Pros and Cons of Being a Travel Nurse: Expert Insight for New Nurses
By Kalie Debelak on 11/07/2022
You’re ready for a new career and a new adventure in your life. You’ve heard some about the potential benefits of the healthcare field, and with a steady need for nurses, being a nurse looks like it could be a promising career.
One intriguing prospect for you could be taking up work as a travel nurse. If you’re interested in a position with some potential for adventure and the opportunity to see new places, this job could be for you.
Before you jump into this career path, you’re probably wondering a little more about some of the pros and cons of travel nursing. We talked with a travel nurse to see what being a travel nurse is really like. Keep reading for the inside scoop on this career path.
What is being a travel nurse like?
Travel nurses are constantly moving due to the temporary nature of their work contracts, according to Yasmine Seidu, a travel nurse and founder of Nursepective. Typically, travel nursing positions last just a few months before these nurses have an opportunity to switch jobs and learn the ropes of a new facility.
“There are a lot of great things about being a travel nurse as well,” says Seidu, “You get to see different parts of the country (or world), experience new cultures and learn new things every day. It can be tough at times, but it’s also immensely rewarding.”
What should new nurses know about travel nursing?
Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts to being a travel nurse. When starting a travel nursing role, there are a few insider tidbits that can make your life easier.
Seidu recommends doing a lot of research before you start travel nursing. Beyond articles like this one, digging into the travel nursing agency you want to work for, investigating the area you’ll be working in and fully understanding your contracts are all important.
Additionally, she mentions talking with an accountant to figure out how to do your taxes with all the moving involved. Things can get pretty complex if you’re working in several different states over the course of a year, and the last thing you want in a new job is tax trouble.
Travel nursing pros and cons
Now that you know a little more about travel nursing, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of these roles.
Let’s start with the obvious—you have a good reason to go somewhere new. Travel nurses get the opportunity to see the state, country or even the world. Meeting new people, experiencing new places and finding out what different places have to offer are all perks of travel nursing.
Being paid to move where there’s always something new to do or discover is an undeniably intriguing perk, particularly for nurses who have yet to really put their roots down and want to explore new locales.
Con: Frequent moves
The downside of this travel is that travel nurses are always moving and having to adapt to a new location.
“Traveling can be both physically and emotionally draining due to the demands of the job and constant relocation,” Seidu says.
While some agencies may provide housing directly, most will typically provide a housing stipend instead. This means that the nurse is responsible for finding a place to live, which isn’t always easy or affordable, depending on the location. These moving benefits are not guaranteed to be included with a contract role either, so some opportunities may be less viable.
The most calculable perk of being a travel nurse is that these roles usually come with higher pay.
“Travel nurses typically earn more money than nurses in traditional healthcare settings or staff positions,” Seidu says.
While it’s not guaranteed you’ll earn more per hour as a travel nurse, there’s a reason this is generally true. Travel nurses are often relied upon to help providers fill a critical short-term staffing need, and those organizations are often willing to pay a premium to ensure they can attract a viable candidate—particularly when factoring in the relative inconvenience of moving to take on this work.
Con: Potentially limited benefits
While this pay boost is a huge boon, the financial downside to travel nursing is that it doesn’t always offer benefits, or at least not the full range of benefits a full-time nurse may have. This means that you may need to set some of that extra pay aside to cover things like health insurance or retirement funds. However, Seidu does note that this is starting to change, with more agencies now offering at least partial benefits.
Pro: Opportunities to learn new things
Working in so many different settings, travel nurses are always learning something new and growing in their skills as a nurse.
Seidu says, “Working in a new location and with new people allows travel nurses to learn new things, new skills, new techniques, different EHRs (electronic health records) and policies, which helps them grow as professionals.”
All this can be great to add to your resume. If you ever decide to stop travel nursing, you’ll have plenty of skills to draw on for future employment opportunities.
Con: Your social life can take a hit
As you’re moving from place to place, finding new friends—and maintaining ties with existing friends—can be a challenge. Loneliness and keeping up with existing long-distance relationships are a few trials of always being around new people.
However, this can also be the perfect opportunity to meet new people, make new friends and shake up your social life.
“I have made lifelong friends from friends I met thanks to travel nursing,” Seidu says.
Pro: Patient care
“Travel nurses often bring new perspectives and ideas to healthcare facilities, which can lead to improved patient care,” says Seidu.
At the end of the day, nursing is about caring for patients, so knowing that you have a unique perspective as a travel nurse can make the job so much more rewarding.
Similarly, Seidu says that the experience of being a travel nurse can be fulfilling. She says, “The experiences and memories that come along with being a travel nurse are truly priceless.”
Con: Job security
Hopping from short-term job to short-term job means less job security. Travel nursing positions are not permanent. This means that travel nurses are often looking for the next position and need to budget their money for a potential employment gap. Additionally, these jobs are often on the line if a hospital needs to trim the budget.
While the overall need for nurses can help soften the blow, these on-off cycles of stability and job searching can be taxing for some to contend with.
Pro: Career opportunities
Interacting with new people and working at new facilities means a growing professional network. If in the future you decide to look for permanent positions, you’ll have lots of contacts to ask about job openings.
Not to mention the general prudence of having a solid professional network. It never hurts to have more people in your corner who can vouch for your capabilities as your progress in your career.
Con: Promotions and long-term career planning
The short-term nature of travel nursing contracts means that job promotions aren’t likely. This area of nursing isn’t set up like many jobs with hierarchical tiers for rising through the ranks. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities for growth; for instance, as mentioned earlier, travel nurses are always learning new things and can expand their expertise by working in different specialty units.
If you have management or specific career goals in mind, you’ll want to weigh how long you spend working as a travel nurse, as it may be easier to advance with more long-term familiarity.
Pro: Job satisfaction
Beyond additional pay, travel nurses can expect their willingness to move to be worthwhile with a fulfilling and adaptable job.
Seidu explains that travel nurses typically have a somewhat flexible schedule that offers a more balanced lifestyle. She adds that the variety in travel nursing can be a break from the everyday stress and repetition of having the same healthcare job for years.
“The increased pay, flexible hours, ability to learn and grow, and new experiences often lead to increased job satisfaction for travel nurses,” says Seidu.
Ready to move into a travel nursing career?
Now you know the travel nursing pros and cons and what you could expect as a travel nurse. If you’re ready for a new adventure traveling and always learning something new, then travel nursing could be the career for you.
To find out how you can start on this exciting path, read our article “How to Become a Travel Nurse: Mapping Out What It Takes.”