Nurse Types / Staff Nurse vs. Travel Nurse
Transitioning from a staff nurse to a travel nurse position can be quite an adjustment. Thanks to increases in pay and other perks, travel nursing is in more demand than ever. Some travel nurses can make $5,000 per week!
If you’re a Registered Nurse (RN) looking for new opportunities, exploring travel nursing is a great idea. You can boost your earning potential without needing additional schooling. It’s a smart way to maximize your education and experience.
Still on the fence about which career move is right for you? In this article, we explore:
- Three differences between staff and travel nursing
- Pros and cons of staff nursing
- Pros and cons of travel nursing
What are 3 differences between staff nursing and travel nursing?
There has never been a better time to be a nurse. Projections for nursing indicate a 15% growth for this healthcare profession between now and 2026. That’s much faster than the national average for all other occupations.
Travel nursing and staff nursing both use the skills you’ve acquired as a licensed RN. That’s where the similarities end. Each has its own set of pros and cons, commitment to a specific facility, and pay. Let’s take a deep dive into both for a more comprehensive review of what you can expect from each opportunity.
If stable benefits are important to you, then staff nursing positions should be your priority. Full-time, permanent positions with healthcare employers typically come with perks such as medical insurance, 401(k)s, and other retirement plans, plus paid time off.
Benefits for travel nursing jobs can be less enticing. Some travel nurse agencies offer sick pay and 401(k)s but rarely provide paid time off. Sometimes the difference in pay can offset the loss of benefits, but not always. It’s worth weighing the pros and cons before choosing.
Commitment to a Facility
When you work as a staff nurse for a healthcare employer, you must commit fully to that position. It is permanent, leaving little wiggle room for new adventures. This can be both a pro and a con of staff nursing positions.
Choosing to work as a travel nurse offers greater flexibility. Commitments can be as short as 4 weeks or longer than 26 weeks, depending on the need. The downside to such short stints is you can always feel like the “new guy” as you bounce from one place to the next.
Without a doubt, higher pay is one of the many reasons RNs choose travel nursing jobs. Pay is significantly higher for travel nursing when you combine hourly pay, tax-free stipends for meals, and housing.
If you’re smart about negotiating, you can get free housing or a monthly stipend to put toward your room and board. Since these kinds of perks are tax-free, any money left from your housing stipend does not count toward your earnings.
But you could also end up paying for housing twice: where you work as a travel nurse and for your “tax home.”
Some travel nursing agencies eager to recruit top talent toss large sign-on bonuses into their job offers. You can expect to be tempted by bonuses ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 or higher!
Expert advice from nurses like you
What are the pros and cons of staff nursing?
If you’re trying to decide whether staff or travel nursing opportunities are right for your nursing career, creating a pros and cons list can help.
|Seniority: Your hourly pay can increase based on how long you've been with the company. Companies also offer yearly bonuses as you increase in seniority. Additionally, holidays and time off are given based on seniority.||Scheduling requirements: Most organizations will require you to work a certain number of weekends and holidays.|
|Paid time off, Sick Time: While the amount of each you get varies, mostly every organization offers PTO/Sick Time and leave of absences to its full-time employees.||Vacation: While you may get PTO and/or sick pay, requesting vacation and time off may be prioritized to those with seniority or even denied.|
|Stability: As a permanent nurse, you’re not constantly wondering if your contract will be canceled because census is decreasing or various other reasons. The risk of someone calling you to tell you that you don’t need to return the next day is very low.||Pay: Significantly lower than travel nursing, even prior to COVID. Bonuses typically require a time commitment.|
|Benefits: Full-Time, permanent positions typically offer many benefits including Medical Insurance, 401k and various other retirement plans.|
What are the pros and cons of travel nursing?
Just like there are pros and cons of staff nursing, travel nursing has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Review and add to this list of pros and cons for travel nursing to help you decide if it’s the right move for your nursing career.
|Pay: While pay rates may be currently dropping from $10,000 per week, they’re still about 3-4 times as much as permanent staff at this time. Additionally, these pay packages include “tax-free” stipends, relocation assistance, and coverage for your licensing/certifications. Pay isn't affected by seniority.||No seniority: As a travel nurse, you are "new" to the job every 13 weeks, learning new policies and procedures.|
|Flexibility: You have plenty of flexibility when it comes to time off. You can request time off to be written into your contract. You can also decide to take time off after each contract or work all year and take the holidays off.||Scheduling: There’s no guarantee you’ll get your desired schedule. Some facilities will respect self-scheduling. Others may see you there as “filling a need” and schedule you per the unit’s needs.|
|Experiences: Working in different work cultures, learn new skills/ different ways of doing things.||No guaranteed hours: There is a possibility of cancellations at any time.|
|Adventure: Explore new cities on your days off.||Benefits vary by agency: Sick pay, 401K, and rarely any offer of PTO.|
|Tax breaks: Tax-free stipends are common for travel nursing.||Loneliness: It can be difficult to build relationships when you're traveling from place to place.|
What are your next steps?
Only you can decide whether staff nursing or travel nursing jobs are the right moves for your career. If you’re adventurous and interested in earning top wages, travel nursing can be a great opportunity to satisfy both. If security and seniority are more important to you, then staff nursing should be a top consideration.
Incredible Health provides RNs with career leads for staff nursing positions. Check out our jobs board to get the latest scoop on openings. Whichever path you choose, you’ll be a valuable part of the healthcare system.
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- “Nurses Have Finally Learned What They’re Worth.” nytimes.com. Accessed March 8, 2022.
- “Occupational Outlook Handbook-Registered Nurses.” bls.gov. Accessed March 8, 2022.