Travel Career Resources

Nursing Orientation for Travel Nurses

The Trusted Team
November 12, 2019
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The big day is here―you’re about to begin nursing orientation as a travel nurse on assignment at your new facility! 

Frankly speaking, your travel nursing orientation will take up your first and likely even second, third, and fourth day on the job. So what’s it like? What should you be preparing beforehand to make the most of this assignment, and what comes next?

We’re here to help you hit the ground running from day one!

How to Prepare for Nursing Orientation

The more assignments you complete, the better sense you’ll have for what preparations best suit your needs and working style. However, for those of you early in your travel nurse career, or maybe even on your first assignment (yay!), it’ll be helpful to cover all your bases well ahead of time so that you stroll into your first day of orientation confident and up for the challenge. After all, better safe than sorry!

What to Expect during Travel Nursing Orientation?

When it comes to acing your first day, your recruiter is a great resource to begin with regarding general nursing requirements. 

Expect to receive some information about your first day. This is commonly referred to as FDI or “first day information.”

Your FDI will typically include:

  • Itinerary, location, and start time for your nursing orientation
  • Contact information for your facility
  • Details on timekeeping and timesheets
  • Attire requirements for both nursing orientation and duration of the assignment

Keep in mind that FDI may differ for each assignment! Sometimes you are just told the bare minimum―meaning when and where to arrive on your first day. Other assignments may give you a detailed schedule for your entire first week. If you initially receive less information than you’re expecting to, don’t panic; you’ll likely get the remainder of your schedule on your first day or from your manager during your first week on the job. 

If your start date is quickly approaching and you haven’t gotten any information whatsoever, don’t be afraid to take the initiative! Even if you do get some heads-up from your recruiter about your nursing orientation, be sure to have a firm sense of the orientation’s schedule, including how many hours you can expect to work during that period. (More on why this is important below!)

Be warned: the information passed on to you by the recruiter is occasionally different from how your actual orientation will be run.

The most important thing to understand when it comes to the "typical" travel nurse orientation is that there is no "typical" travel nurse orientation. Orientation for nurses in hospitals can vary from facility to facility and even unit to unit.

The best you can do is to ready any required documents, complete your paperwork and/or modules in advance, arrive early, and be prepared to soak up as much information as you can. 

There is no typical travel nurse orientation.

Ready Required Documents

Every nursing orientation will require at least a few go-to documents to help the hospital confirm your identity and skills as well as get your information input into their administrative system. 

Make sure you carry the following with you for the entirety of your nursing orientation: 

  • Driver’s license (and a backup official photo ID like a passport; some facilities may require two)
  • ACLS and BLS cards
  • Your current, valid nursing license
  • Any of your current, valid nursing certifications

Keep in mind that this list isn’t definitive―if anything, you should take it as an absolute minimum! It may be the case that your facility requires additional documentation that isn’t listed, and the only way to know for sure is to reach out and confirm for yourself! 

If this information isn’t already presented to you in the pre-orientation information that you receive, then double-check (through your recruiter) that you’ll have all the documentation that your facility needs from you. And remember to send this request along early enough in advance; even though you’ve got the job, it’ll still take some time for your request to make it to the correct individuals at the medical facility!

Get Your Prerequisites out of the Way

Paperwork, licensing, online modules... chances are, you’ll need to complete at least one (if not all) of these in advance to make things run as smoothly as possible during your nursing orientation. Naturally, your requirements will depend on the specialty you’re in as well as your specific facility (and their way of doing things). Should you have any questions, reach out to your agency’s recruiter or credentialing team ASAP.

Bring Something to Write with and Take Notes

Carry a small notebook and a pen to take plenty of notes.

What about an iPad or laptop? Well, depending on your facility’s nursing orientation style, things may be a bit too hands-on (more on that below) to be a convenient situation for electronic note-taking. 

Your nursing orientation will go over a variety of useful details from work logistics to the scrubs you’re allowed to wear. A notebook and pen is easy enough to carry around and jot down this information. Also, bringing a notebook and pen not only guarantees that you have a foolproof way to take notes, it helps you establish a solid first impression with the individuals at the facility as someone serious about the opportunity and eager to hit the ground running.

Remember, this is a learning experience (especially as a newly hired new grad nurse).

notebook and pen for nursing orientation
Bring a notebook and pen to take notes during orientation. 

Getting to Your Orientation Site

Yes, Google Maps will give you a general idea of what you can expect between point A and B, but there’s so much more to your commute than how crowded the roads are at 6:30 in the morning (or evening; we see you, night-shifters!). 

