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Travel Nursing is Always an Adventure

Travel Article   (2,043 Views 37 Replies 1,328 Words)
by tinyRN72 tinyRN72, BSN (Member) Nurse

tinyRN72 has 6 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Cardiovascular Stepdown.

4 Articles; 2,495 Visitors; 71 Posts

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As an experienced travel nurse, I want to share the good, bad and the ugly about traveling. This article describes my experiences as a travel nurse. If you are thinking about getting into travel, you should read this article to learn what it is really like.

Travel Nursing is Always an Adventure

I have often been asked what travel nursing is like and here is my answer:

“Travel nursing is a wonderful, adventurous, lonely, miserable, exciting, stress-inducing job that is not for the faint at heart, but so fabulous!”

I actually did say just that to a class of nursing students who invited me to be a guest speaker recently, and I believe that every word is true. 

Understandably, this description might sound crazy to you, but allow me to explain.

I planned to be a travel nurse from the time I enrolled in nursing school. I knew that I needed to get two years of experience under my belt, so I took the first job that I could with that two-year goal in mind. I got my RN license in January of 2013, and I left home for my first travel gig on January 1, 2015. Life after that was a whirlwind of adventure, constantly starting over, and searching for a new job every 13 weeks. But it was also so great!

I am here to tell you what it is really like to work as a travel nurse, and how to prepare if you would like to take on this unique position. As stated before, you need two years of experience. In some cases, any experience will do.  I worked in home health for one year, and I worked in a hospital on a cardiovascular step-down unit for one year. My first travel assignment was on a medical / surgical overflow unit. This job was easy to get, but my experience didn’t quite prepare me for what I was getting into. I went from a nurse to patient ratio of 1:4, but then jumped into a new position where I suddenly had to learn how to juggle 7 patients with 7 different diagnoses.  Needless to say, I was overwhelmed, but I stuck it out and learned how to adapt. I recommend getting a full two years experience in a hospital before taking a travel assignment, and I also suggest that you take a travel job in a similar unit at first. This will give you time to adjust to the challenges of being a travel nurse. 

The one year of experience that I had in cardiovascular step-down was enough to land travel jobs in this area, which I have done as often as possible, but I can’t go into any level higher than this because no hospital wants to train a travel nurse, which brings me to the next topic.

In short, travel nurses get little to no training or orientation. That first assignment gave me a full week of hospital orientation, just like all their other new employees. On the unit, I was only given 2 days of orientation, which I later found out was a lot. 

As a travel nurse, you are expected to be ready to go almost upon arrival.  I have been given as much as 2 days of unit orientation and as little as 4 hours.  This time is intended to give you time to learn the documentation system, and pretty much nothing else. You are expected to be proficient in the department that you are contracted to work on. The first week or two are always sort of rough because you must learn where everything is located; you have to get acquainted with new doctors and other staff; you need time to get used to a new EMAR, and you must look up every hospital policy for everything you do. It is challenging, but I found that I got better at it with every assignment.

Because travel nurses are meant to be a quick fix to staffing shortages, you will not be trained in a new unit. So, if you hope to work in the ER, get that training before you start to travel. The same is true with ICU, pre/post-op, cath lab, and any other specialty. The only way to get a hospital to train you in these areas is to take a full-time job and plan to work there for a while. 

I may have given a glum impression of travel nursing up to now, but there are some big reasons why travel nursing is completely wonderful. First, you get paid well, in most cases. Travel nurses help hospitals in times of staffing need, and they pay a premium for this. Because you must travel away from home, your compensation includes room and board reimbursement. This part of your pay is tax-free, so you get to keep more of your paycheck.

The pay can be a bit confusing at first because there are several factors to consider. You need to make enough money to keep your bills paid, and you need to cover a place to stay while on assignment. While most agencies offer to provide you with a furnished apartment or hotel, I found that taking the stipend and making my own living arraignments to be more profitable. Some companies will try to underpay you, so you must do your homework before you sign the contract. Make sure that you research what housing will cost and be sure to negotiate with any hotel that you may want to use. You will be there for 13 weeks or more, so you can usually get a pretty nice discount.

Another reason (my favorite) that travel nursing is great is that you get to travel. Imagine being on vacation all the time! That is what I felt like. I worked my 3 days per week, but on my days off, I was in an all-new area to explore. Travel nursing allowed me to see new parts of the country and make good money while doing so.  Do you have a dream destination? Travel nursing will allow you to immerse yourself there for over 3 months! My husband and I had so much fun during our travel nursing years.

Travel nursing also allows you to get exposure to many different people, hospitals, working styles, and ways of doing things. You get to meet people all over the country and many will become lifelong friends. Though I have had some lonely experiences where the staff was “cold” to travelers, most places welcomed me open heartedly.

One other downside to travel nursing is the uncertainty of the next assignment. I mostly traveled to areas where I could spend time with my family, so I was always looking for very specific areas to work in. For this reason, I often didn’t know if I would be working until the last minute. For people who just want the adventure of traveling the country, this will not be such a challenge. For me, it was stressful at times, but more flexibility on my part would have remedied this easily.

