Travel nursing is full of transitions. Technically, I have the ability to up and move every four- thirteen weeks. This could be some version of crazy to “9 to 5’ers,” as my nursing friends and I fondly call those in corporate America. The minute I feel settled, it’s time to pack my bags and move on to the next city. But for me, this is what drew me to the job. The thought of moving wasn’t a source of stress but excitement. So many doors were about to open. I could explore new corners of the country, meet new people, and get paid all at the same time! As the dream started becoming more of a reality…I had enough years of experience under my belt and was feeling ready to leave New York City…the finer details came into view. The actual tasks of getting an assignment, packing my bags, finding housing, saying goodbyes, and starting a new job in a new city with minimal orientation were just a few. And with two, six month assignments under my belt and a couple months of “fun-employment” as I lovingly call the time between contracts, I’ve had sufficient time to look back on my experiences so far.
To look all the way back to the beginning, when I was a staff nurse on an oncology unit in New York City during the pandemic, day dreaming of eating in restaurants again and being on public transportation and not thinking twice about crowds, I knew then I wanted to travel nurse. I was also certain I needed a change from the inpatient life. Burnt out and stuck were feelings on replay. But the uncertainty lied in how I was going to make the jump. I knew the world of oncology was larger than inpatient nursing but I wasn’t sure what it looked like. I heard patients mention clinic visits and admitted many a patient to the floor from the clinic, but had no other exposure. So, I asked to shadow a clinic nurse while in New York to see if it would be something I might like. After the day of shadowing the choice was made, I wanted to try traveling in the outpatient setting. The outpatient clinic would guarantee me the day shift, a BIG plus, and if I realized it wasn’t for me, the commitment was only thirteen weeks. I could pivot from there if I wanted to try something else or move back inpatient. A big decision had been made, but now I needed to take some deep breaths and someone else needed to hire me, no big deal.
Having been a nurse on the same unit for 3 years, the process of getting hired seemed like a distant memory. And with the research I had done so far in to travel nursing, this next hiring process was going to look quite different than my last. So, to arm my self with knowledge to better handle the process, I looked, as most of us do, to the Internet. I searched blog posts, websites, and Facebook groups to get a better idea of what was in store. But I still wanted more. I wanted to chat with someone on the phone or in person. To ask someone my curated list of questions the Internet helped provide me. This brings me to connections…or reaching out to people I may not know very well but who I do know have information I’m seeking. For instance, on one of the MANY night shifts I worked at my staff job, I met a travel nurse. Now, at my hospital, or at least on my unit, it wasn’t very common to come across travelers. So, when I did, I pounced on the opportunity for information. So much so, I basically conducted an interrogation of this person at 3am, jotting down notes and getting her phone number. It wasn’t until years after this encounter I was ready to travel, but since I had taken her phone number, I was able to reach out and continue to ask her questions. And this travel nurse wasn’t the only victim of my questioning. I spoke with a classmate from college, one of my sister’s friends, and even an Instagram influencer for tricks of the trade. All were helpful and receptive to questions, and all offered differing viewpoints on the journey I was about to partake. And now, being in a position where I could offer advice to a nurse looking to start traveling, I know I would gladly field any and all questions the same way they did, which I think speaks to the type of people travel nursing and nursing in general attracts, a helpful, supportive, and tired bunch.
Now backed with knowledge, and with a little push from the burnout of inpatient, I was ready to dive in and submit to an assignment. In this next phase, I continued on with my questioning, though now directed at the manager of my potential new unit. With my Google Doc open for reference and for vigorous note taking, I tried to gauge, as best I could from across the country and over the phone, the vibes of the new work environment. Not only was it going to be new in location, but the job description was also changing. And on this point, never having worked in an outpatient setting, I was always candid, not wanting to put myself in a situation I couldn’t handle. With the manager being responsive to my pivot from inpatient to outpatient and also to my laundry list of questions, it was then up to me to make a decision. Though I was able to get a decent feel of the overarching culture of the unit, there was a point where I’d need to trust my instincts, knowing I had done my due diligence in gathering as much information as possible without physically walking on to the unit. And so, I accepted my first travel assignment…put the kettle on for endless cups of stress relief tea please.
The leap had been made, I signed a contract, a process in itself that requires research and experience to come close to mastering, and the changes were just beginning. After finding housing, yet another task worth writing an entire article or 500 hundred about, was complete, hospital onboarding and orientation were the next hurdles. Helpful in the onboarding process, which can be a bit of a drag, has been keeping documents, licenses, and certifications organized in a folder on my desktop. And as I update and renew different items, assuring I keep the folder up to date to make this part of the process as seamless as possible. Because, as mentioned, with thirteen weeks being the potential full length of an assignment, onboarding is done far more frequently than as a staffer.
Following onboarding comes orientation. Though instead of the multi week orientation I was greeted with as a new grad, this orientation would be four days, and therefore required a different, more efficient approach. It was time to take advantage of sharing an assignment with an experienced nurse and yet again take extensive notes, a common thread in my life as a travel nurse. It is clear in these extensive notes there are many ways to skin a cat, or rather perform the tasks of a nurse, and one way isn’t necessarily more right than the other. I find it crucial to then go in to orientation and work with an open mind, an ability to adapt, and focus. So much so, the first impressions I’ve made with nurses who have become good friends were, “nerdy” and “laser focused.” For me, once I learned of these impressions I was content instead of insulted. I’d rather be competent in my work and learn the right way in the beginning and let the friendships follow. And the friendships so far, have always followed.
These friendships are the major reason I continue on this journey consistently full of big and little transitions. And my friends have prompted me on the past two assignments to extend, something more easily achieved when good rapport has been established both with coworkers and managers. And though extending can prolong the good times, eventually the goodbyes arrive. And the goodbye hugs are always accompanied with a thank you card and treat for the nurses…because we all know nurses love a good snack. And though the farewells mark the end of an era, each time I am comforted knowing I have friends and memories in yet another part of the country and I am filled with hope for the fun and experiences to come in my next assignment, in this case round three in San Francisco, California!
Cheers to the travel nursing community and the opportunities it has given us!
Written By: Emily Ludwig, Travel RN (@mily_ludwig11)
Bio: Born and raised on the east coast, I began my nursing career in 2017 in New York City and started travel nursing in 2021. So far, I’ve been to Seattle, Washington, Denver, Colorado, and will be starting an assignment in San Francisco, California this October! I am a lover of cats and all animals, often trying to find housing with pets while on assignments and I am a big foodie, looking forward to my next meal while still eating the current one.