By Sarah Wengert
You’re considering a career in travel nursing — but there are so many questions to answer before you decide to take your first travel nurse assignment! Many aspiring travelers wonder things like: Is it worth it to be a travel nurse? Are travel nurses happy? How much time off do travel nurses get? What benefits do travelers get? Is being a travel nurse fun? Is it stressful?
Compensation and benefits are always important, but many of these questions center around work-life balance, stress levels, and personal happiness. In the already stressful field of nursing, people who are curious about becoming a travel nurse want to know if travel nursing will be any more or less stressful than their permanent jobs. So, is travel nursing stressful? Ultimately, every person and assignment are different, which can mean a different answer for each individual situation. Always remember that a good recruiter is your best defense against stress as a traveler.
Since travel nurse stress can be such a personal calculation, here are some pros and cons to help you determine potential stress levels for yourself — plus some workarounds, resources, and strategies to help you navigate common stressors of travel nursing!
Stress assessment: Travel nursing means you likely start in a new location, facility, and unit every 13 weeks.
Travel nursing jobs vary in type and length but the most common duration is a 13-week assignment.
- A fresh start several times a year! You get to explore a new city and state on your days off. The happiest, most stress-free travelers take time for adventures big and small. Just being in a new setting and getting to press that reset button so often makes a person feel lighter and less stressed. It’s a really unique benefit of travel nursing, so take advantage of it!
- Freedom from hospital politics. As a travel nurse, you will find yourself lighter at the end of the work day just because you can avoid the gnawing quicksand of workplace drama. Often, travelers also don’t have to participate in hospital committees or attend certain meetings. Less stress, more “me time” for you!
- Making new friends all over the country. Whether you meet them on the job, in your apartment complex, or at the cool, local coffee shop, new friends are a great joy and a great antidote to stress.
- It takes a flexible, adaptable person to be successful as a travel nurse. You’re regularly changing your home and workplace address, your friends and colleagues, your commute, your weather, and so much more. This is invigorating to most folks but to some it causes stress. You should evaluate if this will work for you. However, the great thing about travel nursing is that if your job or location are causing you stress you can always switch it up after your contract — even if that means deciding to go back to perm nursing.
- You may get homesick. As the Girls Scouts say, “make new friends but keep the old.” It’s great that you’re making new friends, but don’t forget that your longtime friends and family are just a text, Facetime, or Zoom session away! If you ever feel homesick or in need of a pep talk from a friendly face — especially at the start of an assignment — simply phone a friend. It’s a great way to lessen stress.
- What if you fall in love with a location and/or facility and it actually causes you stress to leave? Well, maybe you don’t have to leave, or, you could come back! Many travelers use travel nursing to shop cities or jobs. Kind of like getting a sample of ice cream before you buy the whole pint. Remember that nothing is too permanent in travel nursing. If you’ve fallen in love and it stresses you out to leave, talk to your recruiter to discuss staying a bit longer or doing travel-to-perm.
Stress assessment: With travel nursing you have to learn a new hospital layout and new ways of doing things at every new facility/unit.
Travelers have to learn the basic geography of every new unit/facility as well as the rules of the road, so to speak, and how they do things there.
- The great thing about working in a new facility and learning new ways of doing things is the learning part! Travel nurses become stronger overall clinicians by working with various personalities, patients, systems, and other such variations. If you only worked in one unit of one hospital your whole career, your skills and experience would be far more limited. Travel nursing offers you expedited professional development opportunities.
- All of this learning and practicing new skills and methods, plus working with a variety of patients, makes you a more versatile nurse — and that is wonderful for your resume! Whether you’re seeking perm or travel jobs in the future, you’ll be a stronger candidate. And that’s a long-term stress reducer for every future job application and prospect!
- Learning even the layout of a new building while also navigating a new commute in a new city can be stressful for sure. A great way to avoid this stress is to prepare for your assignment, get organized, and study up as much as you can beforehand. If you have an extra day or two in town before orientation, take the time to map and even do a test run of your new commute. Go as far as to explore the parking situation and even pop in to tour the facility and your floor, if possible. Getting acquainted is super helpful and will lessen your stress on day one. If time does not allow for this, pop onto Google Maps to map your commute and explore the location. Your recruiter can also offer a treasure trove of first day instructions and details, so be sure to lean on them for help reducing any first day stress. They’ve guided many a traveler through the first-day gauntlet!
