Travel Nursing vs Staff Nursing – Which One is Best for You?

First of all, congratulations on being part of such a noble profession! Nurses are, always have been and always will be, a critical part of our cultural, medical and economic tapestry. We couldn’t exist without you.

Within the enormous field of nursing, there exists a multitude of specialty areas. Different patients, different departments, different responsibilities…a nursing career is chock full of interesting, challenging, sometimes career-boosting, choices.

Pros and Cons

One such choice is what we’ll be discussing here. If you’ve ever considered whether to become a staff nurse (or continue working as one) versus stepping out into the exciting world of travel nursing, it’s important to know some of the pros and cons in each area.

Just like anything else, there are pluses and minuses for any choice that’s being offered. Sometimes one side completely overwhelms the other and the decision is crystal clear.Other times, the competition is much closer and it often comes down to what’s important to you.

Can you live with those two negatives because that one positive item is *your* most important consideration? Is that one negative point so bad it overshadows whatever good things are listed?

Ultimately, the choice you make will come down to what’s most important to you. But hopefully, the following items will help you make a more informed decision.

Staff Nursing

So we’re all on the same page, staff nursing, in this context, refers to being on staff at a hospital.

There are many other places you may work “on staff” as a nurse such as schools, doctor’s offices and clinics, but the hours and responsibilities are very different from those of a staff nurse in a hospital.

Pros

  • Consistent, regular hours and routines – While your days off may change, most of the time you’ll work the same shift, frequently in the same area, so your overall routine remains fairly consistent
  • You develop a friendship with your co-workers – A camaraderie develops when you work with the same folks over an extended period of time
  • You work in a familiar environment – You know where everything is in the hospital, and the quickest way to get to it.
  • There are often opportunities to work in different areas of the hospital if you want to: In many cases, as openings become available in other departments or in supervisory roles, you’ll learn about them before the general public.
  • You become very comfortable in certain aspects of your job – You know who to call for wound care or to start a difficult IV or central line. You get to know the special needs of patients who return frequently and you’re familiar with the technology you use on a daily basis.

Cons

  • There may be (and often is) workplace drama or gossip – Almost no workplace is immune to these things, they exist anytime you’re working with the same people month after month and year after year.
  • You have no real options in the assignments you’re given – You can’t decide to just not work for a while. You’re expected to be at work unless you’ve specifically asked off and had it approved ahead of time.
  • There exists the possibility of become bored with your job – While you may think it can’t happen, it can. After doing the same type of work every day, after a time you may find it no longer challenges you. Your critical thinking skills may suffer, even some of your technical skills can suffer if you never or rarely ever perform them.
  • The job may become very stressful, for any number of reasons – Overwhelming workload, not enough help, working with someone you just don’t get along with, or an unreasonably demanding supervisor.
  • You may be required to work holidays, nights or weekends, or on occasion, you may be asked to work double shifts.

Travel Nursing

Travel nursing, for our purposes, refers out of town assignments, generally lasting 13 weeks, in which you travel to another city or state to work at a specific hospital assigned to you by a travel nursing agency.

There are other travel options available, such as local travel and international travel, but that information goes beyond the scope of this article.

Pros 

  • One big benefit to travel nursing is the salary, which is typically a good bit higher than what’s available to staff nurses, even those with a lot of experience or a long nursing career.
  • As a travel nurse, your career is accelerated – By accepting different assignments, you can keep your skills current, even expand your expertise by learning new skills.
  • You get to choose where and when you want to work – Don’t like the cold? Take assignments in the south during winter months. Prefer the countryside to city life? Rural hospitals hire travel nurses too.
  • Sign on bonuses, stipends and weekly pay – Travel nurses are not actually paid by the hospital, they’re paid by the agency they work with. Many times a sign on bonus is offered to join an agency or to take an assignment where the need is urgent. There’s often a weekly stipend offered to cover meals.
  • Housing allowances – This varies between agencies, some provide living quarters for free and others pay a housing allowance. And most agencies direct deposit your pay each week, instead of every two weeks like most staff nurses are paid.
  • You’ll make friends while you’re there, but you’re not usually there long enough to get enmeshed in office politics, drama or gossip. That’s a big plus.
  • You can take time off in between contracts – Travel nurses can take weeks, even months off between assignments. Some travel nurses make enough in six months that they don’t work at all the other six months of the year!
  • Generally speaking, travel nurses are not expected to work on holidays during their assignments.
  • Another benefit travel nurses enjoy is the adventure – Not only do you get to travel to a new area, you’re there long enough to do some sight-seeing on your off time.
  • In the event you have a personality clash with someone, you know there’s an end date in sight, so you don’t have to deal with it for long.
  • Your agency has your back (or should have if you’ve chosen a good one) from the time you hit the road until you’re safely back at home. This goes for troubles on the road, problems with your housing, or issues in the workplace. You can rest assured, knowing your recruiter is your new best friend.

Cons

  • Obviously the biggest negative of travel nursing is…well, the travel part. If you’re trying to raise a family, it may not be a good fit for you. The good news is you *can* travel with a spouse, friend or companion, and depending on the agency, you can take a pet along as well.
  • Travel nursing lacks the stability of staff nursing. You can usually find assignments back to back if that’s what you want. But you may flounder a bit if you don’t have something lined up and there’s nothing currently available in your area of expertise.
  • You may have to learn a new electronic health record (EHR) system with each new assignment. Depending on the hospital, you may get some help with this, but oftentimes, travel nurses are expected to know what they’re doing, and you’ll need to be a self-starter when it comes to learning how to use new pieces of equipment.

It All Comes Down to You

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to both areas of nursing. In the end, it really comes down to what’s important to you and what you want to get from your nursing career.

If you’ve got other questions about travel nursing, please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’re happy to help!