8 Tips for First-Time Travel Nurses, from a Current Travel Nurse

Health Carousel Travel Nursing
September 8, 2017
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The recruiters at Health Carousel Travel Nursing know that, even as a Super Nurse, you have questions about first-time travel nursing. While every assignment has unique characteristics, tried-and-true travelers can provide advice that is applicable to nearly every travel nursing job. With that in mind, HCTN is thrilled to share the following tips from one of our own nurses, Brittany Hamstra, BSN, RN! Brittany is currently on assignment in Illinois.

Interested in starting the adventure of travel nursing, but aren’t sure where to even begin the process? Perhaps you just want some helpful advice for starting such an exciting endeavor. Or, maybe you’ve heard some good and bad stigmas about travel nursing, and just aren’t sure if it’s right for you.

Whether you’ve seen the advertisements across your social media accounts, have a love for travel and adventure, want a little extra money in your savings account, or just feel stagnant in your current job and want a catalyst for change, travel nursing is an enticing option worth considering for many nurses.

Hopefully this article can provide some guidance for first-time traveling nurses just like I was a few short months ago.

So, where to start?

1. Find the right travel company and recruiter.

The first step is doing a little investigative work. I had no idea where to start, so I did a very basic Google search for top travel nursing companies across the country. I read through forums and lists online and marked my favorites based on reviews and open job positions that fit my profile. Health Carousel Travel Nursing was a stand-out for me mostly because of the exceptional reviews and testimonials by their nurses. Once you reach out to a few companies, you will quickly realize how important it is to have a recruiter who listens to your preferences and communicates very openly and honestly with you. This might sound obvious, but there are an abundance of jobs open at all times and recruiters will bombard you with calls and emails as soon as they have your contact information. I found it frustrating that other companies would continue to contact me every day regarding job openings which I already clarified did not interest me due to location, specialty, etc. It made a world of difference when Brian (my recruiter from HCTN) used our initial phone conversation to build a foundation around what I wanted to achieve from my travel nursing experience. This allowed him to contact me with open positions which fit within my exact profile of preferences and ultimately match me to a job in my top city of choice and top specialty!

2. Be open-minded.

Because there are so many open positions around the country coming and going every day, locking in your first assignment is all about timing and flexibility. Something that will help you immensely is being open-minded with all aspects of your assignment—geographical location, type of unit, shift rotation, start date, and so on. It’s great to have some starting point of where you might want to be, but narrowing your focus too much can limit your opportunities. For instance, someone requesting only “ICU, day shift, Seattle, Washington” may certainly find a job fitting his/her wishes—but what if an even better financial opportunity is in a neighboring suburb? Or a top-ranking teaching hospital in Seattle will accept ICU nurses only for night shift based on need? Keep in mind that you may even be able to negotiate better terms after the interview process when they realize you’re a candidate they can’t miss out on!

3. Plan ahead.

Once you hone in on your top choices, immediately start applying for state licenses. Some states are very quick with processing times, and other can take up to six months. Each state provides easy-to-follow guidelines within their governing board of nursing online portals. Most states require a minimum of a background check/fingerprinting, verification of current nursing license, basic demographic information, and an application fee. Don’t feel alone—your recruiters are there to help you through this process, and most companies will even reimburse these fees once you are placed for an assignment! Once your state nursing licenses start coming through, it’s a downhill ride from there.

4. Utilize the interview. 

You picked a company, you have a new nursing license in the state of your dreams, and your amazing recruiter matched you for a position that really excites you—the next phase is the phone interview. Most people hear the word “interview” and it makes their stomach turn a little bit. Let me tell you the great thing about this type of interview—it’s on the phone! Which means you control your environment. You can be in your most comfortable lounge-wear, sitting on the couch, with your printed resume right in front of you for reference. Like any interview, it is important to prepare. Do your research ahead of time. Know if it is a teaching hospital, a Magnet facility, Level 1 Trauma center, etc. You want to have a good understanding going into the interview of what type of setting you would be working in. And the next piece of advice is vital—make sure it’s a good fit for you! Sure, the phone interview is an opportunity for an employer to ask about your strengths, your experience, and what makes you a good fit for the job. But the interview is an equal—if not more important—opportunity for you to ask questions. Be prepared with questions in writing that you want to know. For me, it was important that I knew the flow of the unit, what the exact patient ratios would be, what charting system they use, what the patient population was, and what previous travel nurses had struggled with on the unit. Those answers gave me a very clear idea of the hospital setting I could be potentially working in for a few months. Remember: you want them and they want you—make sure the match is right.

5. Get organized. 

Congrats! You got the job and now it’s time to start putting things in motion. The next step is working with your company to accrue your necessary credentials. You will have a credentialing specialist who helps you file everything the hospital needs, but one thing that helps immensely is organization. Make copies of your university degrees, CV, special certifications, state licenses, CEUs, and medical records. Have these documents accessible and organized either in a file cabinet or on your laptop. Not only does it make the process of securing your first assignment much more efficient, but it is incredibly helpful in your professional life overall. It is a good idea to start an Excel spreadsheet of your mandatory renewal dates so you know when it is time to reapply for state licenses or certifications. The longer you do travel nursing, the more there will be to keep track of. This method will save you tons time and of hassle in the long-run.

6. Tackle housing.

The method you use to find housing for your assignment is totally up to you. There are essentially two options for housing—you take your travel company’s housing offer, or you find your own with a housing stipend allowance. For some, the thought of finding your own housing is an onerous task. Company housing is a great option for the sake of simplicity. Company housing is guaranteed to place you within a reasonable commute from your facility, with an entirely-furnished living space and read-to-use utilities. The housing will be in a safe area and for the exact length of time you need for your rotation.  Alternatively, your company can offer a housing stipend determined by the cost of living in the area of your assignment. The allowance is typically very generous and if you are willing to put in the work, you can find a great place to live (and sometimes even pocket the extra!). If you do choose to find your own housing, there are plenty of online resources to use. On Facebook, there are group pages specifically for people in cities looking for sublets, subleases, and roommates. There are also websites specifically for finding short-term housing, as well as corporate housing facilities, and options like Airbnb.

7. Be an amazing first-time travel nurse.

The orientation window on the unit is often short, so utilize every moment with your preceptor and ask questions! Yes, you have valuable experience and you are there to help the unit, but you are also in an entirely new environment. As nurses, we know this: Never stop asking questions. When you are on the unit, have the right attitude, be a positive influence, and believe in yourself—this is such an exciting experience! You have the resources, the knowledge, and the experience to be successful. And as always—put the patients first.

8. Make the most of it.

Whether you decide to take an assignment near family and friends, or in an entirely unfamiliar place, moving somewhere is an experience in itself. Take full advantage of it. Wander the streets, explore a nearby park, join a rec sports league, try all of the best restaurants in town, join a meet-up group of your interest, or just immerse yourself in a new culture. The experience of travel nursing transcends your 12-hour shifts—it is a 24/7 adventure for you!

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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