January 8, 2013

What to Know Before Taking Your First Travel Assignment

The rumors are true. Many travel nursing jobs will land you in high-profile destinations with a nice apartment and benefits. You may find yourself kicking back in a lounge chair on the Florida coast, hiking the snow-capped mountains of Colorado, exploring the natural wonders of California or hitting the nightlife of New York City. So, it’s time to give notice and start packing the suntan oil, right?

Well…you may want to review these tips before you pack your beach towel.

The Call of the Wild

Unlike a permanent position, your odds of getting a face-to-face interview for a travel nurse position are similar to those of winning the lottery without a ticket. So, what should you do? Two things that will make this process much easier.

1. A good recruiter will provide you with an Interview Checklist so you can ask all the questions you might otherwise forget in the phone interview. Questions like, “What shift will I work?”, “Will I float to other units?”, and “What is the nurse to patient ratio?”, are just a few of the more important ones you’ll want to ask but, trust me when I say, ask all you can. Surprises are only fun at children’s birthday parties.

2. Google the facility and the area. Check out all the info on what type of hospital you are applying to and what activities the area has to offer. Remember: You’re going to be there for 13 weeks, so you want to make sure the community is a fit for you.

You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

(or maybe you are)
Do you know where you’re going? Only one thing feels worse than being completely lost on your first day at work… being lost and late! Scout out of the hospital the day before you are supposed to report. Being late is one of the cardinal sins of the travel nurse industry. Don’t show up late on your first day. As a matter of fact, don’t show up late on any day if you can avoid it, because it will come back to haunt you when it’s time to get your end of assignment reference, which is what future hospitals will be looking at to decide if you are a good fit for them. And, no matter what the reason, call your manager and let him or her know if you are going to be late or cannot make it in.

The Hired Gun

In the Wild West, when the town was being overrun by villains they called in “The Hired Gun”. Well, today the Wild West is a hospital, the villain is the nursing shortage and you are The Hired Gun. What exactly does that mean? When you are a travel nurse you are expected to be able to “hit the ground running”. Generally, travelers are expected to be very experienced in their specialty and need only a basic orientation to be ready to go. Expectations run high and are based heavily on your skill assessment that was sent to the hospital. In other words, if you say you can do a procedure, they will expect you to be able to do it! There is not a lot of time for additional training and the way they see it if they are going to train someone it may as well be a staff nurse. Travel nurses are the answer to an immediate need and are expected to be top-notch.

Float like a Butterfly

As a traveler, you have to be flexible. Although many facilities only allow permanent staff to act as float nurses, travelers might be asked to float to another unit if there is an immediate need. What is a float nurse, you ask? A float nurse can be assigned to temporarily staff different units at the facility within their scope of practice. They are a type of staff nurse that can be reassigned from one unit to the next, based on staffing needs. Just like being on time, your flexibility will be a strong determining factor in your end-of-assignment reference. Be sure you communicate your willingness to float and what areas you are qualified to float to. Can a travel nurse refuse? You’ll want to discuss this upfront with your recruiter. However, if you have concerns about being a floater while on assignment, contact your travel nurse agency.

Your new name is Switzerland

They say the only things that are certain are death and taxes but, whoever “they” are never worked in a hospital. The other thing that’s certain? Hospital politics. It doesn’t matter if the facility is big or small, urban or rural, new or old… politics are everywhere. And just like Switzerland, your every goal should be to remain neutral. However, if you do somehow find yourself caught in the crossfire, take a deep breath and do all you are able to avoid conflict. When the dust settles, call your staffing agency ASAP! They can often help with conflict resolution. Remember… your new name is Switzerland!

The bottom line: Travel nursing has great rewards, but you have to do your part to meet the challenges. You’re not a staff nurse anymore.