Travel Nursing – The Joys and Pitfalls

We all want to live the dream, but how many people can honestly say they do? Usually, when I introduce myself as a travel nurse, people give me a blank stare, but that’s okay because I love to explain what I do. Basically, when a hospital has a short-term need because it’s flu season or the patient index is high, I’m the short-term replacement. I work in hospitals all over the country for three to six months at a time, and when my role is no longer necessary, I move on. The hospitals then have experienced nurses to fill their needs, and someone else pays me to live and work in unique places. I’m living the dream.

I started my career by submitting my information on a travel nurse Instagram. Within a week, I had calls and emails from at least four different agencies. If you decide on travel nursing, there will be no end of businesses vying for your attention. Someone gave me a good suggestion: find at least two agencies, some say as many as five, and fill out the application. The rest is up to them.

If you are interested in travel nursing, it is good to keep in mind that many hospitals require at least two years of experience. Also, certain specialties are in much higher demand than others. For example, there is always a need for ICU, emergency nurses, etc. But the reality is, if you specialize in anything, you will be more valuable to hospitals. There are plenty of medical-surgical nurses out there, but your specialty will make you a cut above the rest.

Every traveler has a different motivation for their choice. Often nurses want to pay off student debt. Some don’t want to deal with hospital drama. I believe most have a streak of adventure. Though it means constantly changing jobs and never settling down, travel nursing has many perks. First is the variety of opportunities. Travelers can work virtually anywhere. With a few exceptions, most states hire experienced nurses at some point in time. But it’s not limited to the USA. Travelers work in Canada, the United Kingdom, and even the United Arab Emirates. Traveling internationally is for the nurse who is prioritizing adventure and not necessarily a paycheck. But, you can’t forget to mention the paycheck, which often leads to more opportunity. I make twice as much working as a traveler as I did working for the local hospital, which enabled me to take an entire year off work to volunteer in a developing country.

Now that you are convinced that travel nursing is the best job, here is my advice. Start with a respected agency that has existed for a few years and comes recommended. You must figure out how to be a travel nurse and the logistics of housing, pay, shifts, and hospital culture. This is easiest to learn with the help of a trustworthy agency. Once you are competent in those areas, you can be risky by finding work through the agencies that pay you more because they don’t micromanage the variables. But when you start your first assignment, the last situation you want to find yourself in is  learning your housing is a scam, and that you don’t have anyone who you can call. Next, don’t pick the agency, pick the recruiter. A good recruiter can make or break an agency. Think of them as the one constant employee with whom you must work. Traveling requires a lot of paperwork, deadlines, and long-distance organization. If your recruiter isn’t communicating well, it could cost you your housing, job quality, or opportunities. Make your recruiter work for you. They get a significant cut of the profits, don’t worry. Tell them exactly what you want, and if they are good, they will get it done.

The travel nurse’s mantra is “I can do anything for three months.” To be a great travel nurse, you need two qualities: flexibility and perseverance. You need these qualities because you are the expendable nurse. The traveler gets the bum assignments, the floats, and the tough days. Sometimes it’s not even intentional, it’s just the price you pay for not attending company Christmas parties. But those experiences make you a better nurse. In fact, if you stick with it, you may become the best nurse on the floor. That’s living the dream.