The Potential Downsides of Travel Nursing

downsides,nurse,Travel
Written by
Ana Gotter
June 29, 2022

Travel nursing has been around since the 1980s, but it’s been catapulted into increased popularity (and need!) since the COVID-19 pandemic began, along with the associated nursing shortages. 

With the average travel nurse pay being around $50 per hour, it’s easy to see why so many nurses have considered temporarily relocating to work at understaffed hospitals. That paycheck is hard to say no to.

If you’re considering travel nursing, there’s no denying that the pay is outstanding. There are, however, a few potential downsides of travel nursing that you’ll want to keep in mind when deciding whether it’s right for you. 

Let’s take a look at the five most significant potential downsides of travel nursing. 

1. You Need to Relocate 

It’s right there in the name — travel nursing. 

You might get lucky and find a contract at a nearby location that maybe just means a slightly longer commute compared to your normal one. (As a note, though, you can’t collect the non-taxed housing stipend if you take a travel nursing contract that’s within 50 miles of your home.)

In many cases, though, travel nursing is going to take you out of the city and across state lines.

For some nurses who love a change of pace, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might be a bit of a hassle to find lodging or accommodations, but they love the adventure.

For some, though, it can be difficult. It may mean the following:

  • Parents being away from their children, as they can’t pull the children out of school and don’t want to relocate the for temporary contracts
  • Losing local support, like a neighbor who might let your dog out or the friends who join you for a drink on a bad day 
  • Needing to keep up with maintenance of your home even while you’re away, whether that means watering plants in your apartment or ensuring your lawn is mowed regularly
  • Pausing local memberships or subscriptions for fitness studios, massages, and more 
  • Being away from spouses or romantic partners who can’t follow you due to their own work and life responsibilities 

2. The Contracts Are Only Temporary 

Travel nursing contracts typically last around 13 weeks, though some may last up to 26 weeks. This depends entirely on the contract and the needs of the healthcare organization in question. 

Some contracts may be renewed after they’re over, but to qualify as a travel nurse (and receive all the pay benefits involved), you will eventually need to move again. 

Again, this can be either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you’re looking at it. 

Some nurses find this appealing. It’s a quick in-and-out way to make a nice chunk of cash. 

Others, however, might find it stressful, especially if they want to continue with travel nursing once the existing contract ends. Right now, there are many contracts open, but they may not necessarily be in places that you want to live in even for a short period of time.

It’s also important to note that because these contracts are temporary, you typically won't get much — if any — available time off. Paid time off (PTO) isn’t something that’s offered consistently with travel nursing contracts. 

3. It May Complicate Your Existing Employment 

Most employers aren’t going to be particularly thrilled if their best nurses waltz into their offices and ask to take time off to go work for someone else. Especially if they themselves are already dealing with a staff shortage.

Some hospitals might allow you to take any built-up vacation time to work as a travel nurse or to take a temporary leave, but many will not.

As a result, you may need to permanently walk away from your existing job. 

And even if you know you can get it back, that comes with disadvantages — including the loss of seniority. It’s also possible that your exact position may not be available if and when you want to come back, relegating you to other teams you may not love as much as the one you’re working with now. 

4. You Might Have Contracts Canceled at the Last Minute 

This is a very real threat for travel nurses: There’s virtually no real job security, and contracts can be canceled last minute.

As a result, it’s crucial to have money saved if you’re working exclusively as a travel nurse so that you’re not left out in the cold between assignments. 

If you do find yourself in this situation and need cash fast, PRN nursing work is something you should consider. You can pick up a few quick shifts through a Nursa a healthcare staffing app  to take on individual shifts that pay well and that work within your schedule.

5. You Don’t Know What You’re Walking Into 

If you love (or even just really like) the team you’re working with now, you may want to reconsider travel nursing.

You never know exactly what you’ll be walking into. 

You could easily end up working with more toxic teams, bad leaders, or difficult coworkers.

It’s possible that with no seniority you could get stuck with the worst shifts or the nightmare patients that no one else wants to deal with.

The hospital policies will almost certainly be different than yours, and that can be overwhelming to learn — especially since some travel nurses only get a few days of training before they hit the floors. 

Final Thoughts on the Downsides of Travel Nursing

It’s easy to see the appeal of travel nursing, especially for young or child-free nurses who have the ability to relocate relatively quickly. The pay is great, you get to explore new cities, and you may get to test out different hospitals to see what you love if you aren’t ready to settle down where you are.

It’s important to remember that while the money is great, if you see the reasons discussed above as disadvantages instead of perks, the money may not be worth the trouble. 

If you do want to find a way to make more as a nurse but don’t want to relocate or give up your current position, consider PRN work instead. 

PRN work allows you to snag shifts at healthcare organizations around you as wanted or as needed. They typically pay well because the shifts are available to address staff shortages. And if you hate working at a particular facility, here’s the good news: You can just never go back to that organization again; you aren’t locked in for three months. 

Are you considering taking on a travel nursing contract or working PRN? First, talk it over with other nurses who are thinking about the same thing — or have taken the leap themselves! Get involved with our community to share with and learn from other nurses. 

Ana Gotter
Blog published on:
June 29, 2022

Meet Ana, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who specializes in content about nursing finances, career pathways, and nursing education.

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