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What Are the Hardest Parts of Being a Travel Nurse?

Apr 20, 2021
Paige Sams, RN

A lot of people—both inside and outside of the medical field—tend to understand the benefits that draw nurses to become travel nurses; As a traveler, you will constantly receive commentary along the lines of “It’s so cool that you get to go explore all different places for your job!” or the oh-so-classic, “You must be making a killing doing that!” 

There are indeed some really stellar things about this unique career, but there are also some challenging parts as well. It’s okay to recognize them, talk about them, and work with your nursing community on ways to remedy them! 

Below, I explore six of the major pain points of this profession as well as some solutions to help make the most of these challenges during your time as a traveler!

1. Living Far Away From Family and Friends 

This is one of the primary reasons I hear that many nurses choose not to take the plunge into travel nursing at any point in their career. However, you can address this concern by doing the following!

Make plans for visits

Ask for time off to be written into your contract (if allowed), and plan trips with your loved ones before you even leave! This will give you something to look forward to when you are homesick.

Exchange photos and video calls

Luckily, we are living in the modern age of technology, and there is no shortage of ways to connect... even if you are far from home.

Stay busy

Make new friends, explore new places, and even enjoy some alone time. Bask in this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you’ll be home again in no time missing all the adventure! 

Travel with your crew

You can apply and work assignments together with a travel pair, or bring family along with you to your new homes if your situation allows. This can make anywhere feel like a home away from home!

man jumping between rocks in front of sunset hardest parts of being a travel nurse

2. Learning Each New Facility & Breaking Into the Status Quo There 

It can take a while to get to know the new computer charting system and where things are in the supply closet as well as the personalities of the people that you’ll be working with on a daily basis. Staff nurses can often be weary of someone walking into their unit and messing with their status quo. Here’s how to address that.

Ask questions!

You will learn some things in your very brief orientation, but you will still be left with a lot of questions as they arise in situations throughout your assignment. If you don’t know where something is or how it’s done, ASK!

Every facility is a little different, and even the most seasoned travelers have to learn mountains of new things at each assignment. 

Put your patients’ safety first

Trust yourself and your nursing ability. When in doubt, always refer back to the facility’s policies to make sure that you are performing patient care safely by their guidelines.

Kill ‘em with kindness

Work hard and lend a hand to your fellow nurses when you can. Show them who you are as a nurse and as a person, and the initial intimidation will wear off. You’ll have a whole slew of new friends by the end of your assignment!

Be on the lookout for other travelers

Other travelers are likely experiencing the same things you are, which often makes you all instant friends. You can work together to be helpful resources and provide a comfort zone in the chaos.

3. Establishing and Maintaining Consistent Habits

Consistency can be hard when your life and career are everything but. Here’s what you should focus on.

Set intentions ahead of time and start early

If you have changes or goals you want to make during your time at an assignment, start developing these on day one. It can be hard to start or break a habit once you’ve gotten into a routine during your first few weeks in a new place.

Bring your comfort items

Plan ahead and pack things that will help you stay on track during your assignment. 

Locate resources

Do your research before you make the move: find a grocery store near your house, a gym near the hospital, etc. If you can, join organizations with nationwide locations so that you can seamlessly transition from assignment to assignment. 

woman in front of landscape holding up stick athlete good habits hardest part of travel nursing

4. The Inability to Plan Ahead

A lot of nurses are BIG TIME planners — we manage our days by the minute from 0700 to 1900 while at work, so it’s fair to say we want to do that outside of work too, right? Oftentimes you don’t get very much information on an assignment or schedule until a few days before you are starting. 

Sometimes it’s not until you’ve already arrived at your new location and have moved into your new three-month housing situation! Here’s how you can start planning ahead now. 

Get—and stay—in contact with your manager directly about scheduling

Building a personal relationship with your manager at the facility can prove to be very helpful as a travel nurse. Since you are there to fill their needs, they do expect you to be flexible, but they also understand that you are a real person with a life and needs of your own. Many managers will honor scheduling accommodations from time to time as long as they are not too overzealous.

Repeat or extend at locations where you have established rapport

If you are at an assignment (or have the chance to revisit a location) where you already have a relationship with the manager there, and they are willing to work with you to build you a suitable schedule, go with it! This can provide some consistency and flexibility in a career that is usually anything but.

Ask for time off in your written contract

If you have something you know that you NEED off for during your assignment, ask for it to be written into your contract! You can’t get too crazy with these requests, and some facilities won’t accept any at all, but it is always a good idea to be open about those from the beginning and ensure you have the days off for say, your sister’s wedding where you have Maid of Honor duties. 

empty road in between trees stretching for miles travel nursing challenges

5. Finding Providers/Self-Care Option in Each New Place 

PCP appointment for medication refills? Tooth cleaning at the dentist? Quick hair trim? These are not always easy to schedule when you are moving somewhere new every few months.

Plan ahead

Keep an organized schedule of your needs so that when you know you have upcoming appointments, book in advance to make sure you get a spot as a new patient or customer. You can also make plans to tackle these when you are able to visit home or somewhere you have established providers. 

Use resources

Do some research in the area to find a place that will suit your needs for care. It may be helpful to gain some locals recommendations, although internet reviews are a pretty trusty resource these days as well. You can use your insurance portal to find nearby providers in your network and help utilize the many resources available to you.

6. All Things Financial

Travel nurse finances… this is where the fun begins. There are a few areas of finance that you will master once you have a few travel nursing contracts under your belt.

Taxes

Taxes can be a headache as a travel nurse. There are some great resources to help you get started on your own, but consulting a tax professional can be extremely valuable to help with these unique scenarios. 

401Ks

Retirement savings accounts are not generally offered throughout the travel community. Make sure to set up a personal account and set goals for your contributions.

Insurance

Insurance can be hard to reconfigure every three months. Stick with one travel company if you can, transition as quickly as possible between assignments to prevent lapses, and be prepared to seek personal coverage.

The above six points may provide challenges for you as you find your way in the world of travel nursing, but they also provide incredible opportunities for personal growth and development along the way! 

The experiences—both good and bad—inside and outside of the hospital walls will help to build strength in both your personal life and career. 

Once you decide if travel nursing is right for you, it’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The experience you will gain is well worth it, and the pros far outweigh the cons. The key is being as prepared as you can be, prioritizing open communication, and rolling with the punches.

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