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Beginner's Guide to Travel Nursing

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
June 29, 2022
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Are you a beginner travel nurse? Travel nursing can be a great adventure, but you need to make sure you’re prepared. On top of all the paperwork and preparation for travel nursing, here are a few questions that many new travel nurses may not think to ask. Hopefully, these tips and answers to frequently asked questions for new travel nurses will help you make the most of your upcoming travel nursing assignment!

What is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is sometimes referred to as a gypsy nurse because they travel throughout the country while on travel nursing assignments. Travel nurses work for travel nursing agencies that partner with healthcare facilities. Many healthcare systems across the country face nursing shortages and have short-term nursing positions available. Travel nurses fill in the short-term staffing needs for a predetermined length of time, pay rate, and hours per week. Employment terms of travel nurse jobs or assignments are outlined in a travel nursing contract.

Become a Travel Nurse

So maybe you’ve determined that you want to become a travel nurse, but don’t know the requirements or where to begin. First, you must have a nursing degree and have passed the national council licensure examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). After you’ve passed the NCLEX-RN, you will need to apply for your state nursing license. Top travel nursing agencies like you to have at least two years of nursing experience in your specialty area before applying. This is because they want you to be proficient and master nursing skills in your specialty.

Once you’ve landed your first job, started your nursing career, and worked for the minimum required years, you can consider starting your travel nursing career. Before applying to any positions, it’s a good idea to apply for a compact nursing license (if you live in a compact state) as well. A compact nursing license allows you to practice nursing in other compact states without having to obtain additional state licensure.

13 Tips for a First-Time Travel Nurse

Let’s review some common tips for first-time travel nurses.

Get Organized

Before applying to any travel nurse positions or speaking to a recruiter, it’s a good idea to get organized. Have originals and copies of your nursing licenses, certifications (i.e. BLS, ACLS, etc.), immunizations, and other nursing documents in order. Your recruiter, travel nursing agency, and healthcare facility are going to require these. If you need help staying organized, Health Carousel Travel Nursing (HCTN) offers their On Demand app to help you keep documents organized and search for available positions.

Be Flexible

When speaking to a recruiter about starting your travel nurse career, you are going to need to be flexible. Have a list of your top five locations you would like to travel to prepare, as your top choice might not always be available. You will also need to be flexible on the shift or required hours per week. For example, you may prefer the day shift, but there are only night shift options available for the destination you want to travel to. Or maybe there is day shift available, but the minimum number of hours per week is 48, meaning you will have to work four shifts. Remember, where there is a nursing shortage, this is where travel assignments are available. So sometimes overtime hours are required. Each assignment is different, so you’ll need to review the pros and cons of each assignment.

Choose a Comfortable Location

Choosing a comfortable location for your first travel nursing assignment may be hard. It’s difficult initially to be away from home, be in a new environment, and work for a new healthcare system. Try choosing a location a few hours away from home initially to get your feet wet. This way if you’re homesick then you aren’t too far away from family and friends. For your next travel assignment, you can travel further.

Keep Your Furry Best-Friend(s) Happy

Decide before accepting your assignment what’s best for your pets at home. Many travelers work overtime hours on their assignments, so you wouldn’t want to leave your furry friend in a hotel room or rental. It may be best, in this case, to have a family member or friend watch your pets while you’re away on assignment. On the other hand, sometimes this isn’t an option or you would like your pets to travel with you. During your long work days, plan to drop your animal off at a pet daycare or have a pet sitter check on your pet. If you decide to travel with your pet, you’ll also need to research housing that allows pets.

Don’t Drown in the Details

When you first receive your travel nurse pay package, don’t drown in all the details. First, review all of the key information, like contract length, pay rate, and hours. Then you can start looking through the travel reimbursement, medical benefits, stipends, and other clauses. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your recruiter. They know the ins and outs of your travel nursing contract. Don’t forget to ask about when your health insurance will begin and other professional development reimbursement items, such as continuing education or certifications. 

Plan Your Housing

Before signing your contract, you will need to decide on your housing arrangements. Most of the time, travel nurse staffing agencies can offer free or discounted corporate housing. If this time of housing is not an option or if you choose to find your own housing, then a weekly housing stipend will be outlined in your contract.

Do Your Own Research

It’s best to do your own research on the area and cost of living for your destination before signing your contract. Research the cost of housing, meals, and transportation to your assignment location and to and from work. You may find that it’s cheaper to rent your own housing or use a rental car.

Ask Other Travel Nurses

Don’t be afraid to ask other travel nurses about their experiences with travel nursing. There are plenty of online communities and blogs specific to travel nursing. You can ask questions about licensing, places to live, or even how travel nursing affects their personal life. Websites like AllNurses and Facebook groups are good places to get started.

Your Recruiters Work for You

Always remember that your recruiter works for you and wants you to get the most out of your travel nurse experience. 

