Updated: Feb 11
This particular blog is for all your first-time travelers and even those of you just “thinking” about traveling. It can be a bit scary to jump into the field of travel nursing because there are SO MANY questions and Google (the mastermind that s/he is) doesn’t always provide the most reliable answers. Pretty sure last thing we googled told us we had cancer, and 48 hours to live so we’re never googling anything again. Kidding!
But in all seriousness – we’re glad you’re here – because below we’re going to give you “19 Tips for a First Time Travel Nurse.” It’s a crazy exciting career path with a ton of benefits (namely higher pay, flexible schedules, the freedom to travel all across this great country and way (WAY) more time off than most nurses).
But you know all this already, and this isn’t an article about the perks of being a travel nurse: this is your guide to successfully navigating your first year of travel nursing.
19 Tips for a First Time Travel Nurse
1. Get Organized
One thing all travel nurses are (or at least become) is organized. No – that doesn’t mean you need to color-code your closet, but it does mean you’ll want to have all your paperwork in order. This includes having all your licensing information, certifications, and health and immunization records up to date. It also means you’re 100% completely prepared for those phone interviews with an up-to-date resume and a list of references.
Check out our recent blog: Top Ten Toughest Travel Nurse Interview Questions.
Pro-Tip: Add your renewal dates to your calendar and set reminders so that you’re a step ahead of the game when it comes time to renew your licensing and certifications.
2. Be Flexible.
When starting out as a travel nurse, flexibility is key. The more flexible you are with location, setting, facility and pay grade, the more jobs will be open to you. As time passes and your get your “travel nursing wings” (so to speak) your experience will allow you to be more choosey with your assignments.
Yes – there are 100% (without a doubt) recruiters out there that will promise you the sun, and the moon and the stars and may even actually deliver pure gold on that first assignment (as a way to reel you in) – but as with any profession – more experience brings more prestige – more prestige brings more choices - and the same holds for travel nurses. The more flexible you are, the more assignments you’ll get on the regular, the more experience you’ll earn and the more opportunities you'll have further down the line.
3. Choose a Comfortable Location
As a new traveler about to embark on your first assignment it can be daunting to pick-up and move to a location you’ve never been to before. With all the “firsts,” location doesn’t have to be one of them. Choose a city or a town you’ve been to before, or where you have some friends or family. The familiarity of a landscape or a smiling face will help calm any nerves you may experience as a first-time traveler.
4. Don’t Take it Personal
As an experienced nurse, you have enough stress in your life as it is. The work is fast-paced and high-stakes so don’t add to your stress by taking personally what a patient, or their family member say to you in a time of distress. Remember your patients and their families are most likely going through a hard time and are likely not on their best behavior.
Always stay professional and speak to your supervisor about any questionable interactions. They’ll provide you with the feedback you need to move forward. And let those comments roll off you like butter on a hot bun, go home, run a bath, put on some soothing music, and relax. Nine times out of ten, it’s never about you.
5. Take a Test Drive
Yes, we do mean actually get in your car – but instead of test-driving that brand new BMW you’ve had your eye on, we’re asking you to test-drive the life that will get you that brand new BMW.
Before the first day of your first assignment – wake up and get ready at the same you would if you were heading into work. Leave your house at the time you think would be appropriate to get to work on time, figure out where you should park at your new location and determine the best route to get to your floor.
Hospitals can often be big convoluted mazes of endless hallways and secret elevators - so don’t let these little stresses impact your first day. Determine the best route to get to your floor – and calculate whether or not you’ll need more or less time to arrive on-time your first day. You can even make that Starbucks run while you’re at it. :)
6. Arrive Early
It’s true what they say: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And the last impression you want to make, as you’re embarking on this awesome new journey, is someone who didn’t think it was important enough to show up on time.
Aside from that – there’s a ton of stress associated with a new assignment: new people, new procedures, new patients, new …well…everything! So don’t add to this stress by stressing about the time and make sure to give yourself so much time – that you actually arrive early.
7. Keep Your Furry Best-Friend(s) Happy
Remember up above when we said successful travel nurses are nurses who are organized (paperwork/licensure/etc.)? The same goes for any pets you may have. Are they up to date on their shots, immunizations, health check-ups? Make sure these things are in order before you embark on that first assignment. And if you’re taking your pet(s) with you on assignment – make sure to do a little research beforehand on best pet sitters available, as well as what vet you’ll use in the event your furry love-bug needs to see a doc before your assignment is over.
8. Don’t Drown in the Details
There are a few details you’ll want to be mindful of when taking on a new assignment. Namely: what’s going to happen to your mail? Bills? Deliveries? (Make sure to remember things like amazon subscriptions, magazines, meal-deliveries, car registration, etc.) What about your utilities (electricity, WIFI, water)?
In today’s day and age of modern technology, it’s now super easy to make all your arrangements electronically. From automatic payments on your bills via your banking institution, to setting up online payments with all your credit cards, utilities, student loan people, etc., it’s all pretty simple, just a little time consuming to get set up the first time.
Make a list of what you need to take care of beforehand and set some time aside to tackle these important “to-dos” before you take off on your first assignment.
9. Pack Light
The key thing to remember when packing is that you’ll only be gone for 13-weeks, not 13 years. So think about what you can and cannot live without. It’s very possible you won’t need to pack every single pair of shoes you own, or that flat screen TV.
