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By February 24, 2010 1 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: What should I look for in a first travel nursing assignment?


shocked travel nurse on first travel nursing assignmentA first-time traveler recently contacted me with difficulties on her first assignment. When she began to describe some of the problems she was encountering, I began to see where she might have made some better choices for a first contract.

The first thing she mentioned was that it was a “float” position. In case you happen to be unfamiliar with the term, this simply means that you are required to work in different units during your contract. If you are in a large hospital setting for example, a critical care float position might entail working your shift in the ICU, CCU, SICU, or even the ER. If you are contracted for a “general float” position, depending on your experience, you might be required to float to all the aforementioned units, and additionally, telemetry or medical-surgical floors.

While some travelers enjoy the opportunity to work in several different areas, and often receive higher pay in such a position, I often discourage new travelers from taking an assignment where they will float extensively. This is due to the unique challenges that these positions involve.

When you are contracted for a float position, you simply fill the needs that the hospital has for the shift. This means that if you work three 12-hour shifts a week, you could find yourself working in three or more different units that week. While some travelers like the constant change of venue, it can be hard on the first-time traveler who is just beginning their career.

One reason for this is the need to function very independently. A nurse that only has experience working in a single unit might find it hard to develop relationships with staff members when you only work with them on an infrequent basis. Again, while there are travelers that enjoy rotating from unit to unit to break the monotony, I personally always like to have a “home” when I travel and working in one unit can certainly help you develop a sense of belonging.

Another issue, where I see new travelers run into difficulty, is when the assignment taken is an area of the country that was not among their top choices. This is a little hard for me to underst and since my only reason for traveling is to see an area of the country that I choose. Sure, I have been in the position where I needed to take an assignment to keep the money coming in, but I have always managed to find a contract somewhere near a desired location.

One piece of advice I constantly give to new travelers is to take an assignment in a location where you would consider taking a vacation. I followed this very advice myself, fifteen years ago, when I took my first travel assignment in Hawaii. Ideally, I would like to see travelers take two or three assignments in locations where all they do is have fun on their days off.

Choosing a first travel nursing assignment can be a daunting task. But, by making a good first choice, you give yourself a chance to fall in love with the profession of travel nursing. After that, you can challenge yourself with some of the harder contracts.

About the Author:

Hello everyone. I’m a travel nurse originally from Ohio who graduated in 1993 from Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus. I completed a critical care fellowship at Riverside Methodist Hospital in 1994 and started traveling in that specialty a year later. My first travel assignment was in Maui and since that time I have completed close to 40 different contracts in various states with multiple travel companies. I am the author of Travel Nurse’s Bible (A Guide to Everything on Travel Nursing), in addition to my writings here and in the pages of Travel Nursing publications such as Healthcare Traveler Magazine and American Nurse Today. I am presently on assignment in Phoenix, AZ and travel anywhere from six to eleven months of the year.

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