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5 Tips for the Early-Career Travel Nurse

Are you a seasoned nurse needing a change? Maybe you’re a nursing student wondering if travel nursing fits into your early career plans? Or perhaps you’re just beginning your travel nurse journey and feel a bit disorganized? Here are five tips that will help you avoid the most common pitfalls that happen to early-career travel nurses.  


Tip #1: Choose your nursing specialty with care

The majority of travel nurse positions are in medical-surgical, telemetry, adult ICU, and ER units. So if your heartstrings are pulling you toward a career working in pediatrics or labor and delivery, keep in mind that those contracts may be harder to come by and can result in gaps in employment while you wait for a position to open up. 

If you are looking for the highest paying travel nurse specialty area, consider ICU nursing, followed by ER nursing. While med-surg and telemetry positions don’t pay quite as well as ICU and ER positions, they are more plentiful and may enable nurses to move from contract to contract without experiencing gaps in employment. 


Tip #2: Get the right experience 

Nurses need a solid two years of experience in one specialty area to be considered for a travel assignment. Let’s take a closer look at what this really means. 

Say you’re a nurse who has worked for six months in a med-surg unit, nine months in the ER, and one year in telemetry. Will these two years and three months of total nursing experience meet the requirements for a travel nurse assignment in med-surg…or the ER…or telemetry? 

Unfortunately, no. Consider that the typical orientation for a permanent nursing position is three to six months while, as a travel nurse, you’ll be given about four days to get up to speed. Managers know that it takes about two years for a nurse to gain enough experience in a particular specialty area to be comfortable jumping into a travel contract with less than a week of orientation. 

Of course, some nurses transition to travel nursing with more experience, providing them with an even greater number of potential assignments. For example, if you have worked for three years in a med-surg unit and for two years in an adult ICU, you bring more value to a hiring manager in either specialty because of your extra years of experience. So if you aren’t in a hurry to travel and want to try out another specialty after your first two years as a nurse, go for it. 

Keep in mind that the most successful travel nurses cut their teeth in level 1 or 2 trauma centers. Nurses transitioning to travel nursing from long-term care (LTC) or long-term acute care facilities typically have a harder time landing contracts. The difference in acuity level between an LTC facility and a level 1 or 2 trauma center means hiring managers will value travel nurses who have experience with higher acuity patients over those with only LTC experience.


Tip #3: Develop good organizational skills

Disorganization can cost a travel nurse time and money. Credentialing is required for each new contract and missed deadlines can result in a delayed start date and a gap in employment. If a travel nurse isn’t working, a travel nurse isn’t being paid

Keep your credentialing documents in a file on your computer where they are easily accessible. This includes your vaccination record, last TB test result, physical forms, medical records, driver’s license, social security card, birth certificate, direct deposit information, certifications, and nursing license. 

Before you request a new assignment, update your resume to include your current assignment and skills. You may have learned something new or maintained a skill that will be valuable to the next hiring manager. 


Tip #4: Practice being resilient

Travel nursing can be a great way to see new places and make new friends while being paid big bucks. But travel nursing isn’t all wine and roses. Remember, you’re most likely helping buck up an understaffed unit, so your new coworkers are feeling the strain as you walk in the door and are looking for help.

Resiliency, flexibility, and positivity are attributes that serve the travel nurse well. Each new contract comes with a whole new group of coworkers with different personalities. The ability to get along with your coworkers, be a team player, and tackle challenges head-on will help the sunny days far outway the cloudy days.  

Being resilient and open to change will help you not only get along with your coworkers but also make their day a little brighter. And who doesn’t want to leave a little sunshine in their wake?


Tip #5: Practice self-care

Travel nursing can be demanding. One way to make it easier on yourself is by organizing your important documents and planning ahead (see tip #3). But you also should take time to practice self-care

Check out the local fun spots where you’re currently working. Have a hobby? Take it with you and work on it during your time off. Don’t forget to stay in touch with family and friends. Get out into nature, breathe the fresh air, and work up a sweat. If you’re feeling drained at the end of the contract, take a little extra time to just relax or take a much-deserved vacation. 

You don’t have to love your job 24/7, but you do have to be present when you’re on the job. So stay healthy, both mentally and physically, for yourself and your patients. 

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