First-Time Travel Nurse Mistakes and What I'd Do Differently

Rick Martinez RN

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We were so excited to get our raises. After being a staff RN for years and working in a high-volume emergency department, we knew they had to be good.

The emails came and told us to check our "boxes." Yes, we each had a small box in the nurse's lounge where management could leave notes and certain types of correspondence. So, of course, I checked my box.

My raise was fourteen cents. Yes, 14 cents!

Even all these years later, I still am flabbergasted. I actually thought it was a joke when I sent a "ha-ha" text to the nurse manager. I could see the squiggly dots rise and fall, and then no reply. She never did come out of her office that shift.

And that's pretty much the day I decided that remaining a staff nurse was not what I'd hoped it would be.

Less than seven days later, I accepted my first job as a travel nurse, signed my contract, and put in my two-week notice.

Many of my friends said I should have just walked, but that's not my style. It's unprofessional. And more than that, the medical and n nursing community is small and tight.

Walking out on a job or gig will follow you through your career.

I took the plunge into the world of travel nursing and never looked back.

The best and worst parts are that I didn't hate my job per see. I liked it. Reflecting back, it was simply a matter of respect for me as a professional and compensating me as such. The travel RNs who came through the ER were treated better than us.

And it was time for me to join them.

However, I must confess that beginning was not simple, and I made a number of rookie errors. Even though I struggled for a bit, becoming a travel nurse has turned out to be an excellent decision. However, there are a few things about my career as a travel nurse that I would change.

I'd work with multiple travel companies

When I pulled the trigger, I was working on emotion, so I went with the first company a friend recommended.

The recommendation wasn't a bad one, to be clear. But what I quickly learned was that not all travel firms are the same. They vary from the locations they have, the rates they pay the nurses, and even the benefits were widely differing.

I highly recommend that the newbie first-time traveler explore and align with 3-4 different firms.

Do your own research. Ask fellow nurses who they like and also who they don't like. Then go a level deeper and ask them why they have those reasons. The contrast and comparison will only help you become a more savvy travel RN before you even ever sign your first contract.

Plus, as a new and even an experienced travel nurse, it's wiser to work with more than one company. And an even cooler side effect?

It also allows you to compare recruiters — which leads me to the next rookie error I made.

I'd find a recruiter that I like and jibe with

I was recently contacted by a travel nurse recruiter on LinkedIn. She was from a reputable company, so I replied and hopped on a phone call with her. While she was super lovely, she just didn't seem to have what I was seeking, and long story short, we didn't "click."

The moral of my story, not all recruiters are created equally.

As a seasoned travel nurse, I can share that your recruiter may make or break your entire experience as a travel nurse. When searching for a recruiter, make sure they have excellent communication abilities. Is it easy to reach them? Do they respond in a timely manner, whether via text or email? You do not want a recruiter who is AWOL or just plain hard to reach.

This will make all the difference in the world if you run into any problems on your travel gig.

Also, make sure your recruiter pays attention to your demands and makes them a top priority. You should never be "talked into" something you don't want to do.

For example, flip-flopping between days and nights is a no-go for me. I want to know that my shifts are set for my contract. So if my recruiter calls and asks if I'd be willing, I know that he really hadn't paid attention to my needs.

Getting clarity on my contract

Just because it's your first time doesn't;t mean you should just be "OK" with your deal.

Some mistakes or your failure to ask questions could mean losing money and headaches for you. This is where a good company and great recruiter come into play. But more importantly, it's always on you to ask, ask and ask some more.

I was so excited to sign my first contract that I didn't really think about the details. Things like, will I need to find housing or will the agency? Do I get a daily per diem or not? That's a no-brainer, but many new travel nurses fail to read the contracts they sign.

Make sure everything you and your recruiter discussed is correct, so there aren't any hiccups that might cause problems later.

Things to confirm before you sign your contract:

  • Start and end date
  • Requested time off
  • Your shift
  • Hours per week
  • Pay rate

The final word

If you're a first-time travel nurse, heed my advice! 

It's essential to get clear on the details of your contract and work with multiple agencies. Find someone who has your back, is honest with you, and can help navigate any potential problems. Remember that it's up to you to make sure everything goes smoothly - your recruiter can only do so much. 

And finally, always remember that YOU are the golden egg in this equation - without you, there is no one to do the work! Make sure you take care of yourself mentally and physically and enjoy every minute of your fantastic adventure.

And as always, have fun! Make the most of every travel nurse experience, no matter where you end up.

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I'm a freelance writer and a decades-long travel nurse. Writing about the travel nurse industry and healthcare.

San Antonio, TX
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