Think about what you’ll actually use during your time-away and what you can get by without. Perhaps your iPad will suffice for your Netflix binging, but you definitely want those 4,000-count Egyptian sheets. Totally ok. Maybe you’ll won’t need to pack the Louis Vuitton heels – but definitely need that 7th pair of Vans sneakers. Totally ok.
Whether you’re flying or driving to your new location – the less you bring the less you’ll have to worry about. Just decide where in the sand you can draw the line to get to happy.
10. Plan Your Housing
This one should be pretty obvious, unless your new assignment comes with housing – which is possible. If not – continue reading: What’s important to you? Do you want to live in the center of town, or far away from all the action? Do you want roommates to pocket a little of your travel reimbursement – or are privacy and solitude more important? Do you want something that’s super, modern and fancy or are you ok with rustic and charming? Do you have pets and is your new spot accommodating, or no? These are all things you’ll want to consider when making a decision on where you’ll call home for the next 13-weeks.
11. Do Your Own Research
We know we are a travel nurse agency, but we do actually encourage our nurses to go out there and do a little independent research on the best travel nurse agencies to work with. Think about where you want to work, what kind of money you want to make, and what sorts of assignments you’d like to get. And ask other travel nurses what they think about travelling and who the best companies to work with are.
We know dollar bills are a huge motivating factor for a lot of travelers, so we actually wrote a blog on The Top 5 Ways to Make the Most Money as a Travel Nurse. Check it out!
12. Ask Other Travel Nurses
You of course have a million questions about travel nursing. What are the best pay rates for a hospital in Louisiana? Best resources for finding furnished housing? Best questions to ask a travel nurse recruiter? One of the best ways to get answers to these questions is to simply ask another travel nurse. And in this day and age – it’s never been so easier. Two great places to check out are The Gypsy Nurse on Facebook and the Travel Nurse Forum at allnurses.com.
13. Take Advantage of Your Newbie Status
This is your first assignment on a new floor, in a new hospital with brand new people. Not only is everything you’re dealing with new – but the experience itself is new so you don’t have a routine set yet. You’ll want to have as much of an understanding of your new environment as possible, so make sure to ask as many questions as you can before your first day arrives. Some questions you can ask: What are the dynamics of the floor I’ll be working on? What should I know about the people I’ll be working with? What politics should I be aware of?
14. Don’t Be Afraid to Show Off
As a brand-new travel nurse there will be a natural hesitation when working with permanent staff nurses. But the truth is – staff nurse or travel nurse – most nurses are courteous and professional. Once you’ve been trained on the proper processes and procedures, don’t be afraid to jump in, start helping, and show your new co-workers that you’re a viable part of the team.
15. Have a Positive Attitude
Easier said than done, right? Stress is a natural part of any nursing career and adding to that stress by introducing a new element: traveling, can be a little challenging and scary.
Don’t forget why you’ve started traveling or are thinking about starting. More adventure, higher pay, better assignments, better career path, more flexibility, etc. Sure – as with new any new adventure there’s a learning curve – but don’t let that stop you from pursuing what could quite possibly be one of the most fulfilling careers you’ve ever had.
And never forget the power of positivity – and if you do forget, read these great step-by-step instructions by Lifehack: How to tap into the power of positivity.
16. Keep in Contact with Your Recruiter
There are a couple things your recruiter (especially here at Next Move) will be really good at: being available to you when you need them to be and answering every single one of your questions. You’ll have a ton in the beginning, a few during the process, and a few more once you get started – never be afraid to reach out to your recruiter while out on assignment with any questions or concerns that might pop up. Perhaps you thought you’d be working five 8-hour shifts, but it looks like they want you to work three 12-hours shifts. Or maybe there’s a curmudgeon on your floor and you really don’t know how to deal. No question is too big or too small, so always make sure you stay in contact with your recruiter while you’re out on assignment.
17. Don’t Forget to Make Friends!
One of the best ways to ease stress, and really get into the groove at a new assignment is to make new friends with the very people you work with. Yes – it’s only 13-weeks, but there’s no reason it has to be a lonely 13-weeks. As painful as it might feel at first, participate in small talk and find out what you have in common with your co-workers. Invite them out for a cup of coffee before or after your shift. Make plans for a shared day off.
FastCompany.com actually wrote a pretty decent article titled: 15 Easy Ways to Make Friends in Your First Week on the New Job
18. Your Next Assignment
You haven’t even started your first assignment and here we are talking about your next assignment. Yes, we cray. But we’re also diligent and you wouldn’t believe how fast 13-weeks goes, so we recommend, right around the 4-week mark, you start thinking (and talking with your recruiter) about your next assignment. Do you think maybe you like your current assignment and would like to extend? Or nah? Is there a new opportunity available in which you’ll need a different state license? These are all things to think about and figure out together with your recruiter.
19. Time to Explore!
Part of the fun of traveling as a nurse is that you actually get to travel! Always make sure to carve out some time to explore your new location. Talk to your co-workers about their favorite spots, hop on Tripadvisor or Yelp for recommendations or check out our Midwest Discovery section where we give you a little of the ins-and-outs of some of our more popular locations.
Do you have some tips and tricks for new nurses considering traveling for the first time? What was it like for you? Let us know in the comments below!