There’s no question that nursing is one of the most fulfilling, rewarding, and toughest career choices. It’s also one of the most demanding, physically and mentally. So, no matter how much you’ve loved your career as a nurse, everyone retires at some point and takes advantage of the relaxation and reduced stress that comes with it.
However, retirement isn’t always what people expect it to be. Some people experience loneliness and isolation. Others feel they’ve lost a sense of purpose, leading to anxiety and depression. One study even found that people in the first year of retirement are 40% more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than those working.
Thankfully, as a retired nurse, there are things you can do to find personal growth — including travel nursing.
Self-Discovery After Retirement
Nursing can become an important part of your identity, so you may feel lost when you leave it. Remember that your career isn’t who you are but what you do. However, many nurses have an innate desire to help others. That doesn’t go away just because you’re not working every day.
You can use retirement to discover who you are and why you have that desire. Self-discovery and personal growth are essential after retirement so you understand that you still have a purpose even if you’re not heading to a hospital every day.
Traveling is one of the best ways to “find yourself.” While that might sound silly at first, it often takes stepping out of your comfort zone and seeing the world from a different perspective to dig deeper into your true identity. The benefits of traveling when it comes to personal growth include:
Finding and maintaining a sense of purpose
Introducing you to new cultures
Offering a sense of adventure
Some of the best places to travel for personal growth include Italy, Greece, South Africa, Alaska, Hawaii, and Spain. Explore rich architecture. Take in historical art. Walk along the sugar sand beaches of an island and breathe in the salty air. If you’ve given much of your life to nursing in one area, changing scenery and perspective can help you discover who you are outside of your career. It can inspire you to use your skills and expertise to make a difference.
Should You Become a Travel Nurse?
Traveling and retirement go hand-in-hand. It’s estimated that 25% of people aged 65 and older leave the country at least once a year. But choosing to be a travel nurse goes a step beyond that. While you can (and will) certainly enjoy the sights, sounds, and cultures of the countries you visit, you can also renew your sense of purpose by helping those in need in a completely different setting and environment.
First, understand that travel nurse positions are often short-term. You might only be somewhere for a few weeks or a few months. That’s often an ideal situation for a retiree who wants to explore the world and help others while enjoying a less stressful retirement. There are plenty of contracts you’ll have to go through if you work with an agency, but the benefit of doing so is that they’ll take care of almost everything for you to ensure your travel assignment goes as smoothly as possible.
When it comes to personal growth, you can have a voice in where you want to travel. You’ll meet new people in various cultures, as well as new colleagues, and you can explore new healthcare systems that might offer insights and ideas you’ve never considered before. There’s greater flexibility, excitement, and freedom you don’t find working every day in a hospital in the U.S.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that travel nurses earn a median salary of $84,000 annually. While that might not impact your growth, it can help you live a more comfortable life as you age and take on more opportunities to travel for fun.
Preparing for Personal Growth as a Travel Nurse
If you’re ready to leap into nursing, you must be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally. That starts by planning as much as possible, including:
Exploring the pros and cons
Networking with other travel nurses
Gaining specialty experience
Keeping certifications up to date
From a practical standpoint, you’ll also want to ensure your medical records are current and up-to-date with all vaccinations.
You also have to consider your finances. While travel nursing can end up being a lucrative career, especially if you had previously budgeted for retirement, there are expenses to think about that you’ll have to deal with upfront. Have money set aside for a hotel room if your accommodations aren’t ready. Ask the agency you work for about utility bills and whether you’ll be responsible. Consider using a credit card instead of cash to earn points on your destination expenses and easily keep track of your spending online. Budgeting as a travel nurse is as important as managing your finances at home.
Finally, prepare yourself and your family. They might have expected you to retire and spend more time at home. If you’re older, they might be concerned about you traveling the world to help those in need. Make sure you explain your desire to grow and find out who you are by experiencing new adventures and perspectives.
The world is in constant need of qualified travel nurses if you’re already retired or planning to soon, consider travel nursing as an option to help you find personal growth and get to know yourself.
