So we’ve been working quite a bit the past week and haven’t had time to do a ton of adventuring. We decided to put this post together to answer some FAQs about our lives as travel nurses and about travel nursing in general! I hope you enjoy learning a little more about what we do!
When did you start traveling? What was behind the decision to do it?
Our first contract sent us to Chandler, AZ, a suburb southeast of Phoenix, from the beginning of February until mid-May of 2019. I still remember the night we decided to sign for our first assignment, discussing the details over lettuce wraps at PF Changs in Dedham, Mass on December 28, 2018.
In terms of the “Why travel nursing?”, I think it’s clear that we enjoy seeing the country. Travel nursing allows us to do that, in a manner that makes us more than a tourist but less than a local. Offering only a finite amount of time in each spot, travel nursing forces us to treat each assignment like an extended vacation.
In regards to the job aspect, I know that Jamie and I were feeling a bit stagnant in our roles as staff nurses. We both loved our coworkers and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, but we needed a new challenge- something that would stress us and force us to grow. Travel nursing certainly has checked both of those boxes.
What is your specialty in nursing?
As staff nurses, before traveling, Jamie was an oncology nurse and I was a general medicine nurse. As travelers, we’ve found it’s important to be flexible in nearly every manner. Through the assignments, we’ve been med-surg nurses in one form or another. We’ve taken a couple contracts as float nurses (Seattle, Santa Barbara) working on all kinds of floors (neuro, surgical, trauma, medicine, burns, etc), and had “home” units in the others.
We don’t take positions we aren’t trained in (obviously). This includes critical/intensive care, emergency, procedural, pediatric and maternity, to name a few.
Where have you taken travel nurse assignments so far?
Chandler, AZ (Feb-May 2019)
Seattle, WA (June-Sept 2019)
Boston, MA (Oct 2019-May 2020)
**For Jamie: Providence, RI (Jan-May 2020)
Binghamton, NY (May-Sept 2020)
Santa Barbara, CA (Oct 2020- Present, until Jan 2021)
**Next up: another round in Chandler, AZ (Jan-April 2021)
How do you find travel nurse jobs? How long is each assignment?
There are a whole bunch of travel nurse agencies out there, so we’ve worked with several of them through our different assignments. Having a relationship with many agencies allows us the flexibility of finding the best agency to get us where we want to go, instead of being restricted to where that company does business. As it stands now, we’ve used 4 different companies and have totaled 5 contracts. Hopefully we don’t have to hop to any new companies in the future, because onboarding with new companies is tedious. But, if it’s what we need to do in order to go where we want, then sign me up (again)!
Typically, each assignment we take starts out as a 13 week contract (or ~3 months), often with an opportunity to extend if the hospital still has staffing needs. So far, we’ve extended every contract by 2-4 weeks, just to give us more time to explore the area, or to line up our next road trip just right.
Many travelers extend their contracts much longer than that. It’s never easy starting an assignment and learning the ropes at a new facility, so if the current conditions are good, the pay is good, and the area is good, why rush on out the door? For us, it’s always been about seeing more of this beautiful and diverse country, so we choose to gather no moss.
Do you work at the same hospitals? The same shift? Is it hard to find jobs together?
As part of our criteria for finding jobs, we require that our recruiters find us positions at the same facility. When we first started out, being green and naive, we figured it could be doable to work at different hospitals in the same area. With one car, and all the variables that working in different facilities would create, it’s just not a possibility. Working the same shift (day or night 12 hr shifts) is also a requirement for us. What’s the point in traveling together if we’d just be seeing each other in passing?
So far, those two conditions have not been difficult to meet. Save for when Jamie worked nights at Rhode Island Hospital and I worked rotating days and nights back at Beth Israel (as a traveler), we’ve worked at the same place, the same shift. In fact, most places we’ve worked with have been great in helping us schedule most of our shifts for the same days as well. This really has been ideal, since it gives us 3-4 days off/week together to get out with Charley and see the area.
How do you find housing?
So far this has been Jamie’s realm. Always the planner, she has a knack for being realistic with our needs and living costs, and finds something that will give us the best experience of the area we’re working in.
For Arizona, we found an unfurnished apartment in a complex, and enlisted the help and support of the Mangouri Furniture Rental conglomerate, based in greater PHX. Borrowing items from several aunties, we were able to furnish the place more than adequately.
For Seattle, we found an unfurnished apartment in a complex in the University District. Without our team of Aunties, though, we rented furniture from a company- though not cheap, the rental provided us with literally every item needed, from a TV to kitchenware to furniture and bathroom essentials.
For Boston, we lived with Jed and Moe. Furniture was provided, as was a home gym, and lovely dinners, and a yard for Charley to romp in until her heart’s content!
For New York, see “Boston”. We stayed with my parents and had a summer to remember!
For Santa Barbara, we used Airbnb to find a long term rental, fully furnished with utilities. Of course, you pay for what you get, and we paid more than we’d hoped. Finding dog-friendly housing certainly throws a wrinkle into the process. Fortunately, after renting for a month we negotiated a contract off of AirBnb, saving quite a bit in the process.
