Life as a Travel Nurse: The Down and Dirty
Being a travel nurse has its ups and its downs. It's not all sunshine and rainbows filled with epic travel assignments, badass vacations, and loads of money. There's a lot of stress and unknown that comes with it that most people don't talk about on social media and the internet. Well, if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not like most people, and I wanna talk about the nitty gritty, down and dirty parts of travel nursing.
First, how much time do you need as a nurse before you start to travel? This is going to vary by person, but any reputable company is going to require a minimum of one year of experience in your field before they let you travel with them. Why do you say that it varies by person? Well, because everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, they learn at difference paces, one person may be a fast learner that loves fast paced environments and new places and people while another may be a fast learner but doesn't do well with change and yet another person could be a slow learner that needs time to adjust and set their own pace. In all of these situations each person is doing great, there's no right or wrong way to learn and grow, but someone who doesn't do well with change may need more than a year as a nurse before they're ready to travel. The same could be said for the slower learner, it's absolutely okay for them to learn at a slower pace, but that may mean that they need two years of experience before they're ready to tackle the unknown and start travel nursing. I'm a fast learner and I THRIVE on [organized] chaos, but I still waited five years before I left my first job and dipped my toes in the travel nursing world. I was comfortable and secure in my job and I was also in school for the first two years working on my RN because my nursing career started as an LPN/LVN. Do a year and then IF you're ready, go for it my friends! If you aren't ready after a year, then focus on you and getting more comfortable as a nurse and when YOU are ready, take the leap! If you never try travel nursing, that's okay too!
The next big part of travel nursing that's rough is choosing your company and a recruiter. I've been lucky in that I've only worked with one recruiter and one company so far, but I have plenty of friends who have multiple companies and therefore multiple recruiters and they say it's not all sunshine and rainbows. When you travel nurse, your recruiter is the person that basically wheel's and deals the contract for you. They send your packet and they do all of the negotiating for you, so if you don't jive them them, for whatever reason, that's a HUGE red flag and you should definitely find another recruiter. You want a recruiter who is going to do their best to give you a fair contract and one that is going to fight FOR you, not against you. I got an unexpected raise last minute on my first contract simply because I asked if there were any day shift positions left (literally on my orientation day haha) and when my recruiter was told no SHE asked for a raise for me, without me even asking! She's the best and I'll happily give her info out to anyone interested, just shoot me an email. Do your research friends and make sure that you pick a company that you can stand by and a recruiter who will stand by YOU. It makes life SO MUCH EASIER, I promise.
Orientation. This is probably the worst part of travel nursing in my opinion, but I also hate online modules and death by powerpoint, so maybe I'm a bit biased. The orientation to each new facility is always the most boring day of your life and it's tedious. You learn ALL of the facility policies and procedures, you do skills check offs (the only fun part in my opinion), you do a crash course on charting with their system (almost always Cerner or Epic), and then you do a year's worth of online modules. All in 8-12 hours depending on the facility. It's great. NOT. After what I call Hospital Orientation, you'll get 1-2, MAYBE three shifts of floor orientation and then you're off with the rest of the staff and taking your own team. My current assignment I got a few hours of floor orientation and then my next shift, which was the next day, I was on my own and taking patients. It was crazy and I loved it, but again, I thrive on [organized] chaos, so this was great for me, it may not be great for you. This extremely short orientation time is was it's SO IMPORTANT for you to have a MINIMUM of one year of experience as nurse before you travel and for you to ONLY travel within your specialty. I know that those E.D. and ICU and Mother Baby contracts look so appealing and that the money is more than you ever imagined, but if you haven't worked in those settings you do NOT need to be traveling to work in those settings. It's selfish and you could unintentionally harm someone or even kill them. That sounds harsh, but it's the truth and it has to be said. DO NOT travel nurse in a setting that you are NOT trained in. Ever. Not even during a global pandemic.
Housing and transportation. My first assignment was 4 weeks in Tucson, Arizona. I was living full time in Honolulu, Hawai'i, so obviously I wasn't going to drive to my assignment, I was going to fly, but that meant that once I was there, I wouldn't have a car, which was a dilemma. Enter the AirBnB that I found! This adorable studio apartment was a block from the public train line that ran directly to the hospital that I was working at and weekly rates were super cheap, so it was PERFECT! I got a great deal on a month long stay at my AirBnb and then I was going to take an Uber from the airport to the apartment when I landed, it seemed all too easy and perfect, so of course there had to be a bump, and there was. My first day of hospital orientation was 90 minutes away at their corporate training facility. Awesome. Needless to say, I rented a car at the airport and thought I'd just return it in a few days since my work schedule was Friday-Monday, but I actually just ended up returning it for a different, cheaper, rental car and then I had a car my entire contract so that I could go explore Arizona on my off days. It was great! Most companies will offer you two options for housing: you find it and they give you an allowance or they find it and they keep the entire allowance. I always, ALWAYS take the allowance and find my own place. It's more fun and I always save money, but it's up to you! If it's a short contract or a special contract, they may not allow you to find your own housing, but that's pretty rare. As for the transportation, I was reimbursed for my flights and if you live on the mainland (continental USA) you'll most likely drive from contract to contract, so you'll have your own vehicle and can be reimbursed for mileage which is rad!
Travel nursing is one of the best decisions that I ever made for myself and I'm incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be able to do it, but as you can see, it comes with its own share of hardships, these aren't even all of them. I can get lonely on assignment a lot because I don't currently travel with anyone, I go solo and I love it 9/10 times, but that 1/10? It's pretty sad and lonely so when I feel it hit, I get outside and I explore! I hike, swim, shop, EAT, anything to get me out of my head and feeling happy again, which always means sunshine and fresh air. The absolute BEST part of travel nursing is exploring new cities and states and seeing all the wonderful diversity that is America. On that note, where should I go next? Washington? Colorado? Nevada? Maybe back to Hawai'i or another part of Arizona? The world is my oyster friends!