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Travel nurses turn to RVs to find work, scenery and adventure

The following article was written by the staff of the RV Industry Association (RVIA). The photos are courtesy of RVIA.

There has been a shortage of nurses in America for a long time. Prior to COVID, there was an estimated need to fill 200,000 positions. Counterintuitively, the demand decreased during the first wave of COVID when hospitals postponed nonessential surgeries and reduced their number of beds. But more recently, as the pandemic has dragged on, demand has grown by 35 percent and is expected to continue climbing. Suspected causes include the aging of the workforce, staff burnout, low pay, and declining morale.

To fill the gap, hospitals have been forced to turn to temporary travel nurses, often paying triple the hourly rate or more for a market of roving nurses that is estimated to reach 100,000 this year. According to the nurse recruitment industry (which is enjoying unprecedented capital investment), there are currently close to 40,000 open “assignments” for travel nurses around the country.

Travel nurses venture farther in RVs

Responding to this need are travel nurses who live at home, but who contract themselves out to different area hospitals for the typical 13-week assignments. But increasingly, travel nurses are packing up and venturing much farther away in their RVs. Based on their very active social media groups (Facebook’s “Adventures in RV Travel Nursing/Healthcare” has more than 23,000 members), more and more travel nurses are combining their nursing and travel passions to, as one nurse describes it, drive her “beach house, mountain cabin, and desert dwelling” to jobs all across the country.

Travel nurse
Jay Quinn

Jay Quinn of South Carolina was an ICU nurse in the Air Force prior to becoming a travel nurse two years ago. During an assignment in Texas, she found the RV she’d been looking for in Tennessee: a Thor Vegas Class A, whom she named “Marty.” She and Marty are currently based at an RV park in Reno, Nevada.

“I knew I wanted to be a traveling nurse,” said Quinn, who had gotten the RVing “bug” as a child camping in her parents’ travel trailer. “I wanted to explore America and I knew my job would be easier in an RV than in a series of hotels or Airbnbs.”

Travel nurse
Katrina Wilson

Katrina Wilson of San Diego has been a labor and delivery nurse for 20 years – the last six of them as a travel nurse. She began traveling after caring for her dying grandmother who made her promise to “do you” and see the country. Today, she, her truck, and her 30-foot fifth wheel (“Millie” and “Tillie,” respectively) are based at Yacht Haven Park & Marina in Ft. Lauderdale, where she is one of 10 travel nurses at the waterside RV resort, which is located near nine busy hospitals. (Previously, during an assignment in Nashville, Wilson was among the 50 percent of travel nurses who were RVers.)

Benefits to being an RV travel nurse

There are significant financial benefits to being an RV travel nurse: the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in America’s top 17 cities is above $2,500 per month, plus deposits, pet fees, short-term rent penalties, and clean-up fees. Campgrounds are generally less expensive, although typically located in the surrounding suburbs. This enables nurses to pocket the difference from the tax-free lodging stipend they are provided by hospitals. For those who own a base home, interest on their RV loan is deductible on income tax as a second home.

Of course, there are expenses related to their RVs. Quinn, who learned basic repairs from her father and considers herself to be technically and mechanically inclined, watches YouTube videos when necessary. The only breakdown she’s experienced so far has been on the car she tows.

“I have the luxury of deciding where I want to go,” said Quinn, who commands top “crisis” pay as an ICU nurse, often treating COVID patients. “I look at the Facebook group posts to see what’s popular and where the need is greatest.”

Rate of pay depends on location

Interestingly, the rate of pay is often commensurate with the desirability of the location. San Diego hospitals pay among the lowest rates because the city is such a popular location, while the state of Mississippi recently announced plans to raise their hospitals’ rates to attract travel nurses.

Wilson, who packs a kayak, rollerblades, a paddleboard, and a recumbent bike, decides on her assignment locations based on what the cities and their environments have to offer. Recently in Nashville, she was able to see the Country Music Hall of Fame, and prior to that, in Charlottesville, she hiked the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is drawn to cities like Seattle, Jacksonville, and Charleston, where she has delivered as many as 1,000 babies in a month.

“True labor nurses like to be busy,” she says. “We like the excitement of delivery.”

As transient travel nurses, both Quinn and Wilson appreciate being excluded from the everyday hospital politics that entangle staff nurses.