I loved the 5 years I spent as a travel nurse, even with the challenges that come with it. Sometimes I want to take a new contract again (which I can do any time I want).  I grew as a nurse by being exposed to so many different hospitals. I also learned to be self-reliant, adaptable, and open to new experiences. I have experience with just about every EMAR there is, and I know that I could learn a new one quickly. I have met wonderful people and seen wonderful places. If you have the itch to try out travel nursing, I highly suggest that you go for it! 

One last tidbit: if you are worried about getting to a new assignment and hating it, the motto of the travel nurse is: "I can put up with anything for 13 weeks, 12 hours at a time." I hope that this was helpful to those who want to know the truth about travel nursing. 

Happy travels!

4 Articles; 2,495 Visitors; 71 Posts

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2 Followers; 1 Article; 44,497 Visitors; 5,292 Posts

Certainly one of the best posts I've seen on travel nursing! This coming from a 25 year travel nurse.

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tinyRN72 has 6 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Cardiovascular Stepdown.

4 Articles; 2,495 Visitors; 71 Posts

Thank you NedRN. I feel like I spoke the truth. 🙂 

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819Nurse has 14 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in LTC/SNF,LTACH,Orthopedic,Case Management.

7,295 Visitors; 434 Posts

thank you for your post!! i most definitely wan tot do travel nursing at some point in my career, i just had my reservations. But your post has certainty helped ease some of those. Thank you for your transparency and honesty! 

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tinyRN72 has 6 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Cardiovascular Stepdown.

4 Articles; 2,495 Visitors; 71 Posts

Your welcome 819Nurse! If you have any specific questions, just let me know. 

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myoglobin has 11 years experience as a ASN, BSN, MSN and specializes in ICU, trauma, neuro.

3,632 Visitors; 504 Posts

Other perks based upon extensive conversations with many travel nurses, and travel nursing friends (but not personal experience):

a.  Low expectations. My buddy Dave who took a travel nurse position with his wife in the LA area said they would barely let him do an "insulin drip" in their ICU (Dave had about ten years experiences at a Level two neuro trauma unit, and about 5 more in every other kind of nursing). I like low expectations.

b.  Lack of personal politics.

c.  Almost everyplace he travels is way better than HCA in Florida. He was amazed that he actually got lunch breaks in California. His first experience seeing a lift team was a bit like Bill Nye the Science guy encountering a Bigfoot in the wild.

d.  Much of your income is not taxed especially if your spouse is taking the free housing (and you are getting the housing check). 

e.  No home maintenance and the housing that travel nursing companies provide is often close to bars and restaurants. 

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tinyRN72 has 6 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Cardiovascular Stepdown.

4 Articles; 2,495 Visitors; 71 Posts

Yes! These are also great perks of being a travel nurse. I have to admit that I find it insulting when a hospital has low expectations of travelers. I have only really seen this in one hospital. In this case, I was not allowed to care for s/p open heart patients. 

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2 Followers; 1 Article; 44,497 Visitors; 5,292 Posts

I’m surprised you’ve only seen this once. No matter how good a traveler’s work history might appear, it is only prudent to not give them the most challenging cases until proven. There are liability concerns on top of natural professional protectionism. Also, in many hospitals, difficult cases are reserved for staff training. 

Open heart recovery and NICU are the two specialties where this happens the most but it can happen in any unit. 

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tinyRN72 has 6 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Cardiovascular Stepdown.

4 Articles; 2,495 Visitors; 71 Posts

If it happened it wasn't obvious. I mostly found that I was given every single angry, rude, confused or combative patient. Lol

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Swellz has 6 years experience and specializes in oncology, MS/tele/stepdown.

9,431 Visitors; 626 Posts

23 hours ago, myoglobin said:

a.  Low expectations. My buddy Dave who took a travel nurse position with his wife in the LA area said they would barely let him do an "insulin drip" in their ICU (Dave had about ten years experiences at a Level two neuro trauma unit, and about 5 more in every other kind of nursing). I like low expectations.

I have not found this to be true as a MS/tele/stepdown travel nurse lol

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1,389 Visitors; 58 Posts

Any advice for a nurse thinking about stepping into the traveling game with family? I would be bringing along my husband, baby, and two dogs. We are both burnt out in current jobs and looking to move to a new area. Figured traveling would give us a taste of many area before we decide to uproot out while lives permanently. Any advice or thoughts is welcome. I am a level III nicu nurse with three years experience. Also experienced in home health. 

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tinyRN72 has 6 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Cardiovascular Stepdown.

4 Articles; 2,495 Visitors; 71 Posts

I have worked with other travel nurses who took the whole family. These two nurses had RVs, their spouse took care of the kids and they home schooled. It can be done. Those nurses made it a lifestyle.

There are travel home health jobs too. 

When I travel my spouse comes with me, but he is an independent computer programmer, so he just needed internet to work. 

I would say that 1) you need to make sure the contract would pay enough to cover your expenses or 2) if your spouse is a nurse you need to negotiate opposite work days. It might be a challenge to find short term child care. 

Those would be the things I would think about when traveling with kids. Traveling is a great way to find a new place to live, but also keep in mind that you most likely won't be able to take a contract and then stay on permanently. There are non compete clauses in the contract. While it's not impossible, the hospital will need to pay the agency a large sum to keep you. The other options include getting a permanent job in a different hospital in the area you like, or leaving the one you like for a year then going back as an employee.

I hope this helped. 

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