By Sarah Wengert
As a nurse, you feel it in your mind, body, and soul — and you see it in your colleagues’ weary eyes. Between an ever-growing nurse staffing shortage, an increased need for patient care, and a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, nurse burnout is at an all-time high and nurse mental health is suffering.
“I’ve been a nurse since 2014, and I love people, but I could not find my niche in nursing,” Alyssa Gainer, RN, said. “I switched jobs every one to two years, and after COVID started, I was ready for a new profession.”
Gainer, a Medical Solutions traveler, could’ve packed it in then, leaving an already struggling healthcare industry with one less nurse during a pandemic. But traveling gave her a path to keep going in nursing.
“I had friends that were traveling, and I love to travel, so I thought, ‘Let’s do it!’” Gainer said. “My husband and pets travel with me, and it has been such a blessing to go to hospitals that sincerely appreciate you being there.”
While she’s enjoying the journey — 7,000 miles so far, filled with “breathtaking views” — it’s also helped improve her mental health and recenter her focus on patient care.
“Travel nursing changed my outlook on being a nurse,” Gainer said. “I feel like I’m actually making a difference, and I’m no longer burnt out! I get to take breaks in between assignments, and I cannot express the joy of being a traveler.”
Luckily for Gainer, becoming a travel nurse gave her a new career outlook, and she addressed her own mental health while she continued to care for her patients. Unfortunately, Gainer isn’t alone as many nurses face burnout and mental health concerns.
Are the Nurses Alright?
Nurses tend to be strong, stoic in many situations, and so used to caring for others that they sometimes forget to care for themselves. While many Americans suffer from mental health issues, nurses have faced heavy personal and professional mental health burdens during the continuing nursing shortage, increased need for patient care, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In February 2023, Medical Solutions conducted a survey on mental health benefits — answered by 260 Medical Solutions travelers. The survey revealed a lot about nurse mental health and how travel nursing can improve it! We started by asking people to rate their overall mental health, and 55% said it was “good” or “excellent,” 28% “neutral,” 15% “somewhat poor,” and 2% “poor.”
In a series of questions, 56% of clinician respondents affirmed they have difficulty sleeping, 56% often worry about things that are out of their control, and 35% are often fatigued to the point that it impacts their ability to function. Another 16% reported they have difficulty seeing the positive in things.
But it’s not all bad news! We were happy to see 65% of respondents say their mental health was better since becoming a travel nurse than it was when they were on permanent staff. They said they felt the following aspects of travel nursing help improve their mental health: 90% said less involvement in workplace politics, 83% said flexibility to choose jobs/locations, 71% said better work/life balance and change in environments, 32% attributed the improvement to better support as a travel nurse, and 11% said agency-provided mental health support.
In the same Medical Solutions survey, 61% of travelers responded that becoming a travel nurse actually improved their willingness to continue working as a nurse! This is very significant because it shows that travel nursing is actually keeping nurses working in the healthcare industry — which has great benefits for nurses, patient care, and facilities during the ongoing nurse shortage.
As many nurses know, taking care of your mental health is also important to your physical health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), people with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population, and those with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions. Data from NAMI also shows mental health issues can lead to substance abuse and an increased risk for unemployment.
Mental Health Care Solutions
The Medical Solutions team works really hard to put our travel clinicians first and consider them as whole people — body, mind, and spirit. While we know your recruiter is incredible — a rock, a sounding board, and overall accomplice in the great world of travel nursing — sometimes you have a concern you need to discuss with an objective person. For those times, we offer an amazing Employee Assistance Program (EAP), free to all our current travelers. It provides access to various mental health resources and tools, including 24/7 virtual and in-person counseling sessions with licensed providers (up to five free sessions per issue per calendar year!), crisis lines, on-demand videos, webinars, forums, advocacy contacts, and other similarly helpful resources. Your EAP also extends to your immediate family members and can offer help with relationship and parenting issues, depression, anxiety, stress management, substance abuse, grief, work conflicts, child and eldercare concerns, financial issues, and more.
Code Lavender is also a great program for clinicians and staff facing a serious, in-hospital trauma. A Code Lavender team usually includes hospital chaplains, social workers, holistic certified nurses, trained volunteers, and others who quickly deploy (ideally within 30 minutes) to support a member of the facility’s team with a variety of helpful interventions meant to stabilize them mentally and emotionally.
Another Nurse Helped by Travel
Jennifer Randolph is a Medical Solutions ER RN who’s been in nursing for nearly 20 years.
“I’ve held many titles and roles, but my most proud is being an emergency room travel nurse,” Randolph said.
When the healthcare world changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and nurses faced an unprecedented level of mental and emotional strain, she decided to jump out of her comfort zone and try travel nursing.
“Travel nursing has come with an enormous amount of personal and professional growth,” Randolph said. “I’ve met so many amazing people along the way, and it’s renewed my spirit and desire to be the best nurse I can possibly be.”
Take that nurse burnout! Randolph said the best part for her is she knows this is only the beginning of her career renaissance — a journey that so far proved inspiring and reignited her passion for nursing.
“I never thought that at this point in my career I’d be traveling the United States and enjoying life so much,” Randolph said. “I’ve found a company that supports its nurses and a recruiter who truly has my best interest at heart… it’s brought new life and opportunities to this grateful nurse — and definitely proven it’s never too late to try something new.”
Currently on assignment in Prescott, Arizona, she said her career in travel healthcare is the “best decision I’ve ever made” and it’s increased her overall happiness both personally and professionally. Randolph’s travel “resume” now reads like that of a great adventurer.
“Travel nursing has been the opportunity of a lifetime for this Midwestern girl,” she said. “I’ve not only flown high in a hot air balloon in Scottsdale, then conquered Thumb Butte Mountain, I’ve gone off-road in a Jeep taking in all the beauty of the Red Rocks in Sedona, and I’ve toured Jerome, Cottonwood, and Clarksdale where we took a passenger train ride in Verde Valley Canyon. There have been so many sunrises and sunsets that I would’ve never had the opportunity to see otherwise.”
For Gainer, adapting her career to travel nursing was a major help in addressing her nurse burnout. But she says it’s also just been a very good time!
“God opened a new path for me, and I am grateful for Medical Solutions for making the journey very fun,” she said. “We’ve traveled over 7,000 miles since starting and have seen the most breathtaking views. If you’re considering traveling, I say do it! It truly has changed my life.”
Sarah Wengert is a senior creative content specialist at Medical Solutions.