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What’s it Really Like to be a Travel Nurse? 8 Pros and Cons

For nurses who work on the same floor every shift, travel nursing might seem like a mysterious and magical career choice. And in some ways, it is all it’s cracked up to be — but in others, it’s not.

At least, that’s the perception of one travel nurse, Duffy McCaughan, BSN, who’s worked in Pennsylvania and California over the course of his career. McCaughan began travel nursing almost two years ago and went through the agency American Mobile, which has placed him at several Kaiser hospitals along the West Coast. He’s worked in telemetry, the ICU, pre- and post-cardiac catheterization, among others.

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McCaughan sat down with Florence Health to break down the pros and cons of his experience so far.

Pros of Travel Nursing

More money. While hourly rates of travel nurses can be lower, McCaughan says he’s making about double what he did at his previous employer, which was one of the best-compensating hospitals in the area. How? The stipend you receive as a travel nurse for your housing, food and more isn’t taxed, so all that money goes right in your pocket.

More autonomy. Travel nurses get to pick their assignments, so even though McCaughan recommends first-timers take the first thing they’re offered, once you build up your resume, you can choose the gig that feels best for you. With that freedom, you’re also able to see the parts of the country that appeal to you, and McCaughan says that brings him a sense of happiness that translates into his work.

Meeting new people. You’re able to grow your nursing network, which McCaughan feels has been central to his career. You also learn different styles of nursing and are exposed to new ways of performing critical tasks.

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You learn a TON. This is perhaps the most important upside! Switching environments so often hones your communication skills and adaptability. As McCaughan explains it, “When you’re not traveling, you just know the culture and flow of your floor — you don’t think twice. Traveling, you learn to ask questions, be flexible, and not be stubborn about how you think something should be done.”

Cons of Travel Nursing

Frustration. Part of being exposed to new environments, McCaughan says, is that you’ve seen different — and often seemingly better — ways of running a healthcare system. Of course, you never do anything unsafe, McCaughan adds, but at times, it can be challenging to leave behind your tried-and-true approach.

Loneliness. Not seeing the same people for more than a few weeks at a time — McCaughan’s contracts have been about three months each — can create a sense of isolation. On top of that, you might get switched to a different floor, where the faces are entirely new, in the middle of a shift.

Working with lots of personalities. The more places you work, the more people you have to deal with. The other side of advancing your communication skills is that each batch of new people poses a different set of potentially exhausting demands and quirks, McCaughan explains.

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Less of a relationship with the hospital. As a travel nurse, you exist “to fill” the hospital’s personnel holes, McCaughan says. “It took getting used to, but now I know my role, and that’s what it is.”

Ultimately, McCaughan has enjoyed his experience and he would recommend it to fellow nurses interested in seeing the country and who love being active. Just remember to make friends, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and do the best job you can. “That way,” he advises, “you’ll have even more options.”

Last updated on 10/9/19.

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