Travel nursing can be a very rewarding career choice, providing opportunities for travel as well as professional and personal growth opportunities. As with any career, however, this choice can come with a unique set of challenges. Without proper planning, being confronted with unforeseen challenges or problems can take away from the experience. Being prepared ahead of time can help mitigate some of these challenges, helping you have the best possible experience as a travel nurse.
Finding Your First Travel Nurse Job
As you may have already discovered, it can be tricky to find your first position as a travel nurse. Finding facilities where travel nurses are needed can be a difficult search in and of itself, and then negotiating and arranging the details such as housing and pay packages have the potential to be confusing and time-consuming.
A travel staffing agency will help you overcome this particular challenge. Especially as you’re just starting out in the industry, having a staffing agency with access to open positions, hiring processes, pay negotiations, housing opportunities, etc. will help your first travel nursing experience go as smoothly as possible.
Staying Flexible and Open-Minded
Every travel nurse job you take will be different in some way. Whether it’s the facility’s procedures, the culture of the region in which you’re working, the equipment itself, or the people you’ll be working with, each assignment can vary widely. Maintaining an open mind and being willing to learn will help you be successful.
With that in mind, as you travel, take the time to get to know your new environment. Research the area and the facilities in which you’ll be working as much as possible before you go. Familiarize yourself with things like directions to and from your living space to the facility; the layout of the new facility; and any procedures or expectations you can learn about before arriving at your new location. Remember, knowledge is power!
Thinking On Your Feet
As you arrive at your assigned facility you’ll be expected to take in a lot of information very quickly. Know that going in, and commit to learning as much as you can as quickly as you can. Ask questions when you need to, utilizing colleagues and your staffing agency to get any and all answers you may need.
Learn about your colleagues. Get to know them, as they can be a great resource for information and other needs you may have.
Preparing Your Finances and Taxes
Financially, travel nurses can and sometimes do make more than permanent nurses. However, being unprepared to handle the sometimes tricky financials of travel nursing can significantly affect your take-home pay.
One such sticky area can be your pay package. Due to the taxable income vs. non-taxable income structures, understanding and negotiating your total pay is crucial to your career success. For example, your pay package could include your taxable hourly rate (ex.: $20 per hour), a housing stipend (ex.: $13 per hour), and a per diem for food and other incidental expenses ($10 per hour). Clearly, this adds up to a pay rate of $43 per hour, which seems like a fair wage, especially considering only $20 of it is taxable.
This leads to another question: how do my taxes work? One pitfall travel nurses can fall into is not maintaining a “tax home,” which means they are taxed as itinerant workers–a much higher tax rate. Consider talking to an accountant or other tax professional about requirements for maintaining your tax home as you travel.
Also talk to that tax professional about your taxable vs. non-taxable income, and how to correctly file your taxes. Many travel nurses use CPAs or other paid tax preparers; although this does cost money, it can save you headaches and money over time.
Many of the issues we’ve discussed here are logistical in nature, navigating through taxes and finances and such. But many travel nurses report experiencing loneliness, being away from family, friends, and a familiar environment. Working a long shift, then coming “home” to an empty apartment (or one with unfamiliar roommates) can add to the stress of your job.
Explore your new city! Although travel nursing schedules can be difficult to navigate, see if you can find time to explore parks, museums, restaurants, and other points of interest. After all, travel itself is one of the perks of travel nursing.
Ask your staffing agency if it’s possible to bring family with you if there are housing choices that would accommodate a spouse or partner. Find out if bringing your pet with you is an option. Just having that furry companion waiting for you at home can go a long way toward bringing you joy in an unfamiliar place!
Reach out to colleagues and coworkers. These are people who share your passion for caring for others; it’s a great place to start building new friendships. If your housing situation includes roommates, take time to get to know them. Again, they’re in a similar position to you, in that they’re away from home and possibly looking for friends too.
Practice good self-care. Eat healthy foods whenever possible, and find an exercise routine that fits with your travel schedule. Consider finding a drop-in class or join a gym with multiple locations so you can go when possible, both at home and on the road. Feeling good about yourself can make a transition to a new location that much easier, and a gym or class may be a great way to meet new people too.
Maintain relationships at home, too. Find creative ways to stay in touch with family and friends while you’re traveling. They will probably be thrilled to hear about your new adventure!
You’re on your way to a great adventure, both professionally and personally. Intentionally taking time to address possible personal and financial challenges can make this experience as positive as it can be.