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Travel nursing vs. staff nursing: what to know before starting a new job

travel nursing vs. staff nursing - image of nurse in hospital lobby

Have you ever looked at the relative advantages of travel nursing vs. staff nursing? Travel nursing offers a variety of benefits and can provide a change of pace for any nurse looking for something new — but it’s not for everyone. Like any position, travel nursing jobs have their ups and downs, and you may discover you miss aspects of staff nursing as well.

Before you jump into your first travel nursing job, check out what nurses had to say about different aspects of the career.

Stability in travel nursing vs. staff nursing

Many staff nurses enjoy the stability their positions offer. Though they never know what to expect during their shift because each patient is different, they like returning to the same job each week, with coworkers  and a workspace they know.

As a travel nurse, you sacrifice some stability for adventure. While it is possible to plan your travel nursing jobs back to back, it is not the same as working at the same hospital — with some of the same patients — for years. You will be proving yourself as a nurse every few months and showing the facility you know your stuff and are an asset to the department.

If you do prefer the longevity a staff position provides, consider asking your recruiter and nurse manager about extending your contract. Many travel nurses end up working at the same hospital for at least six months, which gives them plenty of time to develop relationships and get to know coworkers better.

Office politics differ for staff and travel nurses

travel nursing vs. staff nursing - image of busy hospital lobbyWondering what staff nurses don’t miss when they take jobs as travel nurses? The drama that exists when you work with the same people each week. It’s hard to avoid disputes over schedules, pay raises, promotions and even staffing ratios when you work as a staff nurse.

When you take a travel nursing job, you’re the new kid on the block. You can stay away from office politics because you’ve agreed to a set schedule and salary, and you don’t have to worry about being promoted or getting a better position.

On the other hand, you may have a harder time making friends with the staff because you’re there temporarily. Focus on doing your job and helping your coworkers do theirs, and you’ll find that most staff nurses are happy to have you on board and will welcome you.

Gaining experience

When you’re considering travel nursing vs. staff nursing, each offers different work experience advantages. One of the biggest benefits of working as a staff nurse is becoming an expert at particular aspects of your job. You know exactly where the supply closet is, who to call when you need something and what a specific patient needs when they come to your facility each week or month. You know which diagnoses you see most often and how to treat them, and you’re familiar with the seasonal illnesses or injuries your hospital treats.

If you want to gain different experience and do something new without switching specialties or heading back to school, travel nursing is a great option. Whether you take a job in your home state or travel across the country, you’ll see brand-new patients and be exposed to regional differences and even disorders or illnesses you’ve never seen before.

You’ll also use different technology and meet physicians and other nurses who do things in a totally different way than you’re used to. Both staff and travel jobs give you the opportunity to learn. You just have to decide what direction you’d like to go.

How you’re paid differs for staff and travel nurses

As a staff nurse, you’re used to your hospital’s timeclock system. You may have to clock in with your badge before each shift, or you may have to fill out an electronic timecard. Either way, your paycheck is most likely in your account through direct deposit. If there are discrepancies, you can contact your facilities payroll team or your manager to get it fixed.

You may not realize that as a travel nurse, you’re paid by your agency. While you’ll be paid through direct deposit, you’ll need to submit your hours worked to the agency to be paid. If you have issues with your pay, you must contact the agency’s payroll team.

An unexpected benefit? Most travel nurses are paid weekly. Staff nurses generally receive their paychecks every two weeks.

Vacation time

travel nursing vs. staff nursing - image of nurses enjoying vacation

Earning paid time off (PTO) is a big perk of working as a staff nurse, especially when you’ve worked at the same facility for years and have accrued a lot of hours. You may receive more hours per pay period when you have more tenure, and you’re most likely able to save it up for a big vacation if you’d like to. It’s also nice to have paid sick days, if your facility offers them.

Most travel nursing companies do not offer travelers paid time off, which can be frustrating if you do need to take a day off during your assignment. Paid sick time is generally not an option either. However, you have the flexibility to take weeks or months off between assignments, similar to how you use PTO. Though this time off is not paid, you can set your own schedule and make time for vacations, an extended maternity leave or even medical missions, if you’d like.

Roots or wings

Relationships and attachment to place can be important factors when you are evaluating travel nursing vs. staff nursing opportunities. If you’re raising your family, spend a lot of time with close friends or simply don’t like the idea of living out of a suitcase or moving from place to place, a staff nursing job is probably better for you. And that’s OK! It’s good to know your interests and the obligations that make it more difficult to travel. Working as a staff nurse can be fulfilling and help you develop lasting friendships with people you see every day.

Change is the norm as a travel nurse. Many travelers have just a few years of experience and want to take new jobs every few months for experience and adventure. Other travelers are empty-nesters or simply want to do something new after years of working in one facility. And still other travelers like the thrill of traveling with their families and seeing different parts of the country.

“I love the flexibility of switching hospitals after a contract. It keeps things fresh and new, which has kept me from burning out,” says Correy McDermott, an ER nurse who works with RNnetwork. “I believe the new faces and lives I’ve touched by being in different cities restores my love for my profession.”

Staff nursing and travel nursing both have their pros and cons, so take time to evaluate each one before switching jobs or embarking on a brand-new career. No matter what you decide, you can enjoy a fulfilling position as a nurse — but it’s always good to keep your options open.

About the author

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Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a healthcare writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.

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