Travel nursing is an essential component of nearly every healthcare system. When there’s a shortage of nurses within a region or facility, these adventurous healthcare pros step in to fill the gap and ensure patients get the care they need.
But while it can be a lucrative and exciting path, it’s not for everyone.
As with any role, travel nursing comes with several advantages and drawbacks. Some nurses love the freedom, flexibility, and variety of experiences that come with a travel position, but others prefer to set down roots.
To help you decide whether or not you want to pursue a career as a travel nurse, we’re sharing a few pros and cons.
Pro: You’ll Enjoy an Adventurous Lifestyle
If you’ve ever wanted to sample a nomadic lifestyle without giving up your profession, travel nursing is an excellent choice. You’ll enjoy multiple changes of scenery throughout the year and have an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture more than you can on a week-long vacation.
Typically, assignments last about three to six months, but contracts can be much shorter (i.e., six weeks) or longer (i.e., one year) depending on the healthcare organization’s need. In some cases, nurses may be able to extend their contract if they’re enjoying a location and the facility has an ongoing demand.
Con: Logistics of Frequent Moves Can Be Challenging
Of course, frequently moving from place to place can be difficult from a logistical perspective. You’ll have to grapple with frequent packing and unpacking, booking transportation, finding lodging (such as extended stay hotels or short-term rentals), and getting to know your way around a completely new city (or country, if you’re an international travel nurse). You may also have to manage your insurance between contracts and adjust to new climates and time zones.
Travel nursing agencies may assist with some of these things, but it’s a good idea to anticipate handling most of this yourself.
Pro: It Can Increase Your Earning Potential
Some nurses find that they make more money through travel positions than they do in permanent roles — especially if their permanent job was in a state or area that pays below the national average. For example, the average salary for nurses in Mississippi is more than 22% below the national average, according to data shared by Forbes. If a nurse from Mississippi took an assignment in California, where nurses make nearly 42% above the national average, they’d likely enjoy a hefty pay increase.
Con: You May Need Multiple Licenses
Nurses will usually need to have an active license for each state where they work. If you want to take a job in a state where you don’t yet have a license, you’ll need to obtain one. (If you’re working internationally, keep in mind that requirements vary between countries.)
The good news is, most states offer a straightforward licensing process. Additionally, some travel nursing agencies help with licensing paperwork (and even pay the fees). But, either way, not having a license can impact your ability to take assignments on short notice.
Pro: You Can Explore Multiple Working Environments
Travel nursing can offer you a great deal of professional growth — especially if you’re early in your career and haven’t had an opportunity to work in various settings. As a travel nurse, you may work at large hospitals, small hospitals, trauma centers, teaching hospitals, veterans’ hospitals, and more. You’ll also get to interact with different EHR systems, processes, and protocols, which can help you expand your expertise (and will look good on a resume).
Con: Your Position May Require Less Ideal Shifts
Facilities usually hire travel nurses to fill a gap, which might mean scheduling them on nights, weekends, or variable shifts. You may be contracted to float between departments and even work outside your focus area — which can be challenging for some.
Additionally, while you have some control over which positions you take and where you go, availability is based on demand. Sometimes you may have to take jobs in focus areas or locations you’re not excited about. (The good news is, it’s temporary.)
Pro: Helping Underserved Populations Can Be Fulfilling
Most people go into nursing because they’re naturally compassionate and caring individuals seeking to make a difference. With travel nursing, you’ll have an opportunity to work in underserved communities, such as low-income areas, where people need your expertise most. Often community clinics, homeless shelters, addiction treatment centers, and elder care facilities have a disproportionate need for nurses. Working in these environments can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.
Con: You May Experience Homesickness and Loneliness
As nurses know, having a solid support system of friends and family is crucial to your mental well-being and ability to stave off burnout. But frequently picking up and moving can make it difficult to establish close-knit relationships, and physical distance can strain existing relationships. While nurses can travel with a partner and/or children, and many do, the nomadic nature of the job isn’t always sustainable for families.
Travel nursing is a unique opportunity, and while many nurses love this lifestyle, not everyone is suited to it. Before you take the plunge, carefully weigh the pros and cons and consider reaching out to a few current travel nurses to get their perspective. This way, you can make the best career decision for your needs and interests.