5 Lessons from Contract Travel Nursing Experts

If you’re new to travel nursing, it can seem a little overwhelming. You may have several questions about how contract nursing jobs work and how to handle things on assignment. That’s perfectly normal. To help you travel with confidence, here are a few lessons from travel nursing recruiters and nurses who have worked on these contracts that can help you succeed.

5 key takeaways from contract nursing assignments

1. Find people willing to answer all of your questions

Teri Knight, RN, a CVICU nurse who lives in Virginia, was interested in contract nursing jobs because she knew that her critical care skills were in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up. But she didn’t know a lot about travel nursing. So, she started putting out feelers with various travel nursing companies and hoped that someone could answer her questions.

Knight received a call back from Latham Staples, a recruiter with AMN Healthcare, that changed everything for her. Staples didn’t make any assumptions. He just patiently explained everything that she needed to know about travel nursing assignments with AMN Healthcare.

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“He knew that I was new, and he started from the beginning and explained what the process was and made me feel comfortable,” she said. “And that’s why I went with him and went with AMN Healthcare.”

The same advice applies when you start working, even on your first day of a travel nurse assignment. You’re in a new facility, and they may do things a little differently. Find the people who are happy to answer your questions, show you where to find the supplies you need, and just generally be a good resource for you.

2. Communicate openly and often with your recruiter

Kristine Lamb, RN, has been working on travel contracts for more than five years, and she continues to appreciate the lessons from each travel nursing assignment. She generally knows what she wants. She also knows that her recruiter Malesha Smith trusts her and her convictions and won’t try to sell her on any travel nursing contracts that aren’t a good fit for her. That’s because Lamb and Smith have established a solid line of open communication with each other.

During each travel nursing assignment, it’s not unusual for them to check in with each other two or even three times per week.

“Other nurses can’t believe it,” said Lamb. “As they say their recruiters never call them.”

3. Don’t forget your top priority

You probably became a nurse because you wanted to help people, right? No matter where you work, that’s still your goal. If you take a contract nursing job, you will be working in a new environment with new co-workers, but the health and safety of your patients are still your top priority. As a bonus, you may have the opportunity to work with a different patient population than in previous jobs, which can expand your knowledge and your nursing resume.

True, the opportunity to travel and meet new people are among the most-cited reasons that many nurses take a travel nursing job. And you can absolutely enjoy those things! Just remember that every patient is counting on you to provide the very best care.

4. Take care of yourself, too

While you’re caring for your patients, don’t forget that there’s someone else you need to take care of yourself! Self-care is not just a buzzword. It’s a crucial part of nurturing and maintaining your physical and emotional health.

There’s a myriad of ways that you can care for yourself when you’re away from home. Many veteran travel nurses advise staying in touch with your people back home, perhaps by setting up an ongoing text chat or arranging a regular time to connect via Zoom or FaceTime. It’s also recommended to carve out some time to explore while you’re on assignment, so you feel like you’ve really had the whole “travel” experience.  And of course, exercise and good nutrition should continue to be part of your self-care routine.

Some nurse travelers recommend taking along a few favorite belongings to help you feel more at ease. For example, Lamb loves to cook, so when she hits the road, she packs her favorite mixing bowls, fry pans, her Instapot, and an air fryer. Then she can enjoy her favorite foods away from home. Plus, it enables her to make big batches of her favorite beer cheese soup and French onion soup, which she takes to work to share with her new co-workers.

5. Don’t be afraid to try something new

Travel nursing was new for Knight when she signed on to take a COVID contract nursing job all the way across the country in California in late 2020. But if she hadn’t tried it, she wouldn’t have discovered how rewarding it can be to stretch herself and try something new and challenging. Plus, she got to put her nursing skills to use in a place that really needed her.

Similarly, your life may be much richer if you’re willing to take a deep breath and try something new. Your “something new” might be your first travel nursing contract. Or it might be a travel nursing assignment in a state you’ve never visited before, or in a different kind of work setting. Imagine the possibilities!

So, if your recruiter proposes an opportunity that wasn’t what you were expecting, hear him or her out. You just never know…

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