Test Run Your Commute 

Test drive a couple of routes you can take to work―what alternate roads can you take as a backup for those days when traffic is blocked? Check out the parking situation at your facility―how does parking work there? Is the location of your nursing orientation different from that of the wing or building that you’ll regularly be reporting to for your assignment? (It happens more often than you think.)

Ready yourself for these uncertainties and more... the last thing you want is to have them affecting your first day, let alone your first week.

Scout out Your New Facility (And the Surrounding Area)

Some facilities are sprawling mini-cities, making it far too easy for you to get lost (and unnecessarily frazzled) on your first day. To avoid that, you should practice getting to important buildings (your nursing orientation location, your unit’s building if you know it) ahead of your first day. While you probably won’t have the access codes to the building, that certainly shouldn’t stop you from getting as much of a sense of the lay of the land as possible―especially since you’ll already be at your facility by the end of the test run of your commute.

And don’t just stop at your place of work! Try to find other spots that you may need to visit on the job, like the human resources department, the facility cafeteria, or a nearby convenience store.

If you already have information about (or even better, access to) your unit, it may also be worth your while to stop by and introduce yourself. Most of the time, units are traveler friendly and other nurses will be willing and happy to meet you and help answer any general questions you have. Just make sure the unit isn’t busy when you visit―you want to be as little of a hindrance as possible, and by coming during a low traffic time, you may even be able to get a few of your burning questions answered early.

Pro-tip: if you really want to make a great first impression, take some sweet goodies along with you for the unit!

Setting up for First-Day Success the Night Before

By the night before your first day, you should have a pretty good sense of how to get to your facility and what you’ll be doing when you arrive. You may even already have met some of your future coworkers! 

While you may be feeling equal parts excited and overwhelmed at this point, it’s important to follow through with the last few steps that you can take to make sure that things get off to the right start the next day. 

Pack Your Bags

The night before your first day, have your bag packed and ready. Yes, you can stuff things into your bag in the morning, but better safe than sorry. Last-minute interruptions, emergencies, and change of plans happen all the time, and if you’re too busy rushing out the door (or dealing with the latest issue that’s popped up) to double check your bag, you may be off to a bad (read: unprepared) start to your first day. 

Do your future self a favor. Create a list of all the things that you’ll need throughout the day―everything from nursing orientation materials to your cellphone―and make sure that each item is packed away (or stored within easy reach on your way out).

Need a jumpstart on making that list? Check out our suggestions on what to include below: 

  • Paperwork required for nursing orientation
  • Folder with copies of all paperwork required of you from facility during application
  • Two forms of ID
  • Small notebook
  • Pen/pencil
  • Stethoscope
  • Lotion and hand sanitizer
  • Reference handbooks if you use them
  • Lunch, snack, and/or bottle of water
  • Keys, wallet, and cellphone  

Go to Sleep on Time

Last but certainly not least, it’s important to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep the night before your big day. While some of us are blessed (or cursed?) with the ability to quickly fall asleep anywhere at any time, most people require some time to adjust―whether it be to new surroundings, a new sleep setup, or even a different sleeping time than usual (especially if you’ve recently moved from a different timezone).

Be sure to get onto a reliable sleep schedule as far in advance of your first day as possible. 

travel nursing orientation morning of
Make sure to get ample sleep the night before!

Your First Day

Hooray, your first day on the job has finally arrived! And if you’ve done the necessary preparation above in advance, you’re ready and rearin’ to go! 

The Nursing Orientation Experience

As we mentioned above, there is no such thing as a standard travel nurse orientation. 

They can vary by length: some are as short as under a day, while others cover four. 

They can vary by what you’re required to wear: you may need to report in scrubs or they may expect you to dress in business casual. 

You may even have a mix in the "classmates" undergoing nursing orientation with you: some facilities train travelers in an exclusive group, while others throw them in with any permanent staff beginning at the same time.

The only real commonality is that a nursing orientation is designed to cover good-to-knows as a nurse in that facility so that you have a chance to learn the ropes before you’re free to take the reins yourself. 

Part 1: Facility Orientation

Your facility orientation is where you’ll cover general things to know about your new facility. This can include a basic overview of the hospital itself and must-have details for your day to day, like your badge and information on parking, all delivered in a classroom-type setting. Your instructor will typically also feature information on HIPAA, workplace harassment, infection control, body mechanics, and other facility-wide policies and procedures.

You’ll also get to meet other individuals (maybe even travelers) starting the same time as you!

Part 2: Unit Orientation

Your unit and clinical orientation usually comes next. This part is used to dive into the technical knowledge that’s important to know―stuff like how all hospital equipment (i.e. beds, lifts, glucometers, ventilators, monitors, IV pumps, patient safety, etc.) in your unit works. You’ll tour the unit, meet your coworkers, then be assigned to a preceptor, who’ll be your guide during your first (and maybe even second) shift.