Stress assessment: You continuously have to find your next travel nursing assignment.
This can cause anxiety for some but remember that your recruiter is your partner in this effort and will guide you through.
- You have a secret weapon: Your recruiter! A good recruiter will check in with you frequently during every assignment to make sure you have everything you need along the way. In doing so, they’ll also be tracking what works and doesn’t work for you in assignments and calibrating for your next opportunity.
- You have options. If you like your current location and facility, and their staffing need remains, you might have the option of extending your contract there and staying put a bit longer. Or, if you’re ready to blow that pop stand, there are likely dozens and dozens of new jobs for you to choose from.
- Time is on your side. Your recruiter will likely start the “what’s next?” conversation about 6-8 weeks ahead of the end of your current assignment. This gives you plenty of time to plan and avoid stress.
- Again, you get that fresh start after every assignment. A new city to explore, new friends, and another new setting where you can learn and expand your skills. This prospect helps many travelers minimize stress.
- Most travelers absolutely thrive on the possibilities and actually enjoy working with their recruiter to search for their next great gig.
- Uncertainty can be scary and that can cause stress. Minimize this by giving yourself plenty of runway to decide on your next assignment. During your current job ask yourself, “Is this a place I’d want to extend?” and if not, “What am I looking for in a job or location that I’m not getting here?” You know yourself better than anyone, so search your soul along the way and maybe even take notes in a journal throughout your journey so you don’t have to struggle to remember every day and detail at the end of an assignment. The better you know what you want, the better you’ll be able to communicate that to your recruiter and find the right fit for your next assignment.
- Too many options can cause decision paralysis, which can lead to stress. Avoid this by making your needs for each assignment clear to your recruiter. Travel nurse recruiters are excellent at filtering through job options for each individual and presenting a few great contenders. Be sure to lean on your recruiter and partner with them in your search — they are there to serve you!
Stress assessment: Travel nursing means you’re there to help an understaffed unit/facility.
Remember, travelers are brought in to help when any number of situations cause a facility to be short-staffed.
- You get to step in and help your new, overburdened colleagues avoid nurse burnout. You’re like a relief pitcher and you get to come in and save the day. You’re there to minimize stress not to absorb it. Most of your new colleagues will really appreciate your efforts as it will lessen their load and stress on their part.
- In addition to helping your fellow nurses, your presence means better nurse-to-patient ratios and allows for safer, higher-quality patient care. When you’re working a new travel nursing job and you see that your presence is making a huge difference in both your co-workers’ and your patients’ lives, it’s an intensely gratifying feeling.
- In the beginning of an assignment, you may find yourself getting the less desirable patient assignments because you’re the new kid on the block. But coming fresh and ready to help, most travelers aren’t too bothered by having to pay their dues upon arrival. And remember, you are there exactly to give the perm staff this kind of relief. If you quickly prove yourself as a team player, your new colleagues will respect you and you’ll fit right in!
- Similarly, you may be the first one asked to float. But a quality travel agency/recruiter will always have your back if you’re ever asked to float to an area where you might be putting your license at risk. Just keep in close touch with your recruiter on this, they can help! Some travelers will even specify certain units they can safely float to in their contract.
- You have to come in humble and ready to help. You’re not there to teach them to reinvent their wheel or point out better ways for them to do things on day one. You’ll need to be sure you’re OK with coming in and seamlessly joining their team. This can be difficult for some but taking this approach will actually help lessen stress on your part.
The Final Word
So, is travel nursing stressful? In the end, nearly every one of these pros and cons is the flipside of the same coin! What some might find stressful, others might find invigorating. What some might see as an insurmountable obstacle, other might see as a skill-building challenge. The good news is that as long as you work closely with your travel nurse recruiter at every step of the way, you should be able to avoid many of the common stressors travel nurses face. If you’re ready to take the next step and find your perfect recruiter match, apply now to get started. Applying doesn’t commit you to anything right now — it just lets you get started talking to a recruiter and asking them questions. You can also search travel nurse jobs to explore current opportunities.