Week by Week Timeline of a Travel Nurse: Tips for Travel Nurses

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By Emily Bryant

May 23, 2021

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The Timeline of a Travel Nurse

Guest post by Emily Bryant

Timeline for a travel nurse

Let’s be honest. None of us have this totally figured out. It is like frosting sugar cookies. Sometimes your snowmen come out looking like the poster child for Hallmark’s next hit movie, but other times the frosting consistency is just wrong, and the snowman looks like the plow just threw all of the dirty street snow on it and transformed it into an abominable snowman. It just depends on the day, how steady your hand is, the consistency of the frosting, and how much time you have.

Similar to frosting cookies, some travel assignments can be absolutely perfect, and everything will line up straighter than your cornrows after your family vacation to Mexico in 1997. Other times, housing falls through, or the hospital doesn’t give what they promised, or you can’t seem to connect anywhere. Living life in the Upsidedown almost seems more enjoyable than the current turmoil you are enduring.

Regardless of the frustrations or joys, an assignment might bring, I have figured out that there are quite a few consistencies that tend to occur throughout the 13 week period. This might be my own personal progression, but I have talked to many travelers who have expressed similar feelings. So, what does it look like to move every 13 weeks and continually uproot every aspect of consistency, you know? Let me tell you.

You’re Ready to GO

The contract is signed, the boxes are packed, your car is busting at the seams, your coffee mug is filled to the brim, your phone is charged, and Google maps have been downloaded, the last hugs have been given. You pull out that driveway and head into the sunrise on an early morning full of expectation of what the next weeks will bring.

Your mind is full of all the anticipation and excitement of a new city, new hospital, and hopefully new friends. The unknown seems foreign yet so familiar as you welcome it to take the shotgun seat in your car because it will be the closest thing you know for quite some time, so you might as well get acquainted over bad karaoke and gas station snacks together.

As you pull into the driveway of your new residency, the mix of excitement with nerves produces enough energy to charge your phone, which is now at 3% from all of the podcasts you listened to on your drive-in. If you are anything like me, you have given yourself a solid 12 hours to unpack, dig out your one business casual outfit you own, and pull into orientation the next day.

Timeline of a Travel Nurse

Timeline of a travel nurse
“Hey Alexa, play “On the Road Again” – Emily Bryant via Instagram @emily_bee2

Week 1

What a ride. It is basically like riding Space Mountain at Disneyland for the very first time. You have been waiting for this moment for possibly years (both realistically and metaphorically at Disneyland), and you finally have arrived and are strapped in. Driving to a new hospital, finding orientation, and hoping you will meet other travelers or similar people to go through classes with fills your mind, and your head is on overdrive from taking in the new layout, colors, smells, and policies of a new building.

Here is the thing, no amount of preparation can get you ready to take on that new hospital. You can’t tell me where my favorite parking spot will be until I figure it out. You can’t prepare me for how much room will be left in the refrigerator for my oversized lunch box if I clock in at 6:54 instead of 6:50. I don’t know which doctors I will really love and which ones will make me wish I had stayed home with the stomach flu instead of working with them; I’m going to have to figure that out on my own. But this first week will teach you a lot of things.

Week 2

Ok, so you have spent a solid 20 or so taking horrible computer modules and listening to the same scheme about general hospital safety and some form of ICARE or another pneumonic that represents treating humans with some decency. The first few shifts have been exciting and overwhelming to some degree as you try and remember where each piece of equipment hides, the names of all your new coworkers, a new computer system, and the general floor gossip.

Your smile remains plastered on your face, and you have mastered walking up to someone and going, “hi, I don’t think we have met yet. My name is so-and-so, and I am the new traveler. Please be nice to me and answer the next thirty questions I have for you.” The excitement of being new has slowly started to wear off as your days off are spent trying to fill with seeing the new sights and scenes of a new location. You’re hit with the harsh reality that you are doing it all alone.

Week 3

This is always my hardest week. The newness has left. The reality has set in. It’s a new city, and once again, I have no community and no connection. I’ve watched more TV in the past two weeks than I have in the past four months because I want to feel connected to people, even if it takes place in the form of TV characters. I can’t tell you the number of times I have gone to the store and realized that talking with the cashier at 5:00 pm was the first time I had talked to a human all day. It’s hard. Work doesn’t feel natural yet. Everything seems to take a lot of effort. You find yourself puffing up and playing brave for the most simplistic activities.

Timeline of a travel nurseWeek 4

I made a friend! Ok, well, I have been hanging out with people occasionally, but someone actually invited me to do something with them. It felt less like a sympathy invite and more like they really wanted to spend time with me. A good few people at work have started including you in plans and investing in you as a person during those 3 AM lags when everyone is fighting to stay awake. You start to hit a stride involving a social life.

Weeks 5-8

I think I have found my staples. The closest grocery store has been located. I’ve found a gym I love. The local coffee shop now knows my order. I have discovered my favorite trails, and this new city is starting to feel more and more familiar. Dreaming of what life could look like here isn’t as foreign, and life is overall pretty dang swell.

Week 8

Timeline of a travel nurse
“Each new assignment means turning the page and ending a chapter full of people and places that changed me.” – Emily Bryant

The recruiter called. She asked what I want to do next. What do I want? I just started to feel comfortable. I just started to connect with people. Do I really want to leave already? Do I have to decide right now? I could really love these people and want to extend for another 3 months, or I could also move on to another adventure and somewhere seasonal while I have the chance. How does one make this decision? For now, I’ll pretend I didn’t see that email.

Weeks 9-11

I spent countless hours imagining what life would look like in different locations. At the same time, also trying to squeeze all of the last items on my bucket list onto my weekly agenda. People begin to throw in bitter comments about you leaving. Work friends beg you to extend and join on as full-time staff. New jobs roll across the email. You apply for some and always keep the phone near. For the one time during the whole contract, you turn the ringer on, just in case.

Does your 13 weeks sound like this? Let us know what yours looks like below!


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