they do have the ability to control when they work. This allows them to have complete autonomy when it comes to vacations and taking time off around the holidays. Unlike staff nurses, travel nurses don't have to apply for vacation time in the hopes of getting certain weeks off, they can simply finish up an existing contract and take a break before moving on to the next temporary position.
This gives them more freedom to take off high-demand times like during the summer or over the holidays, as you don’t have to consider your co-workers' requests.
5. The chance to continue to learn new skills
While you’re already qualified to do the job of nursing, studies have shown that continuous learning in one's profession is the key to being happy in your career long-term. Having the opportunity to work at many different medical facilities, each with their own way of doing things, is a great way to further develop existing skills, as well as learn new ones.
Working with many facilities and groups of professionals in a short amount of time allows the opportunity to learn different ways of performing a task, procedures, as well as learning how to use different types of equipment. You may also have the opportunity to try out different specialties that will enrich your resume.
Although the thought of making more money and having more freedom sounds like a no-brainer, like everything in life, there are some downsides to pursuing a career in travel nursing, so keep reading to see some cons.
1. You’re constantly the new person
The nature of being a travel nurse means that you’re constantly dealing with new environments, people and processes. Therefore, every time you start somewhere new, you will have to learn the ropes and go through that initial learning phase again and again.
For some, this is exciting and can force them out of their comfort zone. But beware that this may become a repetitive annoyance, so consider how easily you adapt to new conditions considerably before making a decision.
2. Varying pay rates
As we mentioned above, the financial upsides of becoming a travel nurse are undeniable, but you should know that each contract you accept will most likely have varying pay rates. One contract that you undertake may pay one rate, but the next one that comes along may be a lot less. So, be prepared to not have a steady income at times even if you end up making more money in the long-run.
Flexibility and control over where and when you work is a big plus, but the other side is that there is a lot of uncertainty associated with travel nursing. At times, you may not know when your next contract will start right up until the days before, or if your current contract might be extended at the last minute when you are ready to move again. So, if you’re someone who revels in the unknown, this can be exciting. But, for those who need stability, this unavoidable part of the job may outweigh the pros.
4. License issues
Every state that you work in will require that you hold an active and unrestricted license for that state. If you received your original nursing license in a Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) state, such as Florida, Texas, or Arizona, and you will be working in another NLC state, you have what’s called a compact license. This means your nursing license is valid for work in all NLC states, so there is no need to seek additional licensure.
The good news is that 39 states currently have NCL status. But if the state you received your original nursing license in is not an NCL state or the state you will be working in isn’t, you will need to get an additional applicable state license. The staffing agency you are working with will be able to help you get it, but beware this can be a tricky and time-consuming process.
Nurses everywhere are choosing to take their careers into their own hands by signing up to become travel nurses; it gives them the chance to broaden their horizons, learn new skills, meet new people, and most of all, break away from the traditional grueling staff shift schedule.
There are pros and cons to becoming a travel nurse, and you should take time to consider how this lifestyle could work for you. Don’t make a fast decision after a particularly hard week, take the time to read experiences of other travel nurses( we love The Gypsy Nurse!), and make your own pros and cons list that’s tailored to you before making any moves.
If you’re looking for something with more flexibility than conventional full-time jobs but more stability than travel nursing, check out QS Nurses. The family-owned business offers short and long-term contracts and helps connect nurses to job opportunities.
But remember, nothing is permanent, and the demand for nurses has never been higher, so there’s never been a better time to try something that pushes you out of your comfort zone.