Three years into a high-stress Las Vegas nursing career, Stacey Schiedel, BSN, RN, was at wits’ end.
“I know 3 years seems like a short amount of time to get burned out, especially as a new grad, but nursing in Las Vegas is crazy stressful,” Schiedel reflected. “The best way to describe working conditions is nonstop insanity.”
The surgical ICU where she worked buzzed. Nurse-to-patient ratios were high. Internal politics, sour. Schiedel recognized it as a toxic environment and knew she needed a change.
Enter, travel nursing.
“A friend suggested I come out to Orange County and work as a per diem travel nurse. I did, and I loved it,” said Schiedel. “A couple of months later, I found myself working in Australia. I’ve never looked back.”
Schiedel is one of more than 25,000 RNs working as travel nurses in the U.S., according to estimates from the Professional Association of Nurse Travelers (PanTravelers).
Travel nurses contract with travel nurse staffing agencies, who themselves contract with hospitals and other health facilities seeking experienced nurses to fill open positions. Most assignments last 8-13 weeks and cover travel, housing, meals and even health insurance.
In return, hospitals expect their travel nurses to hit the ground running.
“Travelers have to be thoroughly knowledgeable in their specialty before they begin this career path,” said Phil Light, RN, PanTravelers president. “Hospitals hire travelers because they have a serious staffing problem, and they need someone who can perform their job extremely well.”
Schiedel credits her time in Las Vegas with helping her become a stronger nurse. The skills she developed made way for a lifestyle she finds better suited to her personality.
Travel nursing also allows her to split her time between Orange County, Calif., where she works and enjoys daily runs “with the sun on my face and the ocean as my soundtrack,” and Denver, where she shares a home with her husband and 9-month-old chocolate lab. “I go home for a week every month and typically take a few weeks off in between assignments,” she said, adding that living apart from her family for weeks at a time can be challenging.
For now, however, the payoff is worth it.
“This position I’m currently in is actually the most exciting nursing job I’ve ever had. It’s a busy trauma center, so we see and treat an amazing variety of patients and injuries. We’re always on our toes,” said Schiedel, who writes about travel nursing on her blog, Adventures of an American Nurse. “It’s hard work, but there’s never a dull moment. I love this position so much that this is the third assignment I’ve accepted with them.”
Light joined the world of travel nursing in 2004 when, with his children grown and on their own, he decided the time had come for something different. He quit a long-held job in the emergency department and hit the road for what, he expected, would just be a couple of years.
“Living in the southeastern U.S. where nursing wages are relatively low, I succumbed to the appeal of traveling to new and interesting locales while being paid well to do it,” he said.
Almost a decade later, Light is still traveling, hooked on the adventure and the perks.
In addition to seeing the sites, travelers see up-close and personal how nursing is practiced in different parts of the country. Keep an open mind, Light advised, and you can benefit from the opportunity.
“Some techniques may seem strange to you,” he said. “You must be flexible and tolerant.
“Remember the axiom, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ You’ll have amazing opportunities to learn new skills that you’d never get if you stayed at one facility or in one geographic region for your entire career.”
Light admits to missing home-a cabin in the woods of Burkesville, Ky.-from time to time.
Frequent breaks between assignments ease that, he said, illuminating yet another perk of travel nursing: Travelers decide how many assignments they take, and when they take them.
“As a traveler, you can schedule as much time off as you can afford,” he said. “This year, I plan to spend the entire spring and summer sitting on my deck.”
In the nine years she’s been a travel nurse, Candy Treft, RN, has worked in more than a dozen states, including: Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
She also took a yearlong gig working for the Department of Defense at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany.
All the movement has helped her deal with a diagnosis she calls “hypertravelosis”: a person with an uncontrollable need to travel.
“I get to travel all over the U.S.-and get paid to do it! I’ve learned a ton from working in different facilities and units,” said Treft, who writes about travel nursing on her website, thegypsynurse.com.
“Many will tell you that the pay is the best benefit, but I disagree,” she said.
“I make less as a travel nurse than I would as a full-time nurse because of lack of benefits and no paid time off. But I love the freedom that travel nursing allows. I can choose when and where I want to work. I am in control.”
Thanks to travel nursing, Treft, a med/surg nurse who usually accepts two contracts a year, sat in the stands at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Oct. 27, 2004 and witnessed the Boston Red Sox defeat the hometown Cardinals in Game 4 to win their first World Series in 86 years. Three years later, she accepted a job in San Francisco, where she would watch Giants outfielder Barry Bonds surpass Hank Aaron’s homerun record.
Though it’s a lifestyle many thrive on, travel nursing isn’t for every personality.
On its website, PanTravelers recommends this test to gauge whether travel nursing is a good fit: Go to a popular restaurant on a busy Friday or Saturday night. Leave your phone, book and any other distraction behind. Sit. Eat. Reflect. Did you enjoy your meal without concern about how others saw you, or were you uncomfortable and embarrassed?
If the task intimidated you, travel nursing might not be the road you should travel.
Mona Clayton, BSN, RN, took her first travel job earlier this year and admitted to finding the off hours lonely sometimes.
“I did not expect to get homesick because I love to travel,” said Clayton with a laugh. “But when you are there, and you don’t know a lot of people, you are kind of on your own. Unless you take a friend with you.”
Sometimes when the feeling struck and she had a few days free, Clayton would commute home to Los Angeles, a 45-minute flight from where she was working outside Sacramento, Calif. Her on-the-job experience, however, was warmer.
“The nurses at that hospital were so helpful and welcoming. They even held a potluck when I left,” said Clayton, who plans to supplement a publishing side business with travel assignments through year’s end. “Leaving was bittersweet. If they would just move that hospital and the nurses here to Los Angeles, I’d be set.”
When labor and delivery nurse Joyce Merrigan, BSN, RNC-OB, RTSBC, signed on as a travel nurse in early 2011, she skipped over opportunities in far-away places like Texas, California and Alaska to accept a position that really interested her at Jersey City Medical Center (Liberty Health) in Jersey City, N.J. It was an hour’s drive from where she lived in Clinton, N.J.
“In addition to personal and professional growth potential, one of the really great things about travel nursing is it gives you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the culture of a facility prior to a potential offer for permanent employment” said Merrigan.
Liking what she saw, Merrigan renewed her assignment with the facility several times before eventually accepting a job as a per-diem labor and delivery RN. Recently, she was offered and accepted the full-time patient care coordinator position for Liberty Health’s postpartum newborn nursery.
“This facility was the perfect fit for me” Merrigan said. “My one and only travel assignment led to a place to call home.”
After learning about travel nursing from other nurses, Brandon Sterling, BSN, RN, CCRN, left a job in the medical cardiac ICU at Texas Medical Center, Houston, to log nine months as a traveler.
The experience led him to New York City, where he made lifelong friends and learned about burn care from some of the same nurses who cared for 9/11 victims. He also worked in Temple, Tex., Los Angeles and Riverside, Calif., where his recruiter helped him end an assignment early due to lax patient care that, he felt, endangered his license.
Sterling returned to Texas Medical Center to work on the same unit, same shift he had left less than a year before, and happier than ever.
“Being raised as a nurse in a top-tier facility with the highest recognition in nursing, Magnet, it was difficult to transition to facilities that did not have that high regard for nursing as my first facility did,” he said. “The grass was definitely not greener.”
is a freelance writer.