During this time, you can also expect to receive instruction your facility's health systems: charting system, nursing report, common treatment protocols, where to find medical supplies, and cross-care team communications. 

Overwhelmed? You’re Not Alone!

Remember, because it can be a lot to take in (especially as a new travel nurse!), it’s common to feel overwhelmed. If you’re concerned about or unsure of your ability to grasp any of the concepts or information, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. Everyone involved in your orientation program would much rather you clarify questions you have before you’re out there on your own potentially putting a patient’s health and safety at risk.

Am I Paid for My Nursing Orientation?

You shouldn’t be surprised if your nursing orientation days end up a lot shorter than your contract requires―it’s actually fairly common in the industry!

While usually, we’d love the idea of having a “light” day, this can sometimes affect your paycheck, so it’s important to understand some of the most common scenarios that can arise when it comes to calculating your travel nursing orientation pay. This way, you aren’t in for any unpleasant compensation surprises at the end of your pay period. 

Scenario #1: Nursing Orientation Meets Guaranteed Hours

Essentially, if your contract says that you should have 36 hours of work guaranteed per week and you work 36 hours between your hospital orientation, unit orientation, and your first day(s) unsupervised―or whatever combination of those that happens to fall within your first week!―then your paycheck reflects your full pay, no questions asked. 

This is the case for many orientations for nurses in hospitals and other medical facilities. If you’re curious whether your facility happens to be in that group, then ask your travel nurse recruiter to check this fact with the facility. If this isn’t the facility’s first time around, they’ll typically have an idea of how long the nursing orientation process should take for travel nurses.

Scenario #2: Nursing Orientation Is Less Than Guaranteed Hours, Pay Is Docked

Certain facilities will include a clause or policy in their contract that allows them to reduce your wages in the event that your contract’s guaranteed hours are not available for you to work. (This clause or policy is commonly known as a  ‘cancellation’ or ‘call-off’ policy.) 

In this scenario, even if you’re willing and available to be at your medical facility for 36 hours that week, you may only get paid for the amount of hours that you’re actually at the facility that week―even if their travel nurse orientation ends up shorting you by a chunk of time.

The silver lining is that most facilities have a limit on the number of hours they can “cancel” in a contract. And if your medical facility doesn’t have a limit, you should reconsider working there, because they’re definitely in the minority! 

Keep in mind that your medical facility is not the only factor in the equation: your nurse staffing agency will have a policy on travel nursing orientation pay (and other cancelled hours cases) as well. In fact, some travel nurse agencies will guarantee per diem pay if their nurse was willing and available to work all of the guaranteed hours in a given week, regardless of whether the medical facility actually gave this nurse those hours.  

The best way to prepare for this type of situation is to understand the guaranteed hours cancellation policy of your travel nurse agency and your medical facility ahead of time, and (if possible) negotiate and clarify how this situation will be handled before you accept an assignment. You may not be able to secure a full week’s pay, but at worst, you’ll at least know in advance, and you may even be able to work out an arrangement that puts more money back in your pocket! 

Scenario #3: Nursing Orientation Is Less Than Guaranteed Hours, Pay Is Unaffected

While this might be a best case scenario for you, it’s also pretty rare. Essentially, it comes up if you’re shorted hours during travel nursing orientation, but at the same time paid in full because your facility’s policy guarantees every hour.

Typically, if you happen to work for a facility that guarantees every hour, they’re confident enough that they’ll definitely need you for each hour that you’re contracted, so don’t count on this scenario happening!

Mindset is Everything!

Preparing for your first day and nursing orientation isn’t simply about double checking that you know where you’re going and what to pack, it’s also about preparing yourself mentally and emotionally

Your first day (and the week to follow) will be your chance to make the best first impression you can with your future boss and coworkers. It’ll also be stressful, confusing, exciting, and humbling all at once, making it hard at times for you to maintain that best-foot-forward travel nurse mindset. 

Regardless of how you’re feeling on the inside, remember to stay optimistic and positive. Be ready to jump in and lend a hand to a struggling coworker or learn a new way of dressing a bandage. Keep in mind that you’re there primarily to help the hardworking staff who’re already on the floor to provide great care to even more patients who need it.

And expect the unexpected: you’ll have plenty of curveballs on your assignment... we can almost guarantee it. 

Your first couple of days―heck, even your first couple of weeks!―as a traveler at a new facility will be challenging. It’s super common as a brand new travel nurse for you to feel like you need more travel nursing orientation time, but remember: you already know how to be an amazing nurse! All that’s left is to become the amazing nurse you are for that specific facility.

If you're looking for someone to walk you through every step of the way, we've got your back.

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