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August 28, 2019  | Updated: May 13, 2020

Category: Medical Careers, Nurses

There’s a lot to consider when deciding between becoming a staff nurse at one facility or a travel nurse at many facilities. It’s not only the location of where you’ll work that differentiates the two, but it’s also the pay, benefits, time off, requirements, and more.

To get a better idea of the differences, we reached out to Ashley Goodwin, a staff registered nurse (RN) at a hospital in San Antonio who used to be a travel nurse.

How long have you been a nurse and at how many facilities?

I’ve been a nurse for seven and a half years. As a staff RN, I have worked at four different hospitals, and as a travel nurse, I worked at six different hospitals.

In what ways has being a staff nurse differed from being a travel nurse?

In most cases as a staff nurse, you’re hired as an at-will employee and don’t have to sign a contract (unless you’re moving to a position where they’re offering a bonus, in which case you sometimes do have to sign a contract).

With travel nurses, though, everything is done through a contract, which determines how long the assignment is, how much time off you get, your hourly wage, what shifts you get, and so on.

What were some of the benefits of being a travel nurse?

The benefits I found were:

  • Depending on the contract, you really can make some good money through bonuses and housing stipends.
  • If you don’t like where you work, you’re only there until the end of the contract, which is usually 13 weeks.
  • Since nurses generally only have to work three 12-hour shifts a week, you can go explore the city you’re in on your four days off.
  • You don’t have to put up with hospital politics.
  • You don’t have to go to staff meetings.

What were some of the downsides of being a travel nurse?

Some of the downsides included:

  • If there’s not a need for your specialty, there is no job (though this seems to rarely happen).
  • Most contracts are 13 weeks, so you are packing up and heading out every three months unless you extend your contract.
  • You’re away from most of your friends and family while on contract unless you’re lucky enough to have them come see you (which, I think with all of my contracts, I had people come visit me).

You often have to re-do all of the online learning for each hospital you work at, which is quite cumbersome.

How has being a nurse differed in each city you’ve worked in?

Each region has its own “common” diagnosis. For example, I saw a lot of psychiatric care in Washington; a lot of dialysis in Texas; some cases of Lyme disease in North Carolina, which I hadn’t seen before; and so forth.

Also, all hospitals have particular ways that they treat common diagnoses. It was a good learning opportunity to see the different clinical practice guidelines that hospitals had set in place.

In what ways is being a travel nurse better than being a staff nurse?

Mostly autonomy and independence. The thing I loved most about travel nursing was being able to choose where I want to work, the shift I want, and the time off I need. Since everything is contracted, you will get what you want. The assignments are so quick, so if you don’t like it, you can leave and go somewhere else. Most of the time you can even negotiate a bonus for overtime shifts or a sign-on or completion bonus. So, you can make more money if you negotiate correctly.

In what ways is being a staff nurse better than being a travel nurse?

Permanence. Some people dislike not knowing where they are going to be working in 13 weeks. I also like being close to friends and family.

Some people would also argue that the benefits of staff nurse roles are better, but that is dependent on the travel company you work with. Paid-time-off can typically only be gained working staff, though I have heard of a couple of travel companies that will give you it after 1 or more years of working with them.

Why did you decide to stop being a travel nurse and become a staff nurse instead?

When I was traveling, my specialty was pediatric emergency. I wanted to broaden my resume and start working in adult emergency as well, but since travel companies will only give you contracts in areas that you have over a year of experience in, I couldn’t. Now my full-time job is in adult emergency and my per-diem job is in pediatric emergency—so it’s perfect.

What advice do you have for someone thinking of becoming a travel nurse?

I always tell staff nurses, “If you ever have considered becoming a travel nurse, just do it.” I feel like I learned so much while traveling about nursing in general and myself. If you don’t like it, it’s only 13 weeks and then afterwards you can go find a staff position somewhere. But most everyone loves the experience and being able to explore.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yeah. With travel nursing, seniority is not a thing. They will not accept new graduates since they have no experience. The minimum requirement is one year of experience. I suggest at least two years of experience to really get comfortable. Also, taxes can be difficult for travel nurses because they require you to have a tax home to get the stipend and you have to be 50 miles from your tax home to quality. And you don’t really get evaluations through the company as a travel nurse, but you can ask co-workers at facilities to write a short evaluation for your file. Lastly, orientation depends on the facility and types of accreditation they have. On-unit orientation is usually three shifts.

The consensus

So, as you can see, it’s not perfectly clear which of the two roles is better. Whether you’d be happier with the nomadic life of a travel nurse or staying put as a staff nurse comes down to personal preference. But hopefully, you’re better equipped now to make the decision.

For more information on the travel nurse role, be sure to check out the “Pros and Cons of Becoming a Travel Nurse” blog on our website. Also, subscribe to our blog below so we can notify you of other great posts in the future.