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Things to Think About When Considering a Travel RN/NP Assignment

As a “new grad” telemetry (and later CVICU) nurse in the mid-2000s, the words “travel nursing” evoked visions of Hawaiian beaches, Alaskan wilderness, balconies overlooking Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and the lights and night life of New York City and Chicago. Thirteen weeks of getting paid to work three 12’s a week in a destination PLUS either a housing stipend or covered lodging, too? It sounded like a way to see the world. Since my spouse and I were both nurses, we considered doing that once we both had a year of nursing under our belt- the minimum experience requirement at the time. For better or worse, once that time frame came and went, one of us was in school part- or full-time for the next ten years, and then we had kids, and so out the window went our idea of travel nursing.

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The Increase in Travel Nursing Jobs

Now, fifteen years later and nearly 2 years into the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and NPs are leaving their “normal” jobs for travel assignments, seemingly in droves. In many places, morale is low, the patient to staff ratios is up, beds are left empty due to inadequate staff and diversions are higher than they’ve been in the past. Nurses don’t have the help or time they need to give the care they want to provide. Burnout rates are high, and hospitals are telling their staff they can’t afford to increase their wages this year due to revenues lost in 2020. Combine all this with grants from the government to help pay for travel staffing in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, and nurses who have worked for certain hospitals for years or decades are considering leaving or have already left for travel assignments.

Two nurses at a local hospital shared that their traveling coworkers are making nearly double their pay to care for the same patients. What another layer of frustration to add to the degradation of morale! Another nurse at that same hospital mentioned he is seriously considering leaving for a travel nursing assignment because the difference in wages could make such a difference in his financial situation. Yet one more nurse has already left, and she was able to travel with her family in tow, staying at swanky AirBnBs and posting gorgeous photos on Instagram.

So, is this a serious trend? Should you consider the same?

5 things to consider before you quit your normal job and accept your first travel assignment.

1. Are you comfortable being fairly independent?

Travel assignments, while exciting in location (historically) or perhaps wages (in this post-COVID-era), are also tougher because you won’t have a preceptor for a few weeks to months before you hit the floor running, you won’t know all the hospital phone numbers by heart, you won’t know all the physicians by name, and you may not know where every piece of equipment is at all times. No doubt, you’re a problem solver. Are you ready for a few more variables? If you thrive on routine and consistency, travel assignments may be tough for you. But if you can take a few bumps in the road without too much trouble, or if you love a challenge, or new sights, or you get bored with the same ol’, same ol’, then perhaps traveling is for you!

2. Do you have a good support system?

If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we do, in fact, need support, and not just from our favorite streaming service. Do you have your favorite nurse or NP friend, the one you can call and vent to? Or the one that will Venmo you, so you can buy yourself a coffee on a bad day or DoorDash yourself dinner after a particularly long shift? Nursing and medicine have always been full of situations that need to be debriefed (whether alone or with someone else); will you have access to support in this way?

3. What about your people?

Will you have family or friends nearby? Can you take your family with you on assignments? Do you have kids? Can you make it home at night or on the weekends? How will you incorporate this schedule into your family life, and is it worth it for you? Only you can answer these questions. We know you take care of everyone’s family all day long, and we are so grateful; we know you want to take care of your people, too. And they want to be there for you, too.

4. Do you have all the tools you need to succeed to be a travel nurse or nurse practitioner?

Taking an assignment in a less-familiar area? Do you need a refresher on x-rays, labs, or EKGs? Maybe brush up on your ICU skills  Consider taking some time to do some nursing continuing education so feel more prepared when you arrive.

5. What are the risks vs. benefits for you, specifically?

Are you trying to achieve a specific goal, like pay off student loans, or buy a car or a house? Put your kid through college? Will a tough assignment for the short-term really help you achieve long-term goals? Do the long-game benefits outweigh the short-term costs?

There are many factors to consider when thinking about taking a travel assignment. Make yourself a pros and cons list, and work through them, weighing the different aspects and deciding what is right for you. As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

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