If you are a travel nurse, we would like to thank you for the excellent work you are doing in the world and acknowledge the sacrifices you make to care for those in need of medical attention.
Being a nurse, in and of itself, is a challenging profession. Nurses deal with long hours, low pay, difficult patients, egotistical doctors, exposure to infection, and patient deaths; just to name a few. But, at the end of a shift, staff nurses get to go home. A home where they can be with loved ones, interact with friends, and enjoy their community.
Traveling nurses, for the most part, are basically caregiving nomads who give up everything, primarily for better pay. Before we jump into the sacrifices that traveling nurses make, let’s look at some basic statistics about the world of travel nurses…
According to excerpts from an article by Zippia, they wrote, “Using a database of 30 million profiles, Zippia estimates demographics and statistics for traveling nurses in the United States. Our estimates are verified against BLS, Census, and current job openings data for accuracy. After extensive research and analysis, Zippia’s data science team found that:
- There are over 1,696,386 traveling nurses currently employed in the United States.
- 84.1% of all traveling nurses are women, while 15.9% are men.
- The average age of an employed traveling nurse is 44 years old.
- In 2021, female traveling nurses earned 95% of what their male counterparts earned.
Additionally, traveling nurses are 76% more likely to work at private companies in comparison to public companies. And, a whopping 54% of traveling nurses resign in less than a year.”
Why? It’s unimaginably difficult.
Personally, we know a traveling nurse who made it six years (only 8% of traveling nurses last that long), and she only did it so she could retire when she turned 60. She said that if she had stayed in her staff nursing position she could never afford to retire.
But, it was a VERY difficult six years.
She also experienced some of the most gratifying moments of her life, and she realized that she was stronger than she ever gave herself credit for. Which brings us to the sacrifices, challenges, and rewards of being a travel nurse.
In the sections below, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of a wide array of topics. In a future series, dedicated specifically to traveling nurses, we’ll take deeper dives into some of the challenges and benefits that our unsung heroes face on an ongoing basis. Among them… personal sacrifices, professional frustrations, and legal considerations such as state license requirements, local protocols and procedures, and tax rules that vary from state to state.
One of the special qualities of successful traveling nurses is their willingness and ability to adapt to new circumstances. This is no small feat considering that fear of the unknown is a very common human condition. But, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the fact that the ability to adapt doesn’t mean it’s painless.
Most of us choose to structure our lives around the things we love. We choose the communities and homes we live in, we choose our loved ones, and we choose our favorite shops, parks, and restaurant(s). The majority of us are creatures of habit and usually, we like things as they are.
Being a travel nurse means leaving everything they know and love for weeks or months at a time. Even simple things can be unnerving, like finding a new hair stylist, pharmacy, gym, or grocery store. Not to mention, trying to find new things they like to do in a new community. Knowing all the while, that they’ll eventually have to leave everything they’ve become attached to there as well.
Let’s dive into the sacrifices that traveling nurses make when choosing this career path…
Remember, the average traveling nurse is 44. At this age, they most likely have a spouse (or partner), children, and aging parents; that they have to leave for weeks, or months, at a time. Even the most connected families can strain under the pressure of prolonged separation, but it can also help families appreciate their time together even more.
Not only are traveling nurses leaving friends for prolonged periods, they also have the challenge of making new friends while on assignment – friends that they’ll eventually have to leave too. This can feel like a blessing or a curse depending on their point of view. It can either be heartbreaking to constantly have to leave friends behind, or they can think of it as building a new nationwide network of friends.
Communities can take years to get to know. Not all Italian restaurants, yoga studios, or workshops are created equal. When traveling nurses are on assignment, it’s like being the new kid in school. They become astute observers trying to assess who to trust, who to avoid, how to fit in, where to eat, and how to navigate new territory. It can be stressful and exhausting. But, they can also meet new people, try new things, and discover new interests.
Many traveling nurses were previously in hospital or clinic settings. Leaving well-known coworkers can be hard, but getting to know new colleagues can be even more difficult. Especially, if they are making more money than staff nurses, or if there are cultural differences. Successful traveling nurses must become masters of observation and rely on their EQ to point them in the right direction. In a very short period of time, they understand who’s really in charge, who they can trust, and who to turn to for guidance.