Burnout and high turnover have been taking a toll on nurse clinicians, resulting in a staffing deficit that will only worsen. According to McKinsey & Company, the U.S. will be short 200,000 to 450,00 registered nurses for direct patient care by 2025. Research from NCSBN further reports almost 900,000 RNs intend to leave the workforce by 2027.
With this in mind, leaders from our company wanted to examine what could be done to mitigate this growing crisis, one already impacting nearly every healthcare facility daily. So, we surveyed our traveling clinicians to find out what motivates and keeps them in the industry. Analysis of the data revealed the benefits that matter, what they appreciate in a facility, and perhaps more importantly, why they continue taking travel assignments and remain in the profession. Here are a few of the highlights.
Control Leads to Satisfaction
Over three-quarters of respondents surveyed said they were satisfied with their most recent travel job, whereas only half felt the same about their last permanent staff post. Burnout was a significant factor for staff clinicians due to problematic patient-to-staff ratios, lengthy shifts, and hospital politics. These issues were major influences in prompting clinicians to pursue traveling opportunities.
Not surprisingly, higher compensation and the ability to meet financial goals were the foremost reasons nurses seek traveling opportunities, cited by 84% of respondents. Other motivators included freedom and flexibility at 71%, followed by a sense of adventure (39%), work-life balance (28%), and an “ability to focus on the patient, not hospital politics” at 22%.
Top 5 Motivators for Seeking a Travel Position
Having experienced the freedom and flexibility afforded by traveling, 41% of respondents said they would never return to a staff position. Additionally, after completing their first assignment, data showed work-life balance increased in value by 4%, as did the chance to focus more on patients, not politics.
Traveling Nurses: The Value of Pay, Place, and Perks
Pay was the top motivator when selecting a travel assignment at 26%, followed closely by location at 20%. This is supported by what we see internally as many clinicians begin their searches filtering by city and state. Shift structures and the facility came in at 11%, with contract length (10%) and start date (8%).
Travel clinicians are particularly adept at negotiating monetary benefits. That said, we asked them to rank the compensation package features they find most important. The top responses were: Pay rate guarantees (18%), housing stipends (14%), travel reimbursement (12%), paid time off between assignments (8%), licensing and certification reimbursement (7%), affordable healthcare (7%), retirement contributions/401k matching (5%), support while on assignment (5%), scrubs reimbursement (4%), housing coordination and support (4%), and continuing education unit (CEU) reimbursement (3%).
As the data shows, pay, place, and perks are a few of the best ways to retain and attract these talented nurses.
Flexibility and Safety
Every healthcare facility has its processes and systems, ranging from unique float parameters to the type of electronic medical records (EMR) software it uses. When evaluating offers from a specific facility, traveling clinicians cared most about flexible scheduling (14%) and staff-to-patient ratios (13%).
Yet, while patient safety and support are critical, other factors have an impact, including facility reputation (9%), floating frequency (8%), charting systems (7%), opportunity for overtime shifts (7%), ability to request time off (RTO – 7%), thorough onboarding (7%), parking (7%), float parameters (6%), number of unit clinicians (6%), and lunch breaks (5%).
Interestingly, after completing their first assignment, responses showed some changes in value. “Work-life balance” grew by another four points, as did the ability to focus on the patient, “not the politics.” While still overwhelmingly important, money became somewhat less of a motivator for repeat travelers, dropping eight points.
Top 5 Motivators for Seeing a Travel Position
We also included a body of allied health professionals in our survey, those providing various diagnostic, technical, therapeutic, and support services. Topping their list of essential factors is thorough onboarding (12%), followed closely by the number of clinicians per unit. These healthcare professionals, on the whole, tend to be newer to traveling, likely explaining why they emphasize onboarding and ratios at a facility when considering offers. On a related note, Staffing Industry Analysts project continued growth in this space, with allied health travel jobs increasing by 5% in 2023 and 2024.
