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Changing Travel Plans – Is It Worth It?

  • Is travel nursing worth it? You may be asking yourself this question after seeing countless nurses make the transition into the seemingly lucrative route. 
  • Nursing shortages, burnout, and pay have driven many out of their traditional staffing roles and searching for travel assignments. 
  • But is it all that it’s made out to be? Find out for yourself, right here. 

Catherine Glynn

RN, MSN, CCRN

September 12, 2022
Simmons University

Is Travel Nursing Worth It?

Ask any travel nurse is travel nursing worth it? They will likely tell you the money makes it worth it.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a travel nurse was $73,300 per year, but there are opportunities to increase that figure just by knowing some insider tips and tricks.   

is travel nursing worth it considerations

Location Matters

The real estate market scream’s location, location, location.  Well, the travel nursing market marches to the same drum.  East Coast, West Coast, and Texas are the areas that pay travel nurses the best wages, whereas the southeast and Iowa pay the least.   

It stands to reason that the pay is higher because the cost of living is higher, and employers need to allow for that factor. However, beware that “destination assignments” like Hawaii do not always compensate parallel to the cost of living. 

Rapid Response Assignments

One way around this pitfall is to watch for rapid response assignments.  Travel nurses willing to hit the road at the drop of hat are in high demand as healthcare facilities are expanding and new facilities are opening.   

Patient census is ambiguous at best when a facility opens its doors for the first time or even simply expands. These assignments typically last 2-12 weeks but come with a mere 2–3-day notice.  These opportunities require an always ready attitude from the travel nurse.  Credentialing and licensure should be ready to go.   

Crisis response nursing opportunities are another avenue to up the salary you can earn as a travel nurse.  These opportunities are like rapid response in that the turnaround time in immediate leaving little time for planning.  Crisis nursing is typically in response to unanticipated, large scale, and/or tragic incidents.   

Natural disasters and pandemics are the foundation for crisis response nursing.  These opportunities are not for the faint of heart.  These nurses jump into the fray and respond during times of high stress and panic.

Certifications

As in any line of work, specialization pays.  Travel nurses can significantly elevate their compensation by bringing specialty certifications to the table.   

Staffing agencies will pay nurses with certifications significantly higher wages particularly in the most sought-after specialties including OR nurses, Labor & Delivery, and Critical Care.  The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) projects the nursing shortage to intensify particularly as the Baby Boomer population ages requiring additional healthcare services.   

Surgical nurses specialize in patient care before, during, and after a procedure.  Perhaps, recovery is the most critical window of time and requires the careful eyes and vast knowledge of a specialized nurse.   

The Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN) predicted a 2% increase in surgical procedures annually starting in 2018 forcing administrators and OR directors to up the matrixes of these departments.  Increases like these have left some facilities scrambling to meet the need and travel nurses are uniquely positioned to answer the call.     

is travel nursing worth it no

Taking the Night Shift

Get to work when its dark, leave work when it dark.  This is night shift.  Some of us are morning people, some aren’t, but regardless night shift pays better.  Employers offer night shift differentials that can be substantial.  Compensation can be a percentage of your or a fixed dollar amount, but when multiplied by a 40-hour week the figure is nothing short of enticing. 

Compensation is typically the most important factor in deciding to embark on a travel nursing career, but its not the only reason so many nurses are choosing this pathway of nursing.   

Not Suitable for Everyone

Travel nursing is ideal for the many types of nurses.   

For example, a young nurse that has not started a family yet and feels stifled or suffocated with the same grind is well suited for a travel nursing gig.  This nursing allows for the exploration of new places and cultures and maybe helps one choose where to put down root.   

It’s also well suited for the older, empty nest nurse looking for new adventures.   

Travel nursing puts one in charge of where they go, when they go, and what they do.  Many agencies offer the traveler perks and benefits sheltered from the taxman thus increasing the pay.   

Housing stipends are calculated according to the cost of living in the area.  This affords the travel nurse increased flexibility and may even find housing less than what the stipend allows for, which is just more cash in the bank.  Stipends are not counted as income, thus non-taxable.  These stipends can be for housing, meals, transportation, etc.   

Flexibility

Finally, the incentives of travel nursing include many of the same benefits full-time RN positions do, but with added flexibility.  Standard contracts can range from 8-52 weeks except rapid response and crisis response contracts which vary in length depending upon the circumstances. Retirement packages and insurance programs are standard from most agencies. 

Many agencies reimburse for licensure, certifications, and continuing education.  As agencies continue to compete for the limited number of RN’s, they are enhancing their benefits, perks, and incentives to include things like sign on or completion bonuses, referral bonuses and loyalty enticements.   

is travel nursing worth it yes

The Bottom Line – Is Travel Nursing Worth It?

Let’s ask the question again, ‘is travel nursing worth it?’ 

Travel nursing is one avenue to avoid the inevitable burnout.  Each new assignment is a change of scenery and sometimes even culture.  It is easy to view new assignments as “working vacations”.   

In addition, these nurses are often viewed as saviors when they arrive at an assignment and fill a gap, hole, or need in the schedule.  Lastly, travel nursing presents the ideal strategy to avoiding workplace politics.  Filling a short-term need positions the travel nurse perfectly to avoid politics, bureaucracy, and drama in the workplace.  Imagine a life without committees and unit meetings.   

While this type of work may be adventurous and rewarding to some, others may find the concept nightmarish.  Every nurse considering these opportunities should take a personal inventory of self, identify all the pros and cons, rate what you can live with short term and what you can’t and assess the impacts of being on the road on family and other relationships.  Then and only then decide whether to jump in head first or not.   

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