Homes, like family and friends, are sacred. They are special places filled with things that are loved. They are carefully designed to protect, nurture, and restore body, mind, and spirit. When traveling nurses go on assignment, they are living in someone else’s property. It takes time to understand basic things like the right settings for the shower, stove, oven, and laundry. Unlike a week-long vacation, an uncomfortable bed, harsh lighting, or loud neighbors can take their toll. The good news is, they are not obligated to a lease or mortgage, so they can always find more fitting accommodations.
Most people like their routines, even if they’re not aware they have them. The onset of Covid may have changed most people’s routines – and it probably took most people a while to find a new groove – but, we humans can be pretty set in our ways. Traveling nurses have to learn about the new facility, understand unique policies and procedures, get to know the chain of command, take training classes, and work undesirable shifts. Personally, they have to deal with everything mentioned previously. The good news is, they might realize that some parts of their old routine weren’t healthy or necessary.
Here’s where it gets dicey. Every time a traveling nurse crosses a state or county line, walks into a new healthcare facility, or takes an assignment in a different department, the rules change. The things they learned in the past, must be left behind too. It takes time and a wealth of education to understand liability issues, local and regional laws, hospital rules, etc. Taxes, for example, can be a nightmare for traveling nurses. Their home state and the state they’re working in will come after them.
(Possible) Professional Challenges
Traveling nurses may be paid better than staff nurses, but they are often treated worse. They can experience: Staff resentment, undesirable shifts, heavier patient loads, more difficult patients, floating shifts, and constant recruiter harassment.
The problems are further complicated by additional license requirements, tax rules, intense training schedules, payroll errors, and ignored contractual agreements.
Let’s take a closer look at the most important topics…
Simply put, traveling nurses make considerably more money than full-time nurses, and they usually get a stipend for meals and lodging. This can breed resentment and result in a toxic work environment. It can help to remember that this is the reason travel nurses left their staff position to begin with and actually open the lines of communication. Travel nurses are not “paid more for doing the same job.” They are paid more because of the sacrifices they have to make.
Many traveling nurses have been assigned to weekend, night, and floating shifts. According to HPC, “Not all assignments are a walk in the park. Whether it’s tense encounters with staff nurses, management, or patients, you are bound to face challenges. What matters is that you take them in stride and make the most of the situation. There’s a little bit of good in every assignment if you know where to look. Next time you’re stuck in a bad situation, think about one part of the job that makes you smile, no matter how small.”
More difficult patients
As BetterNurse.Org puts it, “It isn’t right, but we all know it happens—travelers get paid more, and this is often used as an excuse to give them the patients requiring the most TLC. Whether it’s the level of acuity, the aggressiveness of the family members, or the patient’s lack of respect for the medical staff, travel nurses always get the hardest patients.”
Heavier patient loads
The same article went on to say, “Some departments will give travel nurses heavier patient loads, which is especially challenging when they are new to the setting. When you have 8 different call lights buzzing at the same time, an angry family member on hold at the front desk, and you’re an hour behind on giving meds, just remember that the situation is temporary, and you’ll take home a huge chunk of change at the end of the day.”
Constant recruiter harassment
They also wrote, “There is nothing more annoying than getting constant phone calls, texts, or emails from people you don’t care to hear from. It’s even worse when it’s from the same recruiter over and over. You can silence your phone and start blocking numbers, but they always seem to find you. Travel nursing recruitment agencies can start to feel the same as telemarketers. It’s one of the drawbacks of entering the travel world.”
Additional license requirements
Being a travel nurse has its benefits, but even a multi-state nursing license only goes so far. Only 30 states currently participate in the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) program, but if you live or have an assignment in a non-compact state the rules get far more complicated. Luckily, there are a lot of resources available to help.
For this topic, we went to TravelNurse.org. They wrote, “Navigating taxes can be a bit different for travel nurses, compared to traditional staff nurses. From tax homes, to keeping receipts, to knowing exactly how your income will affect your long-term financial goals.
Essentially, it’s in the travel nursing agency’s benefit to keep the base rate of a travel nurse’s pay package low. So, many travel nurses have a modest base pay but will have additional stipends that they receive. In a technical and legal sense, those additional stipends — which typically cover things like meals, housing, and work-related expenses — are expense reimbursements for doing your job as a travel nurse, which is why they aren’t considered income and are non-taxable.” ***We highly recommend that you read the entire article in the link above.
