Contract Nursing Updated November 14, 2023

By Shelley Wright, contributor

Top 10 Rookie Travel Nurse Mistakes

You have the skills. 

You have the experience. 

You’re ready to live the adventure you’ve dreamed about and, “Nothing can go wrong!” 

… said no new travel nurse, ever.

Of course, you have doubts. 

Luckily, we already know the types of things that first-time travel nurses might trip upon and can help you avoid the most common pitfalls.

Any trepidation you feel now will soon turn to excitement and eager anticipation. Just follow these tips to ensure smooth sailing and help you enjoy all the benefits of travel nursing.

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Avoid These 10 First-Time Travel Nurse Mistakes:

 1. Being Too Narrow-minded

You may have a specific goal for your first travel nursing assignment – and that’s great. But some new travel nurses have discovered that limiting their options too much can make it difficult to get hired.

Talk to your recruiter about your goals and dream job, but be flexible enough to consider other possibilities. 

For instance, you may need to start in a different city to get the experience you need at that top-ranked medical center in the Midwest that you really want.

2. Just Skimming Your Contract

Your contract is the most important document of your travel nursing assignment; read it carefully before signing. 

Check for completeness and accuracy, including your assignment dates, pay rate, travel reimbursements, shift hours, bonus requirements, requested time off, any special agreements, etc.

Your recruiter should be able to answer any questions you have and make corrections if necessary.

3. Bringing Way Too Much Stuff

Over-packing is a common mistake for new travel nurses, but you’ll quickly learn the benefits of a more minimalist lifestyle.

First, find out what’s included in your furnished housing. 

Then, be smart about your wardrobe: think of layers and pieces that can serve multiple purposes. Research the average temps for your new home during the time you’ll be there and pack accordingly. 

Bring just the essentials plus a few touches of home, like cherished photos or your favorite cozy blanket.

4. Being Unprepared

Some new travel nurses have let their excitement distract them from the more mundane tasks that must be completed before their adventure can begin. 

But overlooking such details could delay your start — or give your new manager a bad impression.

Work with your travel nurse agency to ensure your state nursing license, credentials, and other documentation are current. Complete any training or tests that might be required for your assignment before the deadline.

Make sure you know where and when to report your first day and be on time. Know who your supervisor will be, what to wear, and exactly what you’ll need to bring with you. 

Your recruiter can provide first-day instructions with all of this information ahead of your journey. 

5. Not Asking Enough Questions

If you feel like you’re walking around your assignment facility with a visible question mark over your head, that’s normal! Just don’t forget to verbalize the things you really need to know.

Every travel nurse who starts in a new facility and a new unit has to learn where things are, who to call, what procedures to follow in certain situations, etc. 

Even after your travel nurse orientation, there will be times you need to ask for guidance, so make friends with your preceptor or another staff contact.

Asking questions does not make you look incompetent, but the mistakes that could follow from not asking might.

6. Joining the Hospital Drama Club

Even if it’s tempting to dive into the hospital gossip pool as a means of making quick personal connections, new travel nurses can and should resist. 

It’s always better to build new relationships from a foundation of trust. 

Avoid the drama, don’t take sides, keep your head solidly above the muck, and you’ll shine as the travel nursing professional you were hired to be.

7. Acting Like a Know-it-all

You have excellent nursing skills and clinical know-how: you wouldn’t have been hired as a travel nurse if you didn’t. 

But you will build mutual respect by joining, rather than trying to lead, your new team. 

Listen and learn before making suggestions for change. Once you’ve demonstrated your value, you might find your fellow nurses asking for your input.

And regardless of how many years of experience you have, stay open to new experiences and care models you will encounter during your travel assignments. 

Incorporating different best practices and styles will only strengthen your nursing skills.

8. Acting like a Temporary Nurse

Travel nurses are not hired to be a warm body when the patient census goes up, or a vacancy needs filling. The staff and patients are counting on you to give your best. 

Always show up with a good attitude and be prepared. Give extra assistance, remember that you’re there to help the unit, empathize with your co-workers’ concerns, and follow-through. 

Act like you are part of the team, and you will be treated the same.

9. Bringing Work Home

Every nurse has difficult patient cases, and everyone makes mistakes.

If you’ve been upset by a poor outcome or are part of a near miss or medical mistake, stop and notify your nursing manager. Stay and debrief if necessary. Then try to let it go. 

And trust the nurses on the next shift to take care of your patients.

When you walk through your front door, take a deep breath and mentally leave your nursing shift behind.  This will help you achieve the life balance you need to be a successful travel nurse.

10. Having too Much or too Little Fun

When exploring a new city and meeting new friends, some travel nurses have discovered that there is no such thing as having too much fun!  

It only becomes a problem if you’re overextending yourself, overindulging, and/or neglecting the golden rules of self-care. 

Schedule your off-time activities wisely so that you’ll always feel rested and energized when you arrive for your shift. 

But the reverse is also a problem – all work and no play is not a formula for success.

Travel nursing assignments are just a few weeks long (usually 4-13 weeks), so after a few days of settling in, start planning excursions with some fellow travel nurses or staff, so you don’t miss out on the fun.

Take time to see the sights, sample the local fare, and enjoy the unique and wonderful things your new location has to offer.

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