Travel Nurse: Starting Life as a Travel Nurse

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By Mynoucka

May 7, 2022

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Starting Life as a Travel Nurse

Today we’re discussing the world of travel nursing. How did I begin? Why did I start? You should keep in mind some key items before beginning your travel nursing journey. I’ve been working as a travel nurse now for about 14 months. I began my first travel nursing assignment back in October of 2018. Before that, I worked on a cardiac progressive care unit for about 3 1/2 years, so I felt confident enough to leave my comfort zone and work on different floors, in different states, and in different hospitals. And still, feel like I would be okay.

As a travel nurse, you’re contracted to work through a travel nursing agency at the hospital. Most travel nursing agencies require that you have at least two years of experience, but as of late, some travel nursing agencies allow their nurses to work with one year of experience. The two years of experience give you more of an edge over someone working as a nurse for only one year. Again if you feel like that’s what you want to do, and you want to go out and work as a travel nurse, and you only have one year of experience, but that one year of experience was packed full of so many different things that you’ve been able to do on the floor. You put yourself out there; you can get your feet wet, you’re able to get your hands dirty and do different things, and you feel like you could do that at different hospitals after one year; then, by all means, go for it.

I do feel like the two years gives you that extra confidence that you need because, as a travel nurse, you don’t get a lot of orientation on the floors, so you’re contracted through a travel nursing agency. You go to this hospital; you get maybe one to two days of orientation after you’ve been assigned, and then you’re expected to perform at an exceptional level like the rest of the staff. Your charting is expected to be up to par, and your patient care is expected to be up to par. As you can see, you need to make sure that you can quickly adapt to those different environments.

I knew that I wanted to travel. I knew that I needed a way to support myself while on the road. So, those two different things led me to believe that travel nursing would be the perfect career shift for me to get the best of both worlds. So I had heard of travel nursing here and there, but I honestly didn’t understand it before becoming one. Living in Florida, you often feel the fluctuation of people coming in and out of the state, so you feel that fluctuation when working in the hospital. Because of that, while I was working on the cardiac progressive care unit floor, it allowed me to get floated to different units because our census on our unit wasn’t the same every day. We would be super busy one day, and we wouldn’t have enough help. Then the next day, we would be over two to three nurses, so whenever that happened, and if you’re a registered nurse, you know this already, you might get floated to another unit to lend a helping hand to them. When that was happening, and I was getting floated, it allowed me to feel how it is to work in a situation where you don’t have a lot of training, where you’re not familiar with the people there, you’re not familiar with where all your supplies are. I feel like all of those experiences came together to make me feel comfortable to be able to go on the road.

Licensing

You want to keep in mind when you’re working as a travel nurse to apply for your licenses ahead of time. So, once you’ve made up your mind, you’re going to become a travel nurse, and you’ve decided where you want to go, you want to make sure that you know what those license requirements are. We have this incredible thing called compact licensure, and that’s when you’re able to apply for one license, and that license is good for several other States. I believe that about 30 states right now are participating in the compact state licensure. Living in Florida, we are considered one of the compact states, so when I renewed my license for Florida, I made sure that I opted for that, knowing that I wanted to be a travel nurse. It made sense that my one license would be good for other hospitals. That would make me a better candidate for those hospitals when I look at different assignments. I also knew that I wanted to go to the state of California at some point. California does not participate in the compact licensure program, so I made sure that I applied for California separately. Once you’ve decided that you want to go on the road and decided on where you want to go, make sure that you look to see whether or not that state participates as one of the compact license states.

Housing

 The second thing you want to keep in mind is what you want to do for housing. I’ve always been told that travel nurses get free housing, which is not quite the case. Your housing is actually a part of how you get paid. You have two options: either choose to use the agency-provided housing or select to receive a housing stipend. The way that works if you select to go with agency provided housing, your travel nursing agency may be contracted with different apartments in that area, and they may tell you these are the apartments that you’re able to choose from; here are a list of apartments for you to look at let us know which apartment you decided to go with. However, the better option is for you to select to get your housing stipend. This is the better option because you can get the stipend if you are comfortable finding your housing or finding somewhere to live without the company’s assistance. Let’s say your housing stipend is $2000; you find somewhere you want to live for $500 to $1000; the remainder of that stipend now belongs to you. This means that you’re able to leverage that and put it towards maybe some debt that you’re trying to pay off, or maybe you’re able to put it towards your savings. It allows you to save as much as you can while working as a travel nurse. There are pros and cons to both. Suppose you’re going somewhere and not comfortable selecting your housing. In that case, you want all of that taken care of, you don’t want to think about utilities, you don’t want to think about what neighborhood you’re going to be placed in, and you want someone to take care of that for you then, by all means, go with company housing. If you are traveling where you know someone, you can negotiate with them if they’re a friend. You have to sit back and decide what you are comfortable with, and once you decide that, go for it.

