I was once asked why the travel nursing companies require a year of experience before a nurse may travel. A recent email I received should illustrate the answer to that question.
An experienced nurse, on her first travel assignment, emailed me to ask if there were any legal remedies that would allow her to break her contract without being assessed any fees from her travel company. She went on to explain that on her assignment, the workload was too heavy and that anytime she needed help or had a question, no one seemed to be around. She added that she was afraid that they might put her into a situation that she was unable to manage. Was this from a nurse with only a year of experience? Less than five years experience? Try over two decades worth of nursing knowledge. If a nurse with this much experience can get rattled on her first assignment, imagine how you might feel with just a few years worth under your belt.
While most facilities that utilize travel nurses are not new to the game, there are some that are not as experienced in dealing with temporary staff. Add to that the fact that most facilities have the expectation that a travel nurse will be able to function independently, with little or no orientation at all, and you can see how you might find yourself out on your own.
The reason that facilities use travelers is because they are short for staff. With the expectation they have of receiving an experienced nurse, they are not going to devote much staff time to training someone that should be able to “hit the ground running”.
That is not to say that they should not be available to answer questions or give assistance when needed. But, a traveler should expect to have to occasionally seek out answers on their own. If no one is available to tell you what color tube to use for a CBC, then call the lab to find out. If no one is available to tell you on what schedule to place a TID medication, call the pharmacy to ask. Self sufficiency is a must-have characteristic of a travel nurse.
Most of the questions you have on an assignment should be of the nature, “When do you draw your AM labs?” or “At what time does this facility schedule daily Coumadin doses?” and NOT, “How do I change a PICC line dressing?” or “Can you start an IV for me?”. The later of these are things you learn to do before embarking on travel.
Use your first year to gain all the experience you can, and even then, consider gaining another six to twelve months of experience. Despite the number of contracts dipping this year because of the recession, travel nursing will still be there when you are ready to take that first travel nursing assignment.