The NCSBN study noted that more than 60% of nurses experienced workload increases during the pandemic. This left many feeling exhausted, emotionally drained, and disillusioned. With healthcare workforce shortages showing no signs of stopping and every indication they will continue to climb, the nursing profession must focus on rebuilding, or tragic consequences may follow.
Retaining talented, tenured RNs and attracting new talent are essential. The traveling nurses in our study have provided vital feedback related to job satisfaction. While there are no guarantees, their insights are important to consider across the industry as we work together to position healthcare for a healthier future.
Is travel nursing still worth it in 2023? As a former travel nurse, my answer will always be yes! I started travel nursing in 2010 when I left Canada and moved to New York City. Honestly, it was one of the best decisions of my life.
I worked in the emergency department for five years and was planning my departure because I wanted something new and exciting. Travel nursing allows you to see so many beautiful places without committing.
Here are five reasons why you should consider travel nursing.
Flexibility. Travel Nursing allows you to move around as you please when you please. Typically travel contracts can range from 8 to 13 weeks.
Freedom. You can extend the contract if needed or leave and go somewhere else. You can also take time off between contracts which is nice. Most full positions do not allow you to take consecutive weeks off to vacation. You do not have to ask permission to take off for a month or two.
Culture. You get to experience different foods, cultures, and the local life of other cities.
Excitement. Travel nursing is always exciting. You are constantly meeting new people and experiencing different things. It is truly an adventure.
Growth. It allows you to grow professionally and personally. You are forced out of your comfort zone, enabling you to succeed.
Adaptability. Every assignment is different, and you must learn quickly how to adapt to various hospitals, units, workflows, computer systems, etc. It simply makes you a better nurse, and you become more resilient.
Compensation.Travel nursing pay is typically higher, but you can sometimes get other benefits such as furnished housing or a stipend, free scrubs, bonus pay, and much more.
Before you go, here are five tips for success in travel nursing.
Having at least 2-3 years of experience in the specialty area, you will travel to. However, some travel agencies will take you with one year’s experience, which I would not recommend.
The average orientation is about two days for travel nurses. You usually get some computer training on what type of EMR they are using, and then one day, with a preceptor, that’s it!
Do your research and select the Nursing Travel Agency that you trust. I chose AMN, American Mobile Healthcare when I used to travel. Some nurses I worked with used Fast Staff, Aya Healthcare, and Prime Staffing.
Get to know the hospital administration and all staff members. You can get some good information for the hospital unit clerks because they know many workflows, processes, and where to find things.
Advocate and stay informed. Know your chain of command and where to find your policies and procedures. Every State has a Practice Act, so get familiar with it. Every nursing job function may differ depending on where you are, so make sure you practice within your scope to be safe.
All travelers know that the main perk of a travel nursing career is exploring new destinations and gaining real-world experience—the pay and networking opportunities don’t hurt either. Even so, this industry requires highly specialized professionals ready and able to fill staffing shortages in multiple healthcare facilities nationwide.
In addition to providing vital services, travel nurses bring a wealth of knowledge and experience they can share with the existing nursing team, increasing the benefits shared throughout the facility. As a travel nurse, you and your skills are always in high demand, and it can be challenging to navigate all your options without a travel nurse advocate to filter the best contracts. To have the best experience possible and increase their benefits, travelers need an agency they can trust to be on their side.
Choosing The Right Agency Is Important
Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry—this is especially true for travel nurses who help fill gaps and support struggling medical facilities. So nurses deserve employers that genuinely have their best interest at heart. The traveling healthcare industry is filled with travel agencies ready to help nurses cultivate long-lasting and rewarding careers—but not all live up to that promise.
A bad traveler-agency match often results in nurses regretting their career choices, with some even opting to leave the field. After all, working with a recruiter or travel nursing agency that sees you as nothing but a number can cause severe stress and frustration. The stigma in the travel nurse industry is that agencies only look after themselves instead of the nurses they employ, a stigma that is, unfortunately, based in reality.
