How to Survive Your First Week as a Travel Nurse

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Note: Guest contributor Liz Pruett wrote this post. Learn more about Liz at the bottom of this article.

You took the leap and signed a travel nurse contract. Congrats! Of course, housing and insurance are some of the prominent factors you’ll need to figure out before your assignment, but there are other important factors, too.

After signing the contract, your recruiter will likely email the instructions for your first day on assignment. This email usually includes a full day of orientation to the hospital system, getting your badge, etc. There can be a lot to digest, but here are some tips to help your first week be a success as a travel nurse on assignment.

Find the Hospital the Day Before

The email with your first-day instructions will probably include the address of the building where you’ll have orientation. Occasionally, orientation is held off-site at a corporate building and not at the actual hospital. If time permits, find the building where orientation will be held the day before you start. You don’t even have to get out of the car. Just identify where you’re expected to be for orientation and where the hospital is located. This helps relieve some of the first-day anxiety because you’ll know where to go for orientation and have a rough idea of your new daily commute.

Pay Attention During Orientation

Set precedence that you’re professional and accountable by arriving early to orientation. No one necessarily likes to go through orientation, but every traveler has to do it. Pay attention to the speakers and presentations, participate in the discussions, and use your time efficiently. Avoid being on your phone during any lectures. Be sure to bring a pen because you’ll be signing several documents and usually receiving login information, which you’ll want to write down inside your orientation folder or on your phone to have ready for your first shift.

Getting Started On Your First Shift

Arrive early to your first shift. Introduce yourself to the unit secretary, who can direct you to the breakroom, and introduce yourself to the charge nurse so they can make sure you’re assigned a preceptor. Some preceptors are great and can give you all the right information that you need, but there are times when the preceptor may not be familiar with all you need to know as a traveler on the unit. Ask your questions anyway, and be prepared to soak in all the information!

10 Things You Should Know After Your First Day

As a traveler, you’ll likely find yourself in various hospital settings. From large teaching hospitals to tiny stand-alone facilities, the following are ideal to know by day one in any healthcare setting.

  1. Your login for the charting system 
  2. Codes to any doors, including the med room 
  3. Your login and password for the medication dispensing machine 
  4. Where the crash carts are located on the unit 
  5. How to call codes/security/help 
  6. The phone number to the unit and address of the hospital (patients and family will ask this constantly—taping it to the back of your badge is a great way to have easy access to the info)
  7. How the hospital handles AMA (Against Medical Advice) patients 
  8. How to page a physician and where to locate the call list 
  9. The location of downtime paperwork and what is expected of you as a nurse during downtime
  10. Locations of the radiology department, lab, pharmacy, and cafeteria

You’ll learn much more during your orientation, but remembering these 10 things will help prepare you for whatever gets thrown your way during your first solo shift.

A Few Things to Avoid

The first few days at your new assignment may feel overwhelming but you will eventually find your groove. Here are a few things you may want to avoid doing to make your time there as a traveler as pleasant as possible.

  1. Don’t complain about the unit or the hospital. If there are actual safety concerns and you feel patient safety or your license is in jeopardy, that is a whole different situation. Oftentimes, you’re taking an assignment on an understaffed unit, so there are going to be plenty of things to complain about. Venting can be therapeutic but keep these complaints between you and your travel friends. They are usually much more empathetic than the staff, who may feel defensive.
  2. Don’t be the “well at my home hospital” nurse who always compares hospitals. There is a time and place to improve a hospital’s protocols, policies, and systems, but that isn’t your burden as a traveler. Just do things the way the hospital does them and save your process improvement ideas for when you’re staff. You may think it is helpful, but many staff do not perceive it that way and can find it irritating. 
  3. Don’t discuss your pay. Keep in mind that you were okay with your pay rate when you signed the contract. The staff nurses also chose to stay and work for their agreed rate. As you continue your travel career, you will learn more about negotiating with your recruiter, especially if other travelers are making significantly more than you. But as a traveler, don’t let salary discussions be a source of discontentment for you or others. It’s not worth it.

Happy First Week!

Travel nursing is full of new experiences, co-workers, cities, opportunities, and nice weekly paychecks. Use these tips in your first week to get acclimated quickly. Soon, you will have tips of your own to add to the list. Happy first week, and remember, you’ve got this!

About Liz

Hi! I’m Liz. I’ve been an ER nurse for 10 years and traveled for about four of those years! I jumped into travel nursing before there were a lot of resources to help navigate that big career leap, so I love helping other nurses by sharing what I learned along the way. I no longer travel full-time but have taken a few crisis contracts over the past year. I’m currently working part-time as a nurse and full-time as a flight attendant, which keeps my heart and calendar full. Traveling is one of the most fun decisions I made in my career. It has shaped me personally and professionally, and I’m forever grateful for the lessons I’ve learned along the way!

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