The Rewards of Being a Travel Nurse
We’re not going to sugarcoat it, nursing is hard enough without all of the complications that the travel element brings to it. But, for the 46% of travel nurses that make it past the one-year service mark, it can be very rewarding.
Below you will find excerpts from an article by EveryNurse.org. Honestly, it’s positive to the point of being manic. I’m sure that any experienced travel nurse won’t buy what they’re selling, but these perks may appeal to a select few…
1. Adventurous Lifestyle
The life of the travel nurse is well-suited for individuals who tend to feel “stuck” or “suffocated” or maybe even bored going to the same workplace every day. Travel nursing provides the opportunity to explore new environments. For example, if you like to hike and enjoy new scenery, you may be able to find a temporary job in a state with multiple hiking trails. Or, you may enjoy meeting people from other areas and exploring a variety of cities and towns.
2. Control When and Where You Work
If you enjoy having a sense of personal freedom, you should consider a career as a travel nurse. In many cases, you will have the freedom to choose when and where you work and select from jobs lasting a few weeks or even just a few days. You may be able to find work in an area in which you know you have an upcoming special event, a wedding, graduation, birthday, or the like. Since many travel nurses find employment through a recruitment agency, they will have access to that agency’s job boards, so they can choose their own schedule, benefits package, and salary.
3. Perks and Benefits of Travel Nursing
Travel nurses are often compensated handsomely, depending on the location of the job and the facility. Although statistics vary widely and they seem to differ according to which “expert” you’re consulting, a general range provided by travel nursing blog BluePipes is as low as “$40,000 per year to well over $100,000 per year,” depending on the source you visit.
Although it doesn’t list travel nursing as a unique occupation separate from registered nursing, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports median pay for registered nurses for the year 2020 was $80,010 per year, or $338.47 an hour, with a growth rate of 9 percent, which is higher than average for all occupations as a whole. Moreover, agencies sometimes provide housing, pay many of the expenses, and offer numerous other tax-exempt perks.
4. Work for an Agency
A large variety of nursing recruitment agencies exist that maintain active job boards, which provide multiple opportunities to find employment in the area of specialization of your choice. Angelina Gibson, reporting for Nurse.org, says that working with a number of agencies, both on the local and national level, will help you find the exact type of employment you seek.
Working with an agency gives you access to jobs that pay extremely well, including so-called “rapid response” crisis assignments or during a facility strike. Other assignments available through these agencies, such as “destination locations” like Hawaii, typically don’t pay as well – although they do provide the opportunity to vacation while you work.
5. Variety in Career Experience
Each time you accept a new assignment, you will learn new skills and get experience at facilities across the country, ranging from small rural hospitals, where you’ll be required to work in every position, to large, urban medical centers, where you can specialize in the nursing area of your choice.
Every experience helps you grow as a nurse and makes you more attractive to prospective employers. As Brittany Hamstra, BSN, RN, says in a blog post, as a travel nurse, you’ll gain exposure to “new environments, new coworkers, new clinical skills [that] will enable you to reach the next level of your potential.”
There may be a kernel of truth buried somewhere beneath the jazz hands of that article, but in reality, the perks are determined by the travel nurses themselves. We don’t need to remind you about the satisfaction of caring for patients with ill health – that is the reward for staff and travel nurses alike.
But for those who experiment with travel nursing – or stay in it for the long haul – the benefits can vary wildly. Maybe it’s strictly a monetary reward some travel nurses seek. Some may just need time away from their families or staff position to gain a new perspective on life, while others may enjoy the novelty of working in new healthcare environments. Some travel nurses may have lost a loved one, and are trying to find themselves “out there,” while others may not know where they want to live or work, and this is a great way to supplement the search.
Whatever your reason for being a travel nurse, we salute you. You are heroes in our eyes. If you are looking for tax services, we hope you will consider Davis & Hessel as your go-to team of devoted experts. Our knowledge of the tax laws for travel nurses is unparalleled, and we have no doubt you’ll feel at home here… no matter where you are in the world.