As a former traveler, I’ve seen and experienced many red-flag-waving agencies. Here are the red flags I learned to avoid when choosing an agency:
Complex travel nurse contracts: Complicated processes and contracts keep travelers in the dark about the specifics of their job. They often stick with their agency to avoid dealing with the complicated and lengthy paperwork process, but complex contracts don’t have to be the norm. And the less you know about your contract, the more vulnerable you are to exploitation.
Steep pay cuts: Greedy agencies use any method to come out on top, including secretive bill rates that leave travelers with less money than anticipated. While travel nurses are lowballed on their pay packages, the agency still profits from the facility where the nurses work.
Unsupportive travel nurse recruiters: Recruiters are essential to being with an agency. When they aren’t genuinely invested in assisting their travelers with contracts, housing, and getting situated at their assigned location, traveling nurses take on more responsibilities with less support, creating unnecessary stress.
When agencies use their nurses only as a means to an end, travel nurses lose faith in agencies, and a divide begins to form—creating an “us versus them mentality.” In addition, undervalued and burned-out travelers contribute to negative stigmas by sharing their bad experiences. As a result, they are more likely to leave the profession, contributing to a growing nursing shortage—and who can blame them?
Deceptive and inconsiderate agencies are a massive problem in the travel nursing industry, and it’s time for nurses and medical facilities alike to recognize the bad eggs and opt to spend their time and money elsewhere. Fortunately, purpose-driven agencies are ready to support traveling nurses and help them build successful and meaningful careers.
All travel nursing agencies are not created equal, so deciding where to entrust your career’s future will affect your income, manner of living, and state of mind—a decision you shouldn’t take lightly.
A good travel nurse agency can save you time and frustration by taking care of many aspects of the planning that goes into an assignment. The right agency will make you feel comfortable, prepared, and eager to start your travel nursing journey.
Travel Nursing Agency Benefits
After experiencing agencies that didn’t have my best interest at heart, I created my agency, Nurse First, to support our nurses’ needs and desires are always met—from setting them up with their ideal travel destinations to ensuring their contracts are straightforward and competitive.
Working with the right travel agency allows nurses to experience the freedom and flexibility to advance their skills while taking advantage of new opportunities and experiencing new locations. Of course, working with a travel nurse agency offers plenty of other benefits, like job security.
When you choose to work with a travel nursing agency, you can explore new destinations across the country with every new contract. You’re not limited to a geographical area and can even discover opportunities to equip your talents internationally. Agencies are tapped into which locations need the most support, so travelers will never have to worry about their next assignment. As long as you know where you want to go next, recruiters can set up your next assignment before the current one ends. You may even take some time off between assignments, which is great—your travel agency will be there when you’re ready to work again.
Also, travelers can receive travel contract assignments in multiple environments with guaranteed work schedules when with an agency. Some agencies even have exclusivity contracts with select hospital systems, allowing you to get your foot in the door and gain valuable experience.
Perks & Benefits
No matter the industry, employees seek jobs that offer different advantages and pay well based on the position, location, required experience, and responsibilities.
Healthcare facilities value the skills necessary to be exceptional nurses, jump into brand-new settings, and excel quickly. Since they don’t have to pay for benefits, medical facilities working with travelers can offer more money upfront. Travel agencies will often list average pay rates for their job postings, but that is just part of the overall compensation, and these amounts will vary by contract.
In addition, some package taxable and nontaxable monies differ, and a few hospitals offer perks that might be part of the compensation packages—so review every detail.
When you work with a travel nursing agency, travelers generally don’t have to worry about covering the basics. Agencies may offer multiple benefits, such as medical, dental, and vision insurance, 401Ks, bonuses and referrals, weekly pay, paid vacation time, rental cars, and more. It’s always best to ask about the perks immediately if they haven’t disclosed that information.
The biggest bonus is having a dedicated travel nurse recruiter able to handle everything you need, from career and resume advice to interview assistance. Travel nursing recruiters should serve as your sounding board, advocate, and partner throughout your journey. Having one that is knowledgeable, trustworthy, and friendly is critical—they can make or break your experience with a travel nurse agency.
