Travel Nursing vs. Staff Nursing - 10 Major Differences
by Brittany Hamstra BSN, RN
Travel Nursing vs. Staff Nursing – are they really so different? What makes these two career paths so entirely unique? Here are some of the biggest differences between life as a travel nurse and as a staff nurse:
1. Staff meetings, hospital politics, and quarterly evals, Oh My!
Staff nurses have certain obligations as an employee including not-so-fun mandatory staff meetings, one-on-one performance evaluations by management, and inevitable involvement in hospital politics. As temporary hires, travel nurses aren’t involved in any of the unit politics and drama. Although some nurses enjoy being closely involved in decision-making processes, most would be more than happy to clock out and read updates via email.
2. WWE Feature Fight: Nurses vs Vacation Request Binder
One of the hardest parts of a staff nursing lifestyle is the inability to plan your vacation schedule far in advance. You can request days off as early as a year ahead, but if you’re lucky enough to be approved, sometimes you find out with relatively short notice. As a travel nurse, getting vacation days off is usually very easy to coordinate as long as you request the dates to be written in your contract. Which brings us to…
3. PTO vs PT-No
Staff nurses are paid for time off, which is a very nice perk of working full-time. So when their requests are finally approved for vacation time, they can breathe easy because the paychecks keep rolling in.
As travelers, it’s a great perk to be able to take vacations without having to get approval from a boss. In fact, plenty of travel nurses take at least 1 full month off between assignments.
Travel nurses very rarely receive PTO from their agency - the take the time off without pay. However, with the right budgeting and planning many travelers live a flexible lifestyle - a few months of work with extended time off in between.
Some travel nurses take an extended break over the holidays to stay with family at home. It’s a win-win - stay with family for free!
4. Travel nurses’ two favorite phrases: “Meals and Incidentals” and “Housing Stipend”
Nurses know the visceral pain of looking at the tax deduction portion of your paycheck. Depending on what state you work in, taxes can end up deducting up to 40% of your income.
As a travel nurse, you receive non-taxed stipends to help pay for housing, meals and other incidentals. These non-taxed stipends make up a large portion of the travel nurse’s paycheck. That’s right, a big chunk of your pay as a travel nurse is not taxed.
AKA a lot more money in your pocket. However…
5. As if tax season could get any worse…
As a travel nurse, you are obligated to file separate taxes in every state you worked during the tax year. So if you took four contracts across the country, you are filing taxes four times at different state deduction percentages.
Although the non-taxed portion of income is a godsend for travel nurses, tax season is a beast of its own.
As a staff nurse, you can enjoy a much more straightforward tax process.
6. There’s no place like home
Picking up and moving your life every 13 weeks can be stressful, to say the least.
- finding short-term housing in a place you’re not familiar with,
- braving a new place alone.
Travel nursing can be extremely fun and exciting but it’s not without challenge. Travel nurses lack a true feeling of home, which staff nurses surely appreciate. It can be comforting after a long, tough shift to sink into a familiar couch and kick your feet up with the familiarity of loved ones.
Travel nurses do their best to make a comfortable home environment but it’s not easy.
7. Negotiation game strong
When you work as a staff nurse, you usually don’t negotiate pay. Pay is usually based on clinical nurse level or years of experience with incremental raises.
As a travel nurse, you have to learn negotiation skills that no one taught you in nursing school. If you play your cards right, you can negotiate pay packages higher than the majority of staff nurses, even ones with many more years of experience. Typical travel nurse pay ranges from $1300-$2300 per week. Travel nurses can definitely earn well over $100K per year.
To become a pro at travel nurse contract negotiations, make sure to get versed in:
- The ins and outs of how recruiters create pay packages,
- What addendums to add to your contract
8. Seniority perks - or, not.
The flip side is that travel nurses miss out on building seniority. Even though there are shortcuts to increasing pay as a traveler, there are some advantages that you won’t be able to match staff nurses on. Seniority perks like getting the schedule you want, working fewer weekends, and day/night rotations are a major advantage for permanent staff nurses.
Travel nurses are usually at the mercy of the scheduling manager and you work wherever you’re needed - simple as that.
9. Orientation: 3 days vs. 3 months
If you like a slow transition into a new work environment, travel nursing is not for you. Travel nurses are expected to hit the ground sprinting!
Essentially travelers have 3 shifts to learn,
- A new computer charting system,
- How to navigate your way through the hospital,
- To figure out where anything and everything is stored on the unit,
- New policies and procedures.
Staff nurses get a much steadier transition period with longer support from mentors and preceptors.
However, quick independence as a travel nurse also comes with the perks of not taking students, precepting, or doing charge.
10. Squad Goals
Being the new kid in town can be challenging. As a travel nurse, you’re constantly introducing and re-introducing yourself to everyone on the unit. It takes some time to integrate into the work culture, but once you do, it’s really rewarding to build new friendship across the country.
One of the best perks of staff nursing is growing deep and lasting friendships with your coworkers. There’s nothing like working a shift with your best friends. Followed by going out for drinks afterward while immediately recounting every disgusting detail and funny moment from the shift.
No matter where you work, becoming a part of the squad makes work so much more fun.