Travel Nurse versus Staff Nurse: What’s the Difference?

By April 2, 2021 May 9th, 2021 No Comments

Travel Nurse versus Staff Nurse: What’s the Difference?

Travel nursing is not the same a staff nursing. Here are some of the major differences.

Work responsibilities

A travel nurse is expected to step into an unfamiliar unit in an unfamiliar facility and pick up a full assignment on the first shift, often with minimal orientation. In contrast, a staff nurse will often have several months of orientation before they are expected to handle the same assignment. However, travelers are often given a pass on some of the documentation expectations, particularly on the more esoteric pieces of the chart. And travelers will rarely be assigned to care for the sickest or most complex patients within a unit.

Staff and management attitude

Travelers are expected to be competent, confident, and able to quickly pick up their assignment without needing any sort of hand-holding. Management expects strong work performance and high quality nursing skills. Staff expects the traveler to ask questions where needed, to remember what they have been told, to work well in a team, and to work without complaining or comparing the current facility to other places where the traveler may have worked. In most instances, the traveler will not be assigned to the sickest patients within a unit and will frequently be given a lighter assignment for the first few shifts until they have figured out how things work on this unit.

Because travelers will usually only be around for thirteen weeks, there is a tendency to avoid addressing smaller issues because the irritation will soon be gone. Staff nurses, since they are expected to be around for a long(er) time, are often held to higher standards. Experiences vary widely, and part of the challenge of travel nursing is that you do not know which you will get until you begin to work at the next assignment.


Workload varies widely. However, travelers are usually expected to carry a full assignment. Depending on the culture of the unit, they may also be given the heaviest or least wanted assignments. Experiences vary widely. Some assignments will be great, others will be horrible.

Why travel nursing is still a positive experience

Travel nursing takes you to places and into situations that you would otherwise never get to experience. Where else would you get to travel, with paid accommodations, and work in multiple facilities all across your state (or multiple states, depending on your licensure and the policies of the agency you are working for)? You will be stretched, you will rapidly improve your skills, you will love it and you will hate it. You may discover a job so wonderful that you decide to transition to a staff nurse there. You will certainly learn a lot about yourself and about human nature. You will meet wonderful people and horrible people and everything in-between.

Travel nursing requires a relatively high level of skill and experience going into it. Confidence and humility and good teamwork certainly don’t hurt. If you have those things, travel nursing can be a wonderful experience.