As a travel nurse, the opportunity for growth is one of your best benefits. You’ll hone your skills as a nurse across different specialties and with various patients and learn how to adapt to new environments and work with new people.
With a regularly changing cast of co-workers, managers, and other medical professionals, your ability to network will be unmatched. In addition, these relationships can help you learn new strategies and techniques to add to your arsenal of skills for your next assignment.
In addition to traveling the nation, a travel nurse position can explore several departments and specialties. Those positions can help expand your travel nursing résumé and encourage skill development and growth. Discuss your aspirations with your travel nursing agency. A good agency will work with you to help you expand your knowledge, skill, and experience so you can continue to grow and excel in your career.
How to Work With An Agency
A good relationship with your agency is vital to building a strong career as a travel nurse. However, to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship, there must be:
Honest Communication: Be upfront with what interests you and tell your advocate what you are looking for, where you want to travel, and where you want to work. The more they know about you, the better they can serve your needs.
Transparency: Bring up any conflicts, worries, or concerns that may arise during your assignment, no matter how small.
Flexibility: Your recruiter isn’t a genie and won’t always have the perfect job for you. You may need to work weekends or float. Be open to traveling to destinations that may not be your first choice—you never know what location may surprise you and end up at the top of your must-visit list.
Travel nurses and travel nurse staffing agencies are vital to the well-being of our healthcare infrastructure. A few rotten eggs shouldn’t ruin the image of a thriving industry. Finding the good eggs—the purpose-driven agencies that want to see you succeed—will propel your travel nursing career to new heights. The most important thing to remember is to trust your instincts—you know yourself better than anyone. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not, and that’s okay! There are dozens of agencies waiting for you to find them when you’re ready (and that’s when the magic will happen).
According to Vivian Health’s Future of Healthcare Work Report findings, clinicians on long- and short-term travel contracts are more willing to explore permanent employment in 2023 than in previous years. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vivian saw clinicians prioritizing safer and more respectful work environments. This year’s results continue this trend, with other priorities rising to join them: focusing on flexibility, work-life balance, and commute times when considering new positions.
The findings cover employment settings, wages and benefits, workload, clinician mental health, desired work environment characteristics, and insights into attracting clinicians to permanent employment. This year’s report emphasizes a rising demand for permanent employment by travel clinicians, which could be a saving grace to an industry that staffing shortages have rattled. Over half of the respondents are over 45, and 28% are over 55. These findings suggest there is also an opportunity to retain experienced professionals as the industry hurtles toward a retirement cliff brought on by the hardships of working during a global pandemic.
“Staffing challenges in the healthcare industry predate and were exacerbated by the pandemic, presenting many difficulties and rapidly evolving conditions for the professionals that have continued to work over the past three years,” says Parth Bhakta, co-founder and CEO of Vivian Health. “The increased demand for more permanent, stable, long-term positions serves as a light at the end of the tunnel for those who have carried the weight of these shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Switching to Permanent Employment
Vivian Health found 1,663 clinical and clinical-support staff from across the country using a combination of emails to their proprietary healthcare talent marketplace, online communities, and social media tools. Of the respondents, 65% were registered nurses. Of all respondents, 36% were employed in travel positions, with 44% employed in permanent positions. Vivian’s methodological goal was to achieve a diversified, representative sample of the non-physician clinical workforce.
Eighty-six percent of travel clinicians surveyed said they are open to switching to permanent work, with nearly half (46%) planning to work permanently in 2023. That number has grown significantly since 2022 when only 55% considered switching to permanent positions. While these statistics are promising for understaffed hospital systems reeling from the aftermath of the global pandemic, employers must make significant investments to create better, safer work environments to attract healthcare professionals.
“Healthcare professionals indicated an even greater need for work-life balance and workplace safety when searching for jobs than in previous years,” says Bhakta. “The respondents ranked feeling safe at work and their commute time as important in their job search, marking a shift from last year, when the most important factors in new job searches included respect from leadership, workload, and support for mental health and well-being.”
