Making and Taking The Leap From Staff Nurse to Travel Nurse

Rick Martinez

It will easily be the scariest, and most rewarding move you’ll ever make

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Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Every travel nurse started as a staff nurse or received their first year of experience in some facility.

And then they made the leap into the travel nurse life.

Now that you've got the necessary experience, it's time to start the search for your first travel assignment. It's an exciting and nerve-wracking time as you prepare to leave your job and head out into the world or nomadic nursing and head out on your own. Or perhaps you used to be a travel nurse and are looking to return to the nomad lifestyle; you'll have some previous experience to bring to the table.

Either way, we're here to chat about the transition from staff RN to travel registered nurse.

The first thing to do is to identify a travel nurse company and recruiter

Since there are dozens, likely hundreds of travel nurse agencies around, most travel nurses have their own unique opinion on which ones are the best and which are not.

As a new or returning nurse, remember that there isn't a single perfect agency out there. There'll always be that one nurse who was treated poorly by agency 'XYZ,' while another fellow caregiver will share that agency 'XYZ' was the best.

The moral of the story is to look around, ask questions, then make your own decision.

I've personally worked with about six different travel companies and as many recruiters to keep my options open.

So then, what ARE the questions you should be asking?

Let's start with the basic ones first.

These are the questions that separate the good from great, the new from the experienced.

What types of benefits do you have? For instance, does health, dental, vision, etc., start on day one of my contract?

How about locations? Does the agency place RNs in the cities and hospitals you want to work in?

From here, you can dive into housing stipends, reimbursement of travel expenses, the time between contracts, and a slew of other micro details.

The moral of this story is not to be afraid to ask lots of questions before you sign a contract.

Becoming a little bit minimal

While you don't need to pack up and move everything you own, being a nomad RN will likely mean you'll learn to live and travel on a lot less.

Way less, in fact.

Think about it. You're probably going to pack several bags into your car and hit the road. So the best thing is to learn to live and move with less. And to be clear, not less for the sake of expenses per see, rather "less" for the sake of mobility.

Some folks may choose to keep a primary residence, and others might pack it up and store your stuff and mom's house or a friend's garage.

The moral of the story is not to have to worry about all your things and instead really enjoy the essence of being a nomadic nurse.

What should you take with you?

My very first travel assignments were about a 400-mile drive from home, so I didn't have to go too far.

And on the other hand, it was far enough that I couldn't just go pick up that one jacket I left at home.

So be sure that what you take is only what you'll need for about 13-weeks. You may need to do some lean packing so it all fits in the car, but you'll undoubtedly learn how to. And quick.

Since I was moving into a fully furnished and outfitted Air BnB, all I really needed was some favorite items, a suitcase (or two) of clothes, my dog and her crate, and of course, my mountain bike. That's it.

The moral of this story is don't overdo it. Remain lean, mean, and minimal so you can get the most out of the travel experience.

My important docs

While it's the agency's job to assure all your credentials and documentation are sent in, I always felt a need to have back-ups anyway.

I store everything in an online app, and for personal documents, I have them scanned into a different app so that they're always readily accessible at the touch of my iPhone screen.

I'll have things like my current BCLS and ACLS. Drivers license and nursing license. My social security card and also my driver's license.

The moral of this story is that ultimately it's YOU who is responsible for your current documents, so take charge of it.

Arrival and area recon

I've driven to some assignments and others I've flown to, so be aware of that as you think about when to arrive at your new work city.

Personally speaking, I always like to arrive at least two days in advance. One day to settle in and get a feel for the locale. And another day to check out the facility, driving routes, and a general sense of what's around the hospital.

The moral of this part is to give yourself ample time to acclimate to your new surroundings.

Please have some patience and give it time

The hard truth is that you've left your J-O-B and are starting anew.

It can feel scary, intimidating, and downright stressful. You'll be walking into a brand new facility, a new contract job with fresh new faces on day one, and even if you're an experienced traveler, it can be daunting.

Something to mentally prep for is the regular staff members who feel as though you are there just for the paycheck and the "big money." The fact is that how they think is not your issue, it's their own to deal with. Also, remember what mom told you growing up and that "you cannot please everyone all the time," so go in there and be the best nurse you can be.

The final word

The transition from staff to traveler can be challenging.

Some people may not have the right mindset for this, but if you're ready to embrace your new nomadic lifestyle and are willing to learn how best to live with less, then transitioning into travel nursing might be the perfect next step for you.

Be sure that before making any decisions on what you'll need when moving out on your own as a travel nurse, take some time first--you don't want all of life's belongings weighing down on top of you.

I'm sure it appears to be a lot, but in the end, it will be well worth your time and effort. You are getting paid more, taking as much time off as you want between assignments, seeing all that the US has to offer, and having a new location every 13 weeks for your friends and relatives to visit.

The road to travel nursing is calling your name, and your incredible journey is just about to begin.

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I'm a freelance writer and a nurse, exploring the world one beer, donut, and experience at a time. Writing about the travel nurse industry and healthcare, with the occasional emphasis on donuts. #NomNom

San Antonio, TX
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