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    How to make your first travel nursing assignment a success

    Taking the first step

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    The author of this article, an experienced travel nurse, will begin a new monthly column in Healthcare Traveler starting with the June issue. – Ed.


    Photo: Getty Images/amana productions inc
    So you have decided to try travel nursing. If you haven't taken that big first step, you may have some apprehension about what to expect. One of the first and easiest ways you can reduce the fear of the unknown is by arming yourself with knowledge.

    Your first contact with your staffing agency will give you some basic information—such as the positions available—and some general information about the hospital. Just this small amount of information will be very useful. If you have only ever worked at small rural hospitals with fewer than 200 beds, you might not want to opt for a first assignment in a teaching hospital licensed for more than 1,000 beds.

    By the same token, if you have only ever worked at hospitals where residents and interns are present at all hours of the day, you might not want an assignment where you need to page the physician directly at 2 a.m. when you need orders. You can see how just this small amount of knowledge can mean the difference between being comfortable versus and overwhelmed in an assignment's environment.

    While your staffing agency will have some useful information, you will probably gather the most information from your facility interview before accepting the assignment. Be prepared to discuss everything you would like to know before speaking with the interviewer.

    I always advise people to write down all the questions they want to ask in the interview. If you give out your cell phone number, remember to keep your list with you at all times. It does no good to be able to answer your phone on a trip to the grocery store if your list of questions is sitting by the phone at home.

    Your list of questions should be specific to each assignment, but you will probably want to ask a few things in any interview. For example, I always ask about the unit's floating policy. However, I don't always ask about the ability to pick up overtime hours (on some assignments I prefer to keep all my free time for play).

    The following are some of the questions you may want to ask in your pre-employment interview:

    • Does your unit use techs or nurse aides? If so, what tasks are they permitted to do?
    • What is your normal nurse-to-patient ratio?
    • As I traveler, will I be required to float before regular staff?
    • What is the average acuity of the patients in your unit? (Some unit managers will be upfront and tell you if it is a high-acuity unit, and some might downplay it.)
    • Will I receive a hospital orientation or just one on the unit?
    • How long is the orientation process?
    • Will there be any testing before starting my assignment? (Medication, EKG, or performance-based tests are a few examples.)
    • Have you had travelers working in your unit before?
    • Will I be able to pick up overtime hours?
    • Will I be able to participate in any continuing education offered to regular staff?

    Some of these things may be more important to you than others but, once again, make your own list and keep it handy for when the hospital calls for the interview.

    After working to decrease the "unknowns" in taking your first assignment, here are a few other things to think about when choosing your first contract:

    1. Take a vacation

    Consider taking your first assignment in an area where you would consider taking a vacation. Sure, you will have to work while you are there, but on your days off you can enjoy all the activities the area affords. A standard 13-week contract has 91 days. If you work three 12-hour shifts a week (the most common commitment), that leaves you with 52 days of "vacation."

    2. Start easy

    Take a travel assignment that is close to where you normally reside. I usually only recommend this for those who feel they really need to be close to home. Otherwise, spread your wings a bit farther and try something a state or two away. This will give you a taste of a "real" travel assignment because you will have to acquire a license in another state, get an apartment, and settle into a new location. However, it might also be close enough that you could drive back home on a stretch of days off if you get terribly homesick.

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    David Morrison
    David Morrison, RN, is a Phoenix-based travel nurse, and the author of the book The Travel Nurse's Bible: A Guide to Everything on ...