Read as Candy Treft, RN talks about her career as a Travel Nurse.  Find her at www.thegypsynurse.com and on the Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview. @TheGypsyNurse

What do you do for a living?

I work as a travel nurse throughout the United States.

How would you describe what you do?

As a travel nurse, I contract with a staffing agency to perform staff work duties in hospitals that are in need of temporary staffing.

What does your work entail?

I generally work in an inpatient hospital setting on a Medical Surgical Floor.  As a medical/surgical nurse, my duties include:
  • Assessment of patient condition
  • Recognition and intervention of adverse patient issues/conditions
  • Medication administration
  • Wound/dressing care
  • IV access and medication administration
  • Insertion/removal of various medical devices (nasogastric tubes, urinary catheters, etc)
  • Assisting with personal care of patients including assisting to bathroom/bedpan, bathing, dressing, etc
  • Preparation for surgical procedures
  • Assist physician with bedside procedures
  • Monitoring, reporting and charting of patient status as well as any medical equipment
  • Consulting of resources when patient condition indicates a need (physician, dietitian, physical therapy, chaplain, etc)
  • Provide patient education on procedures, medications, self-care, disease process, etc.
  • …..many more duties.

What’s a typical work week like?

I work 12 hour shifts/36 hours per week.  I am a night shift nurse.  My work generally starts at/around 7pm and ends at/around 7am.  My schedule is dependent on the hospital/facility needs.  Many times, I will work 3 12 hour shifts in a row then have several days in a row off.  My days off can occur anytime with no regard to weekends or holidays.

How did you get started?

I began my nursing career as a single mother of two children.  I needed a stable means to provide for my family.  I had multiple friends/acquaintances that were nurses and they encouraged me to pursue the field due to the high demand, pay and stability in the market.

What do you like about what you do?

I love that I can make a difference in some people’s lives (and they in mine).

As a travel nurse, I am able to travel all over the US while working.  To me this is a wonderful benefit.  I love to travel and meet new people and experience new places.  As a travel nurse, it’s almost like I am always on vacation (yes, I still have to work 36hrs/week).  When I am off work while on contract, I am able to explore my new area as a tourist or live like a local.  It’s a wonderful experience.

I also love the fact that my job is temporary.  Being a temporary worker alleviates a lot of the stress that a full-time staff member experiences.  At the end of even the worst day, I can remind myself  “It’s only 13 weeks”.

What do you dislike?

Working in a hospital is not easy.  There are sick and unhappy patients, stressed out physicians, and co-workers that are many times short staffed and stressed themselves.  My major complaint about nursing is the multitude of patients that do not take their own health-care seriously.  It’s difficult, stressful work.

As a travel nurse, it can be stressful attempting to ‘fit’ into a new facility as a temporary staff.  Loneliness can also be an issue as a travel nurse.  We work far from home, family and our friends…

How do you make money/or how are you compensated as a travel nurse?

Each individual contract is paid according to the negotiated rate for that particular contract.  Travel nurses are paid an hourly amount.  Housing is generally provided by the staffing agency as well as a small tax-free stipend for meals/expenses, travel reimbursement/allowance, licensing costs and many other options can also be negotiated for in your Travel Nurse contract. (Note: other than the hourly pay, the other items are dependent on the travel nurse maintaining a ‘tax-home’).

How much do travel nurses get paid or make hourly? 

I believe that the average nurse salary is between $50k – $60K at the present time. Travel nurses can generally expect to receive about 10-15% over the standard nurse pay rates.  Nurse pay rates are extremely varied across the US, ranging from low $20’s/hr in the southeastern states to well over $50/hr in California.

How much money did/do you make starting out? 

When I began travel nursing in 2004, my pay ranged around the $50K/year mark.  Today, nearly 9 years later; the pay is still around the same for a Travel Nurse.  There has not been much growth in the pay-scale for Travel Nurses or nurses in general in the past decade.  There are multiple predictions that indicate that this will soon change with another looming nursing shortage.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Education:  Travel Nurses can be found in all of the following certification/degree levels, some are utilized more frequently than others with the majority being ASN/BSN Registered nurses.
  • LPN (certificate nurse)
  • ASN (Associate degree Registered Nurse)
  • BSN (Bachelor degree Registered Nurse)
  • APN (Advance practice Registered Nurse)
Mandated State Board Testing:  You must pass a standardized state board test to obtain final licensure above and beyond any college education.
Licensing: A nurse has to obtain licensure in any state that is worked in.  Once original licensure is obtained via passing the Mandated State Board Testing, a nurse can obtain another state licensure without any additional education or testing.  Each state’s licensing processes are different.

Experience:  In order to pursue a career in travel nursing you must first obtain 1-2 years of experience in your chosen specialty.  I would recommend a good 2 years.  Travel nurses are expected to ‘hit the floor running’ and work with little to no orientation (unlike a staff nurse).

What is most challenging about what you do?

As a nurse, perhaps the most challenging thing that I have to do is watch someone die.  There are times, that no matter what you do a person will die.  Sometimes this is more difficult than other times, but it’s never easy.

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding thing that I have done as a nurse is to ‘assist’ a patient to die with dignity.  I’ve held many hands as a patient took their last breath and assured them that someone was there….there is no feeling quite like it.

On a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest) how satisfied are you with your career?

10!  As a travel nurse, I live an exciting and wonderful life-style.  I’m in control of where I want to be and have a wonderful time exploring and meeting new people.  I’ve learned so much in working in different hospitals throughout the nation and I wouldn’t take any of it back.  As a Nurse in general…it’s a difficult and demanding position.  I am happy where I am as a nurse BECAUSE I travel…I don’t know that I could say the same if I were in a standard full-time position.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Be confident in your skills and experience before you decide to take a Travel Nurse position.  Research the in’s and out’s of the job from as many sources as you can find.  Know the tax-laws that surround the job as a travel nurse.  Never be afraid to ask questions.

How much time off do you get/take?

Time off is one of the best benefits of being a travel nurse.  Because I contract for work, I can choose to take a day, a week, a month or several months off between my contracts.  I work when I want to and take time off when it’s needed.

The flip side to this is that I do not receive any sick pay or vacation pay so any time off the job is at my own expense.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

PAY!  There are so many rumors that Travel Nurses make exorbitant amounts.  In reality (as I mentioned earlier), we make about 10-15% more than a staff nurse.  You must also take into consideration that many times, we do not receive benefits as a full-time nurse would and as I also previously mentioned, when we are off work it’s at our own expense with no paid vacation/sick time.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

My goal/dream for the future would be to be location independent and only contract once a year.  I’ve recently begun working on this through teaching others how to Travel for a living as a ‘gypsy’ nurse via my website at thegypsynurse.com
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
Travel nursing is not an ideal job for everyone.  There are many downfalls to the position with time away from family and friends being the most prominent one.  If you are considering travel nursing please remember this.  If it isn’t working, do something else….we all find our niche somewhere.