The combination of pandemic burnout and poor pay has caused massive nursing shortages, impacting rural and underserved areas at the highest rates. As a result, many hospitals look to travel nurses to fill gaps in staffing. Nurses who heed the call earn impressive wages on short-term contracts. In extreme instances, they bring home nearly $10,000 per week, according to an NBC article.
Travel nurses earn their high wages by contending with extreme situations. These professionals often work long hours and perform the most challenging tasks in any facility.
Travel nursing is only suitable for some. This article explores the pros and cons of being a travel nurse. It covers:
Travel nursing stands out as an excellent career. These professionals are in demand and receive many perks. This article summarizes some of the most prominent pros and cons of travel nursing.
Pay is the number one pro of travel nursing jobs. These professionals typically earn a much higher wage than permanent staff. The draw of travel nursing pay is so strong that it's contributing to shortages at rural hospitals. These nurses commonly earn $5,000 to $6,000 per week, though their income can reach as high as $10,000 per week. They may also receive stipends for food and travel. Glassdoor notes that travel nurses earn an average annual income of $100,000 per year. Specialized travel nurses, including those with trauma, geriatric, or psychiatric focus, can command an even higher wage.
Travel nurses may receive a benefits package with health insurance, depending on their staffing agency. They may also garner additional compensation for housing and meals, depending on their location and contract length.
Hospitals can cancel their contract with a travel nurse for any number of reasons, including poor performance, failing a test, or a lack of funding. Travel nurses who cause harm to a patient can also face severe consequences, including being barred from earning a new contract with a specific hospital, group of hospitals, or agency.
Travel nurses may receive housing stipends depending on where they work and for how long. They may even house themselves in camper vans or RVs, allowing them to pocket that stipend money.
Each hospital may employ unique methods and policies. For example, travel nurses may need to obtain access codes to navigate essential equipment or rooms. The fact that travel nurses typically earn more than permanent employees can also cause discontent amongst hometown nurses.
Though learning unique systems at new hospitals can be challenging, it can also be beneficial. Not only can you meet new people and expand your nursing network, but understanding different systems can lead to marketable career skills. Travel nurse agencies, permanent hospitals, and other medical facilities often value versatility.
Hospital politics may cause administrators to block shifts for travel nurses' into fewer days, rather than spread them out over the week. Nurses who live close enough to commute back home during their off days don't experience this drawback.
Other hospitals may abuse scheduling privileges by booking travel nurses at off hours while favoring staff nurses for better shifts. Regardless of their schedule, travel nurses work through their contracts without much downtime.
Seeing different parts of the country (and world) constitutes a benefit of travel nursing for many. Agencies often let travel nurses choose where they work, making options for locales seemingly limitless.
Being away from home can be especially difficult for travel nurses with families. NPR followed one such nurse, who started traveling during the pandemic but decided to cut back to provide stability for her daughter. Travel nursing may mean missing important events like birthday parties and holidays. Getting out of a travel nursing contract due to an emergency is possible, but the road to cancellation can be arduous.
Maintaining a healthy routine can also be challenging while constantly on the road. Homesickness can take its toll, even when making new friends in new cities.
Travel nurses face unique licensure requirements. First, they must earn a basic nursing license. Several education pathways lead to becoming a registered nurse (RN); a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is optimal but not required. Still, agencies typically prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree over those with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Schools typically offer BSNs as either traditional four-year undergraduate degrees or accelerated programs for those with a bachelor's in another subject who want to start a nursing career.
Graduates from accredited nursing programs sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). It tests essential competencies. Those who pass complete any additional state licensure requirements before receiving their license.
As a travel nurse, your license may not always transfer between states. The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) reciprocity agreement allows out-of-state nurses to work in participating states, but 13 states—including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington—don't participate. Some non-NLC states offer a temporary walkthrough license. If neither of those options is available, however, you may pursue an additional state license.
Travel nurses typically have a few years of experience in a traditional setting. Requirements depend on the agency and role—trauma nurse positions can require more experience, for instance. Opportunities usually increase with experience level.
Travel nurses can also land better positions by obtaining certificates, such as Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN), Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN), and Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN).
Travel nursing does not require a master's degree. However, advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), including nurse practitioners (NP), qualify for higher-paying jobs. These professionals are better-trained and typically more experienced than RNs. They may even practice without physician oversight. NPs have an advanced degree—usually a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)—and hold an advanced license.
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