You’ve been in nursing for a while, and you want to change it up—perhaps with a new hospital, a new job, or a new location. Maybe you’ve always wanted to travel across the country and see different cities and experience different ways of life. Maybe you want to avoid winter altogether or escape the brutal heat of a Texas summer. Maybe you’ve heard about travel nursing, or worked with travel nurses in your own facility, but how do you know if traveling is right for you? What sacrifices do travel nurses make to get that take-home check? Here are a few tips if you’re thinking about diving into the world of travel nursing and taking that first travel contract.

1. Make sure you have the right personality fit.

It takes a certain kind of person to be a travel nurse. Are you adaptable and flexible? Do you like change? Are you a quick-learner? Are you able to work 36 or 48-hour weeks, with several shifts back to back? Are you a spontaneous person? Are you confident in your nursing skills, and do you have the appropriate experience, professional skills, and a core knowledge base? These are all questions to consider.

2. Where do you want to go?

Consider the licensing requirements for the states that you want to visit. Is it difficult to get a license in that state? Are there waiting periods, or does the state use endorsement for licensing? Is the state part of a compact? Make sure you give yourself plenty of time before a contract starts to get your documents in order. In many cases, if you delay the start of a contract it can be canceled altogether.

3. Be organized!

Make sure you have a current copy of every possible license and certification for your new agency and facility. Make front and back copies of all of your certification cards, and make sure nothing has lapsed or expired. Compliance for facilities can be difficult, and orientation can be tedious, so do your best to make sure your own personal files and records are in order.

4. Pick the best recruiter for you.

Research all possible agencies and options. Even when you think you’ve found the right fit, keep looking to be sure. When you’re working with a new recruiter, make sure he or she takes the time to get to know you. He or she should have a good sense of what your goals are, what you like and what you don’t like, the hours you want to work, and the best way to get you in the door at a new facility. A bad recruiter can quickly lead to a bad contract. You want someone who you can trust to negotiate on your behalf, whether it be the length of the contract, weekend shifts, time off, or hourly rate. And make sure it’s all written in the contract—when in doubt, get it in writing.

5. Do the math.

What benefits are offered with your particular agency? What benefits do you need? One decision you’ll need to make is whether to take a housing stipend. For some, this is a no-brainer, but for others it can be a matter of arithmetics to determine the best or most lucrative solution for your needs. Other things to consider are whether any additional bonuses, incentives, or allowances will be taxed. Be sure you’re completely clear on the fine print so your take-home pay isn’t drastically different than what you expected.

6. Speak up and ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to. Just because you’re taking a travel contract doesn’t mean you don’t have the same rights as any other registered nurse.

7. Put on a brave, smiling face.

Be prepared for a few challenges. You’re about to be thrust into a brand new environment with new coworkers, different physicians, and unique challenges. You may receive difficult patient assignments, and you won’t have the familiarity with your facility to fall back on in times of stress or high patient acuity. Try to be open-minded as you can, take a lot of notes, and ask a lot of questions.

For more information and resources about travel nursing, visit the DailyNurse specialty page.

Laura Kinsella

Laura Kinsella, BSN, RN, CEN, is an emergency room nurse in Washington, DC.

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