“Not my circus, not my monkey!” laughs Wilson.

Finding campsites still a difficult task for travel nurses

Midway through their 13-week assignments, both nurses start planning their next move. Immediately after identifying a potential position, they begin seeking a nearby campground, a task that has become far more challenging over the past two years.

“Prior to COVID, parks were more eager to help nurses,” said Wilson. “Now, of course, there are a lot more people camping, so we’re lucky to find a site at all in popular areas and times of year.”

Travel nurses, especially those with pets, need to follow the temperate weather since their animals are often left in the RVs during the long shifts. That means competing with snowbirds in the winter months.

Safety is one of their primary concerns and they look for gated campgrounds that are well-maintained, well-lit, and have 24-hour security personnel onsite. While some travel nurses traverse the country with their spouses, many are single women who enter and exit the parks at odd hours. Quinn and Wilson both have dogs, a Shih-Tzu named Riley and a dalmatian named Jack, respectively, but they’re more for companionship than protection.

Despite these challenges, the opportunity to experience many parts of America and to earn a full year’s income in a few months will keep Quinn and Wilson working as RV travel nurses for the foreseeable future.

##RVT1040b

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Sherry
6 months ago

A nurse is somebody who compassionately cares for you and your loved ones regardless of your politics. Kindly refrain from endangering his or her life

Sherry
6 months ago

My husband & I travel nursed for 18 years. We are retired. When we first started in 2005, 98% of travel nurse housing was provided by the company Now most travel nurses arrange their own housing and receive a stipend while their actual hourly wage is less than the nurses they work next to. Travel nursing has multiple facets and problems. It is nearly impossible to find a RV park near large cities. In my last 4 years of travel nursing I stuck with it because this life style afforded the opportunity to care for scattered family. My income fell as the travel companies made more money. I am proud to have made taking care of sick children my mission in life. However, as a travel nurse you have few benefits I dont want the RVing public to imagine travel nurses are making thousands while taking advantage of a public health crises. This is not the real story. That is the travel recruiters inflated promises & hospitals inability to plan for the inevitable pandemic.

Michael Galvin, PhD
7 months ago

Some hospitals will let the RVs camp in their lots.

Sherry
6 months ago

I have heard this also but more than likely the nurse will have to give up a contract because there is no RV housing within a reasonable distance. I have worked at over 30 facilities and have never encountered one that provided RV hook up. I have even had a problem parking the RV in the hospital parking lot for an over night shift when leaving the area the next day. Some major,medical centers where housing is super expensive may own a hotel or apartment building but travel nurses rarely have access to staying there. These facilities are usually for people from out of county receiving cancer treatment or people with critically ill dependents. This is as it should be.

pursuits712
7 months ago

Part of the campground crowding issues are the increase in travelling workers — not only those who work INSIDE their camper via technology, but those — like nurses, construction workers, et al. who prefer taking their home with them rather than staying at hotels.

What surprises me is that with employment demands increasing, employers have not started providing their own corporate-owned locations for travelling workers (similar to work camper villages).

Our small town even has a few homes owned by local companies and used by their execs when they come to town. Why not RV sites?

Gary Broughton
7 months ago

When we worked at a campground in Jackson Hole we had several working nurses come through. One couple signed up for 6 months at a time then spent 2 months traveling to their next job. One woman traveled to towns her children lived in to work then on to the next kids town. Lots of people traveling to short term jobs of all kinds.

DPHooper
7 months ago

My husband and I both worked in Travel Nursing over 20 years ago when we first began RVing in an Excel Peterson fifth wheel.
We are retired now, still RVing.

Don
7 months ago

Traveling or not, you’ve got to love a nurse!

Drew
7 months ago
Reply to  Don

We have a nurse staying here (Rio Vista, Ca.) She has a small dog and lets one of the full timers keep her during the day. I think she pays him about 40 bucks a week to do it.

Sherry
6 months ago
Reply to  Drew

This is a great idea. We never had an animal because it seemed cruel to keep them locked in an RV in a strange place for 13 to 14 hours. Traveling with pets causes much anxiety for travel workers. I hope RV parks would consider providing this information to traveling workers who frequent their parks.

BILLY Bob Thronton
7 months ago
Reply to  Don

Ditto.

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