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Travel nursing – is it worth it?

by Lindsay Wilcox

The travel bug bit Andrew Craig and his wife, Sarah, hard when they returned from their honeymoon to Scotland. Though he and Sarah were already working as nurses, Andrew didn’t think it would be possible for them to work together and make road-tripping a reality — until he discovered travel nursing jobs.

How do you learn more about travel nursing jobs?

“I knew a travel nurse on my unit, and his life seemed so exciting to me,” Andrew, a progressive care nurse, recalls. “I kept asking him a ton of questions and ultimately met his recruiter. Just a couple months later, Sarah and I took our first assignment together at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.”

Since that time, Andrew and Sarah have traveled to more than 40 states, driven more than 40,000 miles, visited Las Vegas twice, and took a Caribbean cruise. In 2016, they lived in four different states and took a two-month vacation from work.

“I like being known as the traveler, because there is a certain amount of notoriety that comes with this life,” Andrew says. “It’s exciting to share our adventures with people.”

What do travel nurses do?

“Travel nurses work the same way staff nurses do. We care for patients and put in 12-hour shifts and 36-hour work weeks,” Andrew says. “Generally speaking, we have the same education, we have the same clinical experience, and we have the same jobs as staff nurses.”

Andrew notes that travel nurses fill positions created by the country’s nursing shortage. As a result, their jobs are unique and not as stable in some ways.

“Travel nurses have to find a new job every three months, and these jobs are not guaranteed. Though it’s uncommon, a hospital can cancel at any time,” Andrew says. “We move around the country pretty frequently, and we do have to deal with unusual tax issues, like a permanent tax home. We also have to find temporary housing.”

Should I do travel nursing?

“The short answer is absolutely,” Andrew says. “I love the adventure, and I love the financial opportunity travel nursing provides. I have grown professionally because of the multitude of experiences I’ve had all over the country.”

While the most noticeable benefits are the pay and the opportunity for adventure, Andrew says he appreciates the perks many people don’t see when they consider travel nursing.

“I love being separate from the unit politics. As a traveler, I don’t need to go to meetings, and the people often don’t drag me into the drama of the unit,” he says. “I go to work, do patient care, make new friends, and leave. It’s as simple as that.”

Is travel nursing worth it?

“Everyone’s life circumstances are different, and your definition of what’s worth it will be different,” Andrew says. “It depends on your life priorities, but I’m all for travel nursing!”

He recommends you think about whether travel nursing:

  • makes financial sense
  • will give you the adventure you want
  • can offer a change from a mediocre job
  • can improve your life circumstances

“You only live once. It’s exciting to have the opportunity for travel nursing while you are happy, healthy, and capable,” Andrew says. “That could change at any moment because life is so unpredictable.”

What are the biggest challenges of travel nursing careers?

“You’re away from family and friends, and you miss out on life events like birthdays and holidays. You also have a very short orientation, anywhere from hours to a few days,” Andrew says. “As a travel nurse you’re expected to be very independent from day one, because the hospital assumes you have enough experience for new and strange environments.”

Another challenge is being floated to other units where you don’t have as much experience. While it isn’t ideal, Andrew suggests making the most of this situation so you’re available for more jobs.

“One of the travel nurse’s roles is relieving the staff nurses. We’re often working in places that are severely short-staffed,” Andrew says. “When you refuse to float, it makes you less valuable.”

Finally, Andrew notes that some travel nurses are not treated as well as staff nurses.

“I’ve heard of travelers getting heavier patient loads while the rest of the nurses have cushy assignments,” he says. “While it doesn’t always happen, you should be aware of it if you plan to work as a travel nurse.”

What should you know before you take your first travel nursing job?

“Pack light, invest in an accountant and, when on assignment, befriend the unit secretary. They’ll know everyone and know how to contact doctors,” Andrew says. “You’ll encounter weird, unusual, unsafe, unethical, and outdated practices, but don’t publicly criticize the staff. Instead, kindly encourage a different way. Be friendly because you are a guest in their home.”

Finally, Andrew suggests being an amazing nurse that others want to work with.

“Treat your assignment as a learning opportunity and a job opportunity,” he expresses. “Sarah and I have been offered jobs at every place we’ve worked. It’s nice to feel wanted.”

How do you travel and work with your spouse?

Andrew says some people would go crazy driving to and from work, spending their shifts together, and then seeing each other at home. Fortunately, he and Sarah have some ground rules that make their professional life work.

“We strive to have open and honest conversations if there’s ever issues. And we’re really good about not carrying our personal life or personal issues into the workplace,” Andrew says. “It is challenging to get to a place where you can comfortably work with your spouse. It takes practice and time. We learned how to be very supportive of each other.”

Though they’ve worked together for two years, Andrew says he and Sarah have avoided arguments at work and continue to love their adventures while traveling.

“You have to develop rock solid communication with each other, but I think bringing spouses and partners along while traveling is a good idea,” Andrew expresses. “We have met some amazing people while we’ve been together!”

Andrew Craig, RN, PCCN, has been travel nursing for more than two years with his wife, Sarah. Connect with him at AndrewCraigRN.com and on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more travel nursing resources.

About Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a healthcare writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.

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