So you’ve just graduated nursing school, and you’re full of excitement and anticipation about your brand new career as a travel nurse! You’ve done the research, read the books, subscribed to the magazines, found friends who travel, and you think you know what to do to get started…
…the only trouble is, as you know (since you’ve done your research), travel nursing is for experienced nurses only! Entry level nurses need not apply.
But how will you ever get experience if you don’t begin? A classic catch-22…but luckily, there are a few things you can do while gathering that valuable experience.
In this short list, I’ve shared some suggestions on how to keep busy — and busy in a way that helps you be your best when the day finally comes that you can travel!
1. Get a J-O-B!!!
Obviously, the largest barrier to entry for travel nursing is experience! Find a nursing job you enjoy, and latch onto the people who can teach you the most. Jobs in float pools or crew positions that have you working in multiple areas of the hospital may be a great way to get used to variety… or get a job in your desired specialty area and just work on your skills!
Each day at work, ask yourself what you can do in your practice that will help you become a better traveler… whether it’s taking on extra responsibilities (to get better at multitasking), volunteering for committees so you can quickly meet new people, or taking advantage of opportunities for learning. Don’t forget to keep track of any new certifications or licenses you pick up along the way (BLS, ACLS, etc)!!
2. Join a professional organization.
Traveling can be a lonely way to go (so I hear) if you aren’t adept at socializing with strangers. Joining a professional organization is the perfect way to get some practice at this very skill, and the stuff you’ll learn during your membership time will also contribute to your overall success as a nurse.
Pick an organization that matches well with your area of interest (for example, the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses would be great if you work on an ortho med-surg unit), and start attending conferences, helping with recruitment, etc. Don’t forget about the making friends part! After all, who knows when you may run into some of your new buddies while out on the road!
3. Meet others who travel, and pick their brains.
What better way to find out what “works” than to ask someone who’s done it?!? If you’re lucky, you’ll work in an area where there are either travel nurses hired in to work beside you, or some of your peers will have traveled in their past. Either way, this is a great opportunity. Just make sure you ask lots of questions. I’ve found that travelers love to talk about it all…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Be specific!
For example, you can ask “What companies have you contracted through? What was the worst thing about working for them? The best? What was something that happened to you that you weren’t expecting? What is your favorite memory from traveling?” And so on. Just don’t let the few that you are bound to run into that have had poor experiences ruin it for you. Realize that, just like in any job area, there are going to be some people who view everything through “Negative Nelly” glasses. Find someone else to talk to who is a little more positive!
4. Read travel nursing books and literature.
This is one of my favorite ways to prepare for my future. Something about snuggling up on my porch swing with a cup of coffee and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to RVing” on my Kindle makes my head spin with excitement for the future! Reignite the excitement you felt when you first decided to pursue this path over and over again — because in two+ years of waiting to get started, a lot can change! I find great resources by simply typing keywords into search engines and Amazon, adding blogs to my blog reader, subscribing to travel magazines, RV shopping, etc. When you feel like things are getting stale and you’re starting to believe it will never happen, start a blog of your own and keep that fire burning! You’re closer than you think!
5. Get your paperwork in order.
Reading books on travel nursing will remind you very quickly that you will have to be very organized to make it work! Get a three-ring binder and start making copies of your licenses, certifications, shot records, etc. Some of the better books have entire chapters devoted to organizational systems that worked well for the authors. Start playing around with it now and you’ll have a system that works reasonably well before you know it — and you’ll be ahead of the game!
6. Figure out your travel plan, and work towards it.
Everyone’s personal situation is going to be slightly different. Mine is a mess. I have a family member with a chronic health issue that we’re going to have to work around, so travel will be a tricky (but not impossible) challenge. Perhaps you have children still in school. Maybe you want to sell the house and travel full time, or it could be that you will keep the house, the kids, and the spouse in your home town while you go out for one or two jobs per year.
Spend some time considering the possibilities, and really think about the best fit for you. Mark out a 13-week period on your calendar and make believe you’re actually gone during that length of time. Does it feel like forever? How would it actually affect you to be away from your home for so long? Go through the motions now so that it isn’t so traumatic later.
This suggestion is right along the same lines as number two — volunteering is a great way to meet new people! It also has the added benefit of keeping your mind occupied while you’re waiting to begin traveling.
Knowing you have something important to work on hones your skills and keeps your mind creative. Plus, it looks great on a resume!
8. Get further education.
Do you have your RN? Many hospitals will help you pay to get that Bachelor’s degree. BSN? Get your master’s! Even if you’re fresh out of school and can’t possibly imagine going back, you could consider doing some online classes to get some credits out of the way. Plus, this is again a great way to “run into” other nurses who have possibly traveled, so you can pick their brains!
The advanced topics that come up in these classes tend to mesh great with the kinds of skills and experiences travelers have, too, so you’ll learn a lot! Finally, imagine that if you go right into a two-year program out of school while you work, you could have another degree by the time you start traveling! Two birds with one stone!
9. Vacation — if you can swing it.
What better way to figure out where you’d like to spend 13 weeks of your year than to travel there for a weekend first! Think about all the exotic or exciting places you’ve dreamed about traveling, and then spend some of your hard-earned and well-deserved cash from your current job to treat yourself to a preview!
10. Keep your eye on the prize!
Like I said earlier, an awful lot can happen in the two years it takes to get the experience you’ll need to travel! Family dynamics could change, your financial situation could fluctuate, or you could even end up really liking the entry job you took! Whatever happens, don’t sweat it. If traveling is meant to be for you, it will happen. Just try to remember the reasons you became interested in the first place, and picture yourself having all the fun and excitement that travel nursing can offer. Before you know it, your time to arrange your first job will be upon you — and because you did some of the things on this list, you’ll be ready!