Where are your favorite places you have been?
Always a tough question to answer. We try to follow the good weather throughout the year, so we’ve seen places at their best (AZ in the winter, Seattle in the summer, etc). Seattle stole my heart, cradled by the Cascades to the east and Olympic mountains to the west and Mount Rainier looming in the distance, but Arizona has more easily accessible hiking near the city. Our time spent with family in Boston and New York will always be something we hold dearly. Santa Barbara has the perks of a smaller area, with unlimited outdoor opportunities (hiking, biking, beaches, running) and an innumerable amount of wineries, breweries, and eateries within walking distance. By picking one spot, I fear hurting the feelings of the others. We love them all!
Why did you choose California?
It’s no surprise that California offers the greatest variation of outdoor experience within its borders. By settling in CA for less than two months so far, we’ve taken advantage of areas like Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, the rugged central coastline, sandy beaches, and a trip down to San Diego. The standard of nursing care in CA is also well known to be among the best, so joining that effort feels pretty good, too.
Where do you plan to go next? What other places are you thinking about traveling to?
As mentioned earlier, it looks like we’re headed to the Valley of the Sun once again, with contracts at our former travel spot in Chandler.
We’ve considered other places in the future: Seattle again, Northern California, Alaska even. But as always, we are sure to be flexible with our plans.
Are there any downsides of travel nursing? Things that you don’t like about it?
Starting new assignments is inevitably stressful. It has made us better at adapting, but each time comes with new challenges and things to learn. This is by far the most difficult aspect, and a reason we’ve considered calling it quits more than once. But with time, things get better. And then we realize just how much we’re enjoying every day, in a place we may never be again.
Moving from place to place can also be a hassle, but the silver lining is that we’ve shed a lot of things we realized we don’t need. On our first assignment, I remember bringing all of my watches, sneakers, and several dress shirts, to name a few items. But how many watches do you really need? Sneakers for different occasions? Only if they serve different functional purposes. We’ve found less stuff = more freedom.
Of course, the cities that we want to take assignments in happen to be across the country from our family and friends. Being away from family and friends for long periods of time is difficult, especially with covid, and not being able to travel back and forth to see them. Travel nursing did, however, also allow us to live with both sets of parents while taking assignments in our home towns, so we got to spend a lot of extra time with our parents this past year, and we were also able to save money by living at home.
Do travel nurses get paid more?
Overall, yes. But that comes at the cost of no paid vacation time, higher housing costs for short term rentals, accelerated orientation, and constantly working outside your comfort zone. If you’re ok with these things and love to travel, you can earn a good living and see the country in a way not available for most other professions.
Do you take care of covid patients?
We do what we’re assigned, essentially. That can mean working with any number of different populations, including patients with covid.
Does Charley come with you everywhere? What does she do on the days that you work?
I’d say she comes with us 3/4 of the time we set out on an adventure or are out on the town. If we visit national parks, she unfortunately cannot tag along. So we usually will find somebody to watch her, or do day trips from our lodging and leave her in the room to nap.
When we’re working, she chills. In Chandler, she went and hung out at the best daycare ever, Chandler Dogs 24/7. In Seattle, she went on city walks with her pup friends, exploring new neighborhoods each day. In Boston and New York she was spoiled rotten by our parents. And here in Santa Barbara, her friend Lily takes her on walks in the middle of the day and sends us picture updates throughout. So yea, she lives a pretty sweet life.
What do you love most about being a travel nurse?
Of course, we love exploring new corners of the country. I think the thing we love most, though, is the finite nature of our stays in each place. It forces us to be present and enjoy what’s in front of us. There have been times on different assignments when we talk to coworkers that have lived in the area for years and they’re shocked at all we’ve done in just a couple months. I think for us, when we get too comfortable, we get complacent.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to become a travel nurse?
For us, deciding to travel has been one of the best decisions of our lives. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to move about the way we do. That being said, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The first few weeks (at least) are difficult, stressful, and test your ability to manage anxiety. I’m sure that I wouldn’t travel if it were not for my lovely wife. We’ve both taken turns being the rock for one another when things get tough or overwhelming. Of course, we’ve met countless solo travelers that love what they do and have the personality and character to do it alone. There’s also generally a solid traveler community anywhere you go that you can link up with.
Three pieces of advice I’d offer a prospective traveler:
- Know why you’re getting into it. Is it for the pay? The chance to travel to places you’ve dreamt of? Are you willing to sacrifice one for the other? There’s usually a compromise to be made there, and you should know where you stand.
- Reach out to several travel companies. Sticking with one company limits your earnings ceiling, as well as limiting the places you can go.
- Ask travel nurses for their tips and thoughts, but always take them with a grain of salt. In a general sense, it’s good to ask people that have already been to certain facilities or worked with certain companies how their experience was. But every individual will have a unique perspective, and try not to discount something you wanted to do just because someone else didn’t love it.