Travel Nursing – A Whole New World

If you are a seasoned traveler, you are where you need to be for your current travel assignment, and you probably have it all down pat. But if you are a new traveler on your first “gig,” here’s what you should know to acclimate yourself easily and quickly.

Get the Lay of the Land
First, it helps to try to arrive at your destination a day or two before the assignment begins. When you first get to the new locale, locate the facility where you will be working. Assess the distance between it and your living quarters, then determine the most practical route and how you are going to get there.

Try to visit the facility on your off time, to get a feel for the place. Of course, you need to introduce yourself and obtain permission to tour the unit. Find another traveler, if possible, and ask what a typical day is like for a nurse at that facility. Your travel company may be able to provide you with names of other nurses it has working at that facility.

You will need to know about patient loads, patient acuity, how scheduling and charting are done, and even the dress code. You’ll want to know how you fit in, so make acquaintance with the nurse manager you will report to. Ask questions and be yourself. Flexibility and adaptability are keys to your blending into the unit, and being open to cultural differences.

Review Clinical Skills
You also should make sure your clinical skills are on target with your new position. “In my experience working with travelers, the most important thing for them to make a smooth professional transition is that they have excellent, up-to-date clinical skills, and they accept assignments only in areas where they have expertise,” advised Barbara Carranti, MS, assistant professor of nursing in the College of Human Services and Health Professions at Syracuse (NY) University.

Carranti stated that the idea behind the use of travelers from a facility’s perspective is that the traveler will be ready to function with minimal start-up (orientation) time. Therefore, the nurse should be as familiar with standards of care and procedures as possible.

Don’t forget that all facilities are not created equal. Each one does things differently; they might be behind the times, or ahead.

Getting Your Bearings
As you are finding your way around the facility, get familiar with the unit you will be working on. Locate where things are and keep in mind that you are there to help your new co-workers. Be confident and show that you are willing to be a part of the team.

Also, familiarize yourself with the facility’s policies and procedures. You are responsible for knowing the hospital’s rules. Experienced travel nurses know one big secret that helps with orientation: before orientation, take an hour or 2 during the shift you’ll be working to tour the unit alone and undistracted.1 The orientation you receive as a travel nurse is usually shorter that the staff employee’s, because you will not be receiving an employee benefits package.

One benefit of traveling, though, is that you do not have to be part of hospital politics, because you are a short-term employee. One final tip for successful working relationships: don’t talk about your compensation package.2

On the Home Front
Many health care travelers reside in the same apartment building or general area. Seeking other travelers out can present an opportunity to learn more about the area. Your apartment manager is also a good reference. He can provide information about the neighborhood and surrounding area. Also, be sure to determine whom to contact if a problem arises. Many travel organizations provide travelers with helpful notebook systems and welcome packets. Because they are in the business of regularly placing health care providers in unfamiliar settings, companies can offer meaningful tips and pointers.3

Your neighbors are also a good source of information and can point you in the direction of convenient shopping, gas stations, banks, post offices and the like. Take the time to walk the neighborhood and discover what makes that community tick. Probably one of the reasons you chose to travel was to meet new people and experience different venues. Conversing with neighbors will provide you with choice information about simple things: the best bakery, hair salon, where to find the best music and restaurants, or where you can go to unwind. Don’t forget visitor and convention bureaus, and chambers of commerce.

The Internet is a great tool for finding entertainment, cultural and sporting events, weather and general goings-on in your new locale. You can access your bank online, check the news in the community you left behind, and keep in contact with family and friends. Also, the Internet is a way to keep up your continuing education needs.

Safety First
Be aware of your surroundings, and learn which parts of town are safe and which are not. Statistics show that people are safer when surrounded by others.4 If you have your own vehicle, keep a flashlight in the glove compartment and at night, especially if alone, always park your car and walk under lights. Seasoned travelers recommend leaving expensive jewelry at home and not carrying large amounts of cash.

Travel nurses also should be aware of the potential for injury and illness on their assignments. Valerie Padd, BSN, RN, a member of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses and a Bell South employee, reminds us of health concerns for travelers. “Although travel within North America may not bring visions of exotic tropical disease, infectious diseases do occur, and travelers to specific regions should be aware of their risks. Risks are determined by the area of travel, time of year and the recreational activities in which they participate,” she said.

The most common diseases to be alert for are influenza, hepatitis B, rabies and tuberculosis. Arthropod-borne diseases such as ticks, dengue fever and viral encephalitis may be a factor in some regions, as well as food- and waterborne diseases including E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, hepatitis A (especially Western U.S.) and giardia.

Communicate With Recruiters
Open communication with your recruiter regarding issues that may come up during your assignment is very important. If there is a problem at the facility, always make sure you fill out a hospital event report and discuss it with your recruiter, because you are still an employee of the travel company, not the facility.

Most traveler companies have policies and programs in place to deal with difficult issues. Cross Country TravCorps, for example, has a “Customer Care” program, in which a team welcomes new travelers and serves as a liaison in conflict resolution and other issues.

Travel companies also have plenty of information about benefits, housing and more on their Web sites. The Cross Country Web site,, offers links about travel nursing, applications, jobs, benefits and housing on its site. Other resources linked on the site cover education, licensure, career options and interview guidelines.

Work Hard, But Have Fun
When you have settled in with your new assignment, don’t forget to utilize your free time seeing the sights, meeting different people and learning about other cultures. It’s not all work when you’re on the road as a travel nurse; there’s plenty of time for play. As you network, make new friends and accept social invitations. Socializing with new colleagues helps with communication on the job.

Your new environment will be unfamiliar at first, but your attitude is with you wherever you go. Keep it positive, rely on your nursing skills and be confident that you will adapt.

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