Crystal Gustafson
Crystal Gustafson
September 12, 2017 - 5 min read

Afraid of Travel Nursing – Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Be

You may have encountered a travel nurse at work, or if you are like me, have wanted to be a travel nurse since before you even entered nursing school. You have also probably heard some horror stories and common misconceptions that go along with the travel nursing profession that have made you think twice about whether or not you are up for the task. Many of these fears and misconceptions are mostly rooted in hearsay and are in need clarification.

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Ways to Combat Common Fears when Transitioning from a Staff RN to a Traveling RN

The best way to ease the fear of change is to educate yourself and be prepared. Lets address some of the more common concerns:

  • Moving to a new city: If you have never been to that city before or don’t know anyone there, it is in your best interest to let your travel agency supply your housing for you. They will make sure it is in a safe neighborhood and close to work. I recommend letting your agency find your housing for you for the first couple assignments until you get the hang of it. Prior to starting your assignment, do some research on the city you will be going to.  I have found that most cities are virtually the same; they all have Walmarts, Targets, grocery stores and malls. It’s just a matter of finding out where they are (that’s what GPS’s are for). You are not traveling to some barren land with no food and water so don’t fret.
  • New work environment: If you know that you are going to be traveling in the near future, it would be a good idea to start floating to different floors at your current hospital just to get you used to being in an ever changing work environment. Travelers do tend to get floated to different units when they are on assignment. I can tell you from personal experience the more you float the easier it gets. Remember that nurses take care of patients virtually the same everywhere in the nation. The hardest part about working on a new unit is finding out where they keep their bedpans, how to get a hold of the doctors, and what the door codes are.
  • Leaving friends and family: The first couple of weeks of any travel assignment can be very lonely, especially if you don’t know anyone close. It is important to plan for downtime and find activities to keep you busy until you make new connections. I suggest buying a kindle, finding a gym, subscribing to Netflix and doing puzzles; that’s what I did and it kept me busy. You will eventually make connections with your co-workers, neighbors and other random people, it just takes a little time. Before you leave on assignment, plan for your friends and family to come visit you. I’m pretty sure my mom visited me in every city. I also made it a point to call all my closest friends and family every Friday, just to keep in touch. Being away from the ones you love will only make you appreciate them more.

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Misconceptions about Travel Nursing

There are fears and there are misconceptions. Fears are created from the unknown and misconceptions are rooted in hearsay. I heard numerous horror stories and travel nursing tales prior to starting my first assignment, but I also heard of amazing experiences so I took the misconceptions with a grain of salt.  After all, according to pantravelers.org, there is an estimated 15,000 travel nurses actively working in the US; I figured if they could do it, it must not be that bad.  Some common misconceptions/myths about travel nursing include:

  • You have to change jobs and move every 13 weeks: The reality is that you can choose to extend your contract at any facility as long as there is a need. If there isn’t a need at that particular hospital and you don’t feel like moving, then have your recruiter find you another assignment in the same city.
  • Travel nursing is for young people: According to The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in 2010 the average age of registered nurses was 47. Hospitals want experienced nurses who know what they are doing. I have encountered multiple couples and single nurses, who are older than myself, who just load up the RV and hit the road.
  • Travel nursing isn’t a stable source of income: The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts a 19% job growth for Registered nurses by the year 2022. There is a demand for experienced nurses across the nation. Becoming and maintaining a career as a travel nurse requires a little more thought and financial planning then a staff position requires only because of downtime between assignments and the off chance that a contract gets canceled. No matter what profession you are in you should always have money saved in case of an emergency. Many companies offer matching retirement packages and a competitive salary, not to mention all of the tax benefits. Financial freedom and the freedom to travel are just some of the many benefits of the travel nursing profession.

See the country while doing what you love!

Like with any profession,  travel nursing has its benefits and downfalls.  If you are bored with the same mundane routines and are looking for something a little more challenging and exciting, then travel nursing is right for you. The money is great but the experiences are even better. You will learn and see things that you would never otherwise get to partake in as long as you stay in your comfort zone. If being comfortable is where you prefer to be, then a staff job may be the right thing for you. General Patton once said “The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important decision. That’s the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead!” Don’t let fears and misconceptions prevent you from experiencing your personal and professional life to its fullest. Be prepared, get educated and create your own travel nursing tales. 

By Crystal Gustafson, RN

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Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal on her blog at https://grassrootsprevention.blogspot.com/.

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