Travel Nurse Burnout: Overcoming It - 5 Lessons I Learned On the Road

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By Kylee Nelson

June 5, 2021



Overcoming Travel Nurse Burnout – 5 Lessons I Learned On the Road


0530, and my alarm was ringing off.  After I had pressed snooze for long enough to make myself late, I lazily pulled myself out of bed, put my scrubs on, grabbed my lunch, and headed out the door.  I dreaded the commute to the hospital, and even worse – I had 12+ hours of work anxiety to look forward to.

I have now been a nurse for five years, and I absolutely love it.  I love working three days a week, caring for others, and I still enjoy the adrenaline rush of someone “tanking.”  I can’t imagine doing anything else, nor do I want to.  So why don’t I want to get out of bed to go to work?  Despite my love of nursing, why do I have anxiety at work?  And most importantly, why do I lack motivation when I’m not at work?

Nurse burnout

According to a study done at Marshall University, nurse burnout is a nationwide problem.  49% of RN’s under 30 and 40% of RN’s over 30 experience nurse burnout.  Nearly 500,000 nurses have quit the profession, citing burnout as the reason.  Symptoms of nurse burnout can include exhaustion, isolation, lack of motivation, poor judgment, decreased career satisfaction, and more.  So how do we fix this?

I began to realize that this was an issue for me when only one year into being a nurse, I already felt the dreaded sensation of “nurse burnout.”  I would look at other nurses who had been in the profession for 30+ years and wonder, “but how?”  Not wanting to move into a different field, I decided that there must be more, so I quit staff nursing to become a travel nurse.  After two years on the road travel nursing, I decided that there had to be more.  When I became a travel nurse, my burnout subsided for a bit… but not completely.  Frustrated and desperate, I decided that it was time for a break.  I bought a one-way ticket, solo, to Europe to figure out what was going on.

17-weeks on the road traveling solo , and what I learned was this:

1.  Nursing is a hard, exhausting profession and not only is it OK to take care of yourself… it’s imperative.

2.  Never apologize for not being able to do more.  More shifts may mean more money, but it may also mean that you’re compromising your well-being.

3.  Better patient care will always come from a nurse who can best take care of him/herself outside of the hospital.  Taking care of yourself will, in turn, take care of your patients.

4.  It is OK to take a break.  Use all your PTO.  Use some of your PTO.  Quit your job until you’re ready to go back.  Taking time for yourself doesn’t make you a bad nurse.  It makes you a great nurse.

5.  You can come back to the profession anytime you feel ready.  Practices are updated, things change, but you can jump back in and pick up where you left off with the right attitude.


17 weeks on the road. 17-weeks to reflect on what nursing means to me.  17-weeks to realize that I was not alone in my feelings of burnout.  That it didn’t make me a bad nurse to need a break.  It took me 17-weeks to realize that the key to overcoming nurse burnout was to take care of myself outside of the hospital.  It sounds simple, but how many of us are truly doing that?

So nurses, what I’ll tell you is this

Find what you love outside of work and pursue it with your whole heart.  Whether that is travel, cooking, dancing, shopping, writing, or hiking, the opportunities are endless!  Find your passion and nurture it.  Taking care of yourself outside of the hospital will make space for you to grow at the hospital.  Nurse burnout isn’t the end; it can be the beginning.  It doesn’t mean you have to quit; it doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed.  All it means is that you aren’t alone, and we need to keep the conversation going.  Nearly half of our profession has felt burned out at one point in their career.  Some of us were so burned out we decided to quit.  It’s time to make a change.

In total I had spent 119+ days away from the bedside 

Was I scared to come back?  Of course!  Was I anxious that I would have forgotten my skills?  Absolutely.  Will returning to nursing be like riding a bike?  What if I fail?  What if I’m not meant to do this?  These thoughts danced in my head day in and day out before I returned to the hospital.  While my feelings were valid, in reality, it was a gift to be able to return to the bedside with a clear mind.  Those feelings had fallen away, and I realized that I wanted to continue to thrive in the hospital setting… I couldn’t make myself second priority any longer.

“BEEP.  BEEP.”  

0530, and my alarm was ringing off.  17-weeks off to heal and rest, and I smiled.  It’s time to go to work… I get to be a nurse.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!  If you have some other tips on overcoming travel nurse burnout, put them in the comments!

If you wanted the study from Marshall this is the link:

If you would like more information on overcoming nurse burnout these articles have more great information: Phoenix Rising – Nurse Burnout, Rising from the Ashes and Ways to Avoid Burnout in Travel Nursing.

If you are a new travel nurse or looking into becoming a travel nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step-by-Step (now offered in a PDF Downloadable version!)

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