Six Tips for First-time Travel Nurses

tips for first time travel nurses

By Joan Fox Rose, MA, RN, contributor

Travel nursing is a unique lifestyle that provides challenges and opportunities that will help you to grow and learn. Three veteran travelers share their insights with nurses who are on the verge of experiencing this exciting career:

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1. Get organized and prepare for each step in the process.

“Before starting a travel nurse career, it’s important to plan,” said Kathleen Ray, RN, a medical-surgical nurse who has traveled extensively with American Mobile Healthcare. “Make sure you have an updated nursing license, health information and immunization records. You’ll need a professionally prepared résumé that highlights your nursing skills and includes a list of references and current telephone numbers,” she said.

“When you and your recruiter have agreed on an assignment, prepare for a telephone interview with the potential employer,” Ray continued. “Ask questions about nurse–patient ratios, type of care delivery system, scheduling and floating policies, and specify in advance should you need particular days off.”

2. Realize that starting a new job in a new place can be a daunting experience.

While many nurses are anxious to get out and explore different parts of the country, others may be hesitant to take the leap. If you are in the the latter group, there are ways to make the transition easier. “Consider a travel assignment in or near your own state, perhaps where your friends and relatives are living,” Ray added. “Being near people you know is comforting when you’re feeling homesick. Should you choose an assignment that’s far from home, consider a travel buddy so you’ll have someone to drive with you. My friend and I drove to Alaska and worked at the same hospital. If you work hard you’ll be sure to make friends among the staff and with other travelers.”

3. Accept nursing assignments with an open mind, and be ready to show your skills.

Although permanent staff nurses are usually courteous and professional, some will try to isolate you to test your nursing skills, said Gretchen Jewell, RN, who also travels with San Diego-based American Mobile, an AMN Healthcare company.

“Seems like when you’re a travel nurse, your co-workers place you on probation until you can show them you have an above-average skill set,” she said.

“I am an ICU nurse with extensive experience and certifications (PICU, MICU, CVICU, Level 1 trauma/Neuro ICU). As I am experienced, I can walk in and be able to tackle any patients I am assigned to. When there’s a code, my co-workers see that I can work well under pressure--and it’s then I’m ‘in.’”

4. Don’t take things personally.

As the new person on the unit, it’s not unusual for a travel nurse to get some assignments that no one else wants, Jewell pointed out, including dealing with patients and families who the staff may see as rude and demanding.

“People who are difficult to deal with only want to be heard and have their issues addressed,” she explained. “I make it a point to listen to them and promptly respond to their issues. I like to take each problem as it comes and venture to learn from this experience. It’s important as new travelers to be flexible in your job role. Travel nursing is a business, so don’t take anything personally.”

5. Verify pay rates and other details with your recruiter.

It’s okay to ask a lot of questions; in fact, a good recruiter would prefer that you do.

“When conversing with your recruiter, ask her to explain what job benefits you’ll have and what your base salary will be,” said Cynthia Herda, a certified hemodialysis technician who has traveled with American Mobile for eight years. “You need to become aware of what to expect in your paycheck during each 13-week assignment. AMN provides health insurance while you’re on the job, but some companies only pay part of health insurance benefits.”

Herda reported she’s currently in college pursuing her nursing degree, and plans to do one assignment with American Mobile this year before the start of her second semester. “I love the travel life.” she said. “My recruiter has been my best travel friend and an important factor in the success of my assignments.”

6. Arrive early for your travel assignment and finish preparations.

Instead of showing up the day before your start date, plan to arrive with enough of time to “get the lay of the land,” settle in your apartment, and figure out your commute and other details before your first shift.

“You’ll want to know where to get your car rental [if needed], learn about your housing arrangements and what the company provides during your stay, as you may need to purchase some household items,” Herda said. “You’ll also need to know where the nearest grocery store and car repair shop are located.”

“Save all receipts while traveling for potential reimbursement or tax issues,” she continued. “It’s a good idea to drive to your assigned hospital to experience the travel route you’ll be taking to work. Make arrangements to visit the hospital before your start date. Ask to talk to your manager and request a tour of your assigned nursing unit. Ask questions pertinent to orientation issues and devise a question list you plan to ask during those sessions. You’ll also need to get the hospital and your direct supervisor’s telephone numbers in case of an emergency, or when you may be late for work.”

Have more questions about travel nursing? Learn the answers to frequently asked questions or request a call from one of’s recruitment partners.


Updated June 2017.

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