Floating

The third thing you want to keep in mind is that you are there to help. Again, as a travel nurse, you’re contracted to work in the hospital as an employee of the agency, so when you go in there, you’re going to be the first one to float. You’re going to be the first to float; keep that in mind. They’re getting travel nurses because they are short-staffed, they need help, but they’re not hiring full-time or part-time employees; maybe they need help for a specific period of time, and they feel like having a travel nurse will be sufficient. You come in, you do the job, and then once they no longer have the need, you can move on to a different hospital. Most travel nursing contracts are about 13 weeks, but they have some shorter contracts that can range between 4 to 10 weeks, but typically you’re there for about 13 weeks. You come in, do the job, and then move on to the next assignment. You do have the option to extend at times. Perhaps you like the hospital you’re at, and they still have the need. You can decide that you’re going to do a couple more weeks there, or you might decide to do a completely new assignment there and be there for another 13 weeks. It varies. You have to remain flexible and remain open. That’s part of the territory that you enter as a travel nurse. Floating does not have to be a negative experience. I’ve met some amazing people, and I have learned so much just working with various people, and it began in my home hospital in Florida. Once I began floating there, failing wasn’t an idea that I was scared of anymore. As a travel nurse, you’re going to float, so you have to keep an open and positive mind about that whole experience.

Make requests known

The fourth thing that you want to keep in mind is to make your request known early on. The awesome thing about travel nursing is that you have flexibility with your schedule. However, once you’re contracted to work in a hospital, it’s very common that they may not honor your request for you to be off. Let’s say you have a wedding or a graduation that you want to go to. They are not required once you’re contracted for them to honor those requests. The advantage you have is that if you know that you have something going on, you can put in those requests within your contract before you’re even signed on or assigned to that hospital. So, make sure when you are taking on an assignment don’t let the excitement get to you; make sure that you plan ahead of time if different things are going on that you want to be a part of or you want to be present for and put those dates in your contract. Once those dates are in your contract, the hospital you’re assigned to has no choice but to honor those requests because they took you on as a travel nurse, knowing that you would need those days off. You do have the flexibility that you need with your schedule, but you have to make sure that you let your recruiter know that these are the days that I need off, so those dates can be included in your contract. Another option you have is taking time off in between your contracts. I don’t believe that agencies provide PTO; I know that mine doesn’t. If I decide to take a month off between my travel nursing assignments, I need to make sure that I plan accordingly, because I will not get paid between those times. You can come and go as you please. You can decide that you want to take two months off and maybe go backpacking in Europe or go to Australia, go to some island somewhere, take that 10 day trip to Africa that you’ve been wanting to take, and do that as a travel nurse. Then once you’re done, you can decide that you want to pick up a different assignment and pick up where you left off.

Have fun!

The fifth and final thing that I want you guys to remember if you decide to go the route of a travel nurse is to have fun! You’re in a new city, potentially solo, or you’re with a group of friends. It’s a unique time where you can travel to a city without fully committing to living in that city. So, make sure that you take a city cruise if you want to or hop on a group chat. There are so many different group chats that you can be a part of and network and get to know different people. I like to go on Yelp and Groupon and act like a tourist when I’m going somewhere new. So I can fully experience what it’s like to live in that city, and you can potentially decide whether this will be a home for you. If it’s not a home for you, you can move on and work somewhere else and not be committed to that city. It’s a great experience.

Travel nursing has given me a different perspective when it comes to nursing. I’m 100% sure that it has kept me at the bedside a lot longer than I would have been if I had stayed on one floor, and it’s just giving me the confidence that I need to travel solo. I just went to Hawaii as a solo traveler. It was the first time I’ve gone on an extended trip by myself, and it’s something that I felt a lot more confident doing because I’ve been traveling as a nurse travel nurse for the last 14 months now.

If you have any questions about travel nursing and what all of that entails, I have a blog on my website: vintage traveling nurse.com. You can find different blog posts about my travel nursing experiences and different things that I’m learning as I navigate the world of travel nursing; feel free to check it out.

We hope these tips for starting life as a travel nurse helpful. Do you have any tips to share with fellow travel nurses or nurses considering beginning the travel nurse life? Comment them below.

Are you looking for a travel nurse assignment? Click here to view our job board. Do you need housing for an upcoming assignment? Click here to search our housing page.

If you are a new traveler or looking into becoming a Travel Nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step by Step

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