If you’re an ICU nurse in today’s tight labor market, you’re almost certainly familiar with travel nursing. But just what are the benefits of being an ICU travel nurse? And can you make friends and long-term connections while working as traveler?
The answer to the first question is that there are many advantages to being an ICU travel nurse. And the answer to that second question is: yes, you’ll make a ton of friends along the way. Not only that, you might just meet the love of your life on assignment. But first things first: the pay!
1. Travel nurse positions pay more than regular staff jobs — a lot more
That’s the primary reason ICU travel nurse Matt Voorhis went for travel nursing five years ago. “Everybody who goes into travel nursing goes in for a different reason. Mine was financial,” Matt says. “I love making money, and I love investing money. It’s one of the things that I’m good at.”
It became clear how much more travel nurse jobs pay when he was working at a staff job in Missouri. “I spent almost six years there, two years on the step-down ICU, high-acuity ventilators, insulin drips, dopamine, high-acuity step down. And then I spent the last three and half in the cardiac ICU, also high acuity, ECMO, LVADS, all that stuff. I had patients, I was precepting, I was teaching a lot of the hemodynamics class, the EKG classes. I was ingrained in that whole entire hospital system.
“It became more responsibilities on more responsibilities with almost no compensation. And I think what really turned for me was a couple of travel nurses came onto the unit. They were my age, a young couple, just married, and just having the time of their lives. They were telling me how much they made at the hospital I was working at which was like two to three times more than I was making, and they had way less responsibility.”
It wasn’t long before Matt decided to follow their example, and he hasn’t looked back
2. You might meet the love of your life
Matt didn’t just make more money as a travel nurse, he also met his future wife while on assignment.
“On the first day of my contract, she was already there for a week, we met and became good friends for a while. Then I finally convinced her to go on a date with me,” he says. “Then we decided to take a contract down to San Diego for three months and see if it would work out. It worked out great. We spent a year down there together and did some more traveling and then we went to Costa Rica for a whole month because, why not? I proposed to her down there.”
3. You will grow your network
When it comes to making connections, you can’t beat travel nursing for expanding your network. One of Matt’s old college roommates, Bob Goldnetz, also went into ICU nursing and became a travel nurse several years ago. According to Bob, “You meet other people and have such amazing experiences within such a short amount of time as a travel nurse.”
Matt agrees. “My bachelor party is coming up and there will be 14 guys there, and I think probably 75% of them are from travelers who I met in California, Arizona, Florida, and Missouri. I really have a pretty neat network going on through the country now.”
Both Bob and Matt say they regularly get invited to try new experiences with other ICU nurses.
“One assignment, I had been there a week, and one guy said you should come spear fishing with us,” Bob says. “You never know who you’re going to meet, and everyone has something they’re good at. It’s kind of like traveling abroad, you meet a couple people, and you never know where you’re going to end up or who you’re going to meet.”
4. You can set your own schedule
Travel nursing allows you to choose where and when you want to work. Matt refers to this as “time freedom.”
“You don’t really have a lot of time freedom when you’re in a staff job because the days you’re off you usually have meetings,” he says. “But with travel nursing, you have control of your time. You decide when you work and when you have off. Then when your contract ends, you can take as much time off as you want before your next one.”
He and his fiancé have done just that. “We spent 30 days and we toured the whole countryside of Costa Rica from the Caribbean to the Pacific. I mean, it was awesome. We’ve also done a lot of National Parks. We spent a week or two in Montana and did Glacier, so we’ve done a lot of cool things. You design your contract around life events and weddings. You have so much control of your time, it’s incredible.”
5. It can help you build a financially solid retirement
Both Bob and Matt have used the better pay of travel nursing to set themselves up for retirement.
“We just bought our property which is an Airbnb and we’re going to try and acquire more,” Matt says. “We’re just trying to use this money and this time to start setting ourselves up for our future. It’s been a great year. We bought a new house, we just bought a new car, we have no debt, we’ve been able to save a ton of cash.”
6. It can help you recover from burnout
Tired of the politics? Tired of more and more responsibility at work all the time? That’s one more reason Matt and Bob recommend travel nursing.
“Almost every traveler I’ve met has had that same goal. They want to step away from staff to make some money to then pursue their passions. It’s because they’ve realized nursing is just a tough place to work. It’s become an interesting field because we keep getting overburdened with responsibilities and more work,” Matt says.
With travel nursing, “Usually by the time any politics or drama comes up it’s about time to hit the road,” Bob says.
7. You just might enjoy life more
Working as an ICU travel nurse has helped Matt to find a better work/life balance and just enjoy living life.
“Traveling to me is just like you go with the flow. You let yourself be open to things,” Matt says. “You’re in the hospital, you do what you’re told, and you just go with the flow. And outside, go with the flow.”
A great option for ICU travel nurses
No matter which of these perks of travel nursing appeals the most to you, both Bob and Matt say travel nursing is a great option for ICU nurses interested in increasing their income and having more schedule flexibility. Maybe you’ll stay in ICU travel nursing for years, or just do it for a few assignments to bank some money or recover from burnout. Give it a go and you never know where your flow will lead you.