Travel nursing and staff nursing are vastly different for a number of reasons. As this career becomes increasingly popular, the curiosity of how travel nursing works is a common topic. Below are a few common questions I receive regularly.
What is the purpose behind hospitals hiring travel nurses?
Hospitals are short staffed and struggling to keep up with the increasing number of sick people. Rather than hiring permanent nurses, hospitals are bringing in travel nurses to reduce overall costs, especially with training time. When hospitals hire staff nurses, they have the responsibility of extensive training and offering benefits, and risk the possibility of the nurse switching units. Often, a workload of a unit or the stress alone can make staffing difficult. Travel nurses are typically used as a quick fix, but I've also seen them be a long-term solution where job duties are a nightmare and staffing is almost impossible. Travel nurses are expected to be independent within the first week or so of hire.
What type of orientation will I receive?
Orientation for travel nurses is typically a week long. This includes introduction to policies/procedures as well as orientation to the unit. The first few days are usually with a large group (includes staff hires) and includes presentations and computer modules. After you finish with mandatory hospital orientation, you will have 1-2 days of training on your unit. You'll shadow a staff nurse and be shown the in's and out’s of the unit. It's very fast paced so be ready to learn!
How do I get licensed for assignments?
Depending on your home licensed state, you may be part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), or you may need to separately apply for a license. You will follow the normal process for getting licensed in that state.
How long is a typical assignment?
Most assignments run about 13 weeks, but can vary in length depending on the facility's needs. This is the normal duration but most of the time the hospital offers you the option to extend your contract.
What does my schedule look like as a travel nurse?
This is discussed during the interview process. Be sure to ask concrete questions about your schedule so there are no surprises once you get on assignment. I've experienced managers being direct with me about expectations, but I've also received the run around. Be sure to outline any specific details in your contract so you're guaranteed what you're promised. I've learned to be very thorough with my questions during the interview. I've had issues where I'm scheduled/expected to work additional shifts or even rotate between days and nights. They are simply trying to cover shifts and you are the “relief team”, but a little advance planning for this has saved me lots of headaches.
When can I start my first travel assignment?
Most hospitals won't hire nurses unless they have at least two years experience as an RN. Occasionally they will hire after only a year of experience, but this is rare. It's recommended that you have practiced nursing for over two years so you can keep up with the fast-paced expectations.
Can I take time off between assignments?
Absolutely! The best part of this career is the freedom and flexibility to work on your own terms. It's important to take time for yourself and your family between assignments. Whenever you're ready to return to work, assignments will be waiting for you!
Do I get to pick where I go for an assignment?
Yes! As I mentioned before, hospitals are extremely short staffed these days. You're bound to find travel nurse jobs almost anywhere depending on your specialty.
Can I travel with a friend?
Possibly! I traveled with a friend for a year and it was the best experience. We worked at the same hospital and sometimes even got hired on the same unit. It depends how many positions are available, but if you send your applications in as a pair, there's a good possibility you'll get hired on together!
Travel nursing is certainly a learning experience and there is no “how to” guide that can cover every aspect. However, it's highly rewarding to those who find their place in this industry. Hopefully I've answered some of your questions, but feel free to reach out to me or my blog with any additional questions.