Heavy workloads and the inability to take time off can often lead to burnout, exhaustion, and stress for healthcare clinicians. Fifty-six percent of respondents (n=935) were asked every week to work overtime, and half of the employed clinicians surveyed took just 5 to 10 days of PTO in 2022. The call for additional staff was a common theme in this report, with 57% of respondents indicating their unit was adequately staffed less than 75% of the time.
Vivian asked respondents, “what could your employer do to increase your overall job satisfaction?” Excluding increases to wages and bonuses, the top five responses were:
Increase the number of support staff
Increase the number of nurses
Allow adequate time for meals and breaks
Offer more PTO
Offer flex scheduling
When making the switch to a permanent role this year, clinicians stated that their top five considerations are:
“Vivian actively participates in conversations with nurses and has seen an increase in appetite for permanent positions,” says Vivian Health User Research Manager Rachel Norton, BSN, RN. “Healthcare professionals are looking for the additional stability that permanence offers. Employers hoping to hire and retain permanent talent will have to offer a well-rounded experience and environment to meet their needs.”
Nurses are the backbone of the nation’s healthcare system and play a vital role in providing clinical care to patients and supporting other healthcare workers. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing is the largest healthcare profession in the United States, with 4.2 million registered nurses. However, the modern-day nursing landscape is plagued with staffing shortages and strikes.
To continue delivering care to patients, it is time to care for our nurses and clinical staff. Caring for nurses and clinical staff requires understanding their needs and career objectives and creating a plan to help them meet personal and professional goals. As an organization that currently works with about 2,500 travel nurses and clinical staff members, we have identified key strategies to get these essential workers what they deserve and need to stay in healthcare.
Here are some of the strategies staffing agencies can implement to advocate for nurses:
Prioritize the needs of the nurse
At Soliant, we prioritize the needs of the nurses we are working with and consider what they are looking for when we place them into roles. The top benefits we consistently advocate for our nurses are their schedule and compensation, which are also among the top issues contributing to nursing burnout. One benefit of working with a staffing company is that we negotiate your needs with the health system on your behalf.
Offer nurses a customized approach
Our approach to placing candidates is unique because we customize our process and employment packages for every candidate – because no two candidates are alike. For example, one candidate may want us to help them secure housing, while another may want the freedom to choose their housing, so we provide them with a stipend. Early in the process of placing nurses, we work to understand and learn what is important to them and what they are looking for in a placement, such as freedom, flexibility, or work-life balance. Then we create a plan specific to their needs.
Educate on market and workforce needs
Our recruiters often consider themselves career consultants and take on a more advanced role than simply placing candidates in positions. The nurses we work with often think they know what they want in a placement, but it is our job to educate them on the state of the labor market and what opportunities are available to them. For example, we might have a nurse that wants to work in Charleston, South Carolina, but we also let them know of an open position in Bozeman, Montana, and compare the roles. Often, they find themselves more interested in the position we bring to them. People don’t know what they don’t know – part of our responsibility is to ensure our candidates take advantage of the best opportunities.
Further their career
For nurses to stay in the profession, it is important to offer them ways to extend or further their careers. Soliant not only helps nurses find the positions they want, but also we try to place them in roles that provide opportunities for growth. We can even help them continue their education and get additional certifications. We have helped many candidates get cross-trained in different areas of healthcare work. For example, an ICU nurse we worked with was interested in interventional radiology, so we helped them find the right training program to advance their skillset and increase employment opportunities.
Nurses deserve the best benefits
When nurses receive the benefits, compensation, and schedule they want and feel they deserve, they are more likely to enjoy their job and stay in that role, creating stability for the hospital and its patients. The standard contract length for travel nurses is typically around 13 weeks, and at Soliant, nurses typically extend at the same facility at least 50% of the time. This is a direct result of our advocating efforts which benefit hospitals and nurses alike. If a nurse chooses not to extend, we are typically successful at lining up another assignment before the original one ends. The demand is so strong that a nurse with travel experience makes finding the next assignment even easier.