Hunter Marshall has been working as a travel nurse throughout the pandemic, but he says the extra money that comes with traveling isn’t worth the stress. Now, he’s looking to settle down at a family clinic or wellness facility, so he can maintain a healthy work-life balance.
The Ups and Downs of Travel Nursing
Marshall reflected on his experiences on the road during a recent interview with Business Insider.
When the pandemic first hit, he was working full time at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and had just been accepted into the family nurse practitioner program at UNM.
“We were the COVID-19 unit, and there was frustration amongst staff,” he said. “We were told we didn’t qualify for hazard pay, and that they wouldn’t allow non-COVID assignments for pregnant staff and staff over 60. I ended up doing an interview about working conditions and was given a letter by the administration essentially saying: ‘If you talk to the media again, you will be disciplined.’”
Marshall wanted to stay at the job because he liked his colleagues but not if it meant being disrespected.
“If I’m going to be treated like crap, I’m not also going to be paid like crap — especially at a point when I would be incurring more costs for school,” he explained.
He was making $32.34 an hour at UNM, but he soon traded in his regular job for a travel nursing assignment in Wrangell, Alaska where he made about twice his regular salary, or $65 an hour and $100 an hour for overtime. He also received free flights and room and board.
Marshall made $32,928 in just 13 weeks living in Wrangell. That’s how much he would’ve made in six months at his old job.
“When I flew up there, I was required to quarantine, and I was paid for it. We were also paid when we had exposures at my staff job, but it came out of our sick time and our vacation time. Once those ran out, we weren’t paid at all. It felt good to feel respected and compensated,” he added.
That was just the beginning of his life as a traveling healthcare provider.
Once he was finished in Wrangell, he worked seven 36-hour weeks in San Diego for $17,804.34.
He then went to Anchorage, AK where he made $35,834.37 over eight 36-hour weeks.
“All combined, I made $86,566.71 over 28 weeks of travel nursing,” he estimated.
He understands the perks of traveling nursing firsthand.
“I have much less financial stress. Between the money and the ability to negotiate the terms of your employment, it’s no surprise that so many people are doing this. The equivalent of working at UNM for the same amount of hours would have been $32,598.72 before taxes. I would’ve been working while at school, as well as over school breaks. I would’ve had to take out loans.”
But he recognized the downsides of constantly moving around as well.
“Unfortunately, with travel nursing, the collective knowledge that a unit shares is gone. Instead, there’s a disjointed community. Nursing is a team sport, and if you’re working with people who you’re unfamiliar with, it’s harder. No longer having those relationships means you’re very alone at the end of the day, in a way that leads to more burnout.”
He also talked about how he couldn’t do as much as a travel nurse.
“It’s also harder to build skill sets. When I was a staff nurse, I was able to run the dialysis machine and take care of ECMO patients. I couldn’t do these things as a travel nurse, because hospitals have no way to know that the nurse they hired is going to be competent.”
The staff nurses are typically the only ones allowed to do these tasks. They end up working more even though they aren’t making as much as travel nurses. This can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction in the workplace.
He recently received an offer to come back to UNM, but he’s not sure if he wants to.
“This last contract showed me that the work has taken a toll. It used to feel like we were coping, but now it feels like we’re all dissociating. So, I think during that time, I’m just going to do something entirely unrelated to healthcare, like work as a server — to remember what it is to be in an environment where people aren’t dying and grieving all the time. The money’s not worth it.”
He says he might not be able to work in a hospital ever again after what he’s been through.
“I would be happy to work at Planned Parenthood or a school-based clinic. Something lighter, where when I go home, I’m not wondering about the three kids of that couple who died from COVID-19,” he said. “I’m willing to take a pay cut now, because I’m burned out.”