Have a Positive Attitude

It’s always best to keep a positive attitude while you’re at work. Even if you’ve had a horrible day, it’s never a good idea to be negative at work. Remember, the nurse manager is around and you want to make a good impression. You never know when a hospital is looking for a contract extension for one of their travel nurses.

Keep in Contact with Your Recruiter

Keep in contact with your recruiter throughout your assignment. If you have any issues while you are on your assignment (like being put on call repeatedly or canceled shifts), speak to your recruiter immediately. Remember, they’re the liaison between you and the healthcare facility.

Don’t Forget to Make Friends!

As a travel nurse, you are going to meet tons of new people, especially fellow travel nurses. Chances are other travel nurses are working on the same unit as you. Make friends with as many people as possible, you never know when you may need to use them as a reference.

Your Next Assignment

Always plan for your next assignment far in advance. Even if you just started your new assignment, start talking to your recruiter about your next assignment. To avoid any small gaps in employment, it’s best to have your next assignment lined up weeks before your current one ends. As a travel nurse, you don’t get paid between assignments.

5 Newbie Travel Nurse Questions

Now let’s answer some top questions of new travel nurses.

IF I’VE WORKED WITH AN AGENCY IN THE PAST, HOW LONG WILL MY REFERENCES WITH THAT AGENCY BE GOOD FOR?

The rule of thumb for references in travel nursing is that they should never be more than a year old. So, if you worked with a travel agency, supplied them with your references and other documents, but never went on an assignment with that agency, you could theoretically come back to them within the same year and be ready to be submitted to assignments. However, many nurses will tell you that it’s best to provide a reference from your two latest assignments (and we agree!). Recent references make you more attractive to facilities and boost your chances of getting the travel assignment you want. Make it a habit to get at least one reference from a supervisor for each assignment you complete.

WHAT’S A HASSLE-FREE WAY TO INCLUDE HEALTHY OPTIONS IN MY DIET WHILE TRAVELING AND SPEND LESS ON EATING OUT?

We know that when you’re traveling you don’t want to stress about where your next meal will come from. Fast food is cheap and convenient, but it will take a toll on your health. With a nurse’s schedule, it can also be a challenge to research new recipes and get to the grocery store to get food. That’s why we (and other travelers) recommend meal kit services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Home Chef. These kits allow you to try a new recipe while staying in, taking the hassle out of meal planning and bringing high-quality ingredients right to your home. Many local grocery stores also sell meal kits in-store, making it easy to pick up all the ingredients you need in one place.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ROAD TRIP APPS OR WEBSITES SHOULD I USE FOR MY TRIP ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO MY NEW TRAVEL NURSING ASSIGNMENT?

Commonly used apps for road trips include Google Maps, the reigning king of GPS navigation, as well as Waze, a navigation app that lets users report traffic problems in real time. Other popular travel resources include Furkot, a website that helps you plan your whole road trip by letting you set the dates for your trip, book hotels, and find interesting locations along the way. The iExit app, which tells you what’s coming up on highway exits, is also a popular choice for road trippers who want to make sure their road trip goes smoothly. Nurses also recommend Priceline, which specializes in getting traveler nurses lower rates through bidding on accommodations.

HOW CAN I SAVE MONEY ON MY ASSIGNMENT, WHILE STILL MAKING THE MOST OF BEING A TRAVEL NURSE?

There are many ways you can save money on your assignment, while still exploring the awesome new location you’ve traveled to! Library cards are free almost everywhere, and provide you with endless entertainment, whether you’re renting books, DVDs, or just using the library computers. Library cards can also provide discounted or free admission to local attractions, including museums, parks, and other cultural institutions. Groupon is also a great choice for nurses looking to explore the local area since you can get great prices on excursions, events, and adventures. Also, meal planning and proper discipline in spending money on food will make a huge difference. If you know any friends or relatives living near your assignment, staying with them can also save you money on housing.

WHAT TYPE OF APARTMENT SHOULD I GET — FURNISHED OR UNFURNISHED?

When looking for travel nursing housing, furnished apartments can be attractive because of the opportunity to live somewhere that’s already complete, but expect to spend significantly more than you would on an unfurnished apartment. Many nurses have used furnishedfinder.com to find fully furnished apartments for short-term assignments. This site also lets you know the proximity of your rental to local hospitals. Don’t count out unfurnished apartments — many nurses swear by their inflatable mattresses, which are easy to pack and save you money due to the ability to move into an unfurnished apartment without needing to acquire a traditional mattress. And Amazon now sells inflatable couches and chairs, which can be used to fill out an unfurnished living room. The choice is yours!

Health Carousel Travel Nursing

Find the Travel Job that’s Right for You

Interested in how the pay stacks up in other states not on this list? Our trusty Super Nurse sidekicks are standing by to answer any questions you have. Click below to get information on opportunities in other states!

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