Guide to the Travel Nurse Mindset
You’ve come this far in becoming a travel nurse, and you’re on the cusp of starting your next assignment. Now’s the perfect time to go over one of the most consequential questions you’ll encounter…
What should I do to have the most successful travel nursing experience?
How to Have Successful Travel Nurse Experiences
Success, of course, is subjective. It could mean maximizing your income. It could refer to all the experience and confidence you’ll gain as a clinician. Heck, it could mean visiting all 50 states by a certain age. But surprisingly, the path toward all of these goals have many similar factors.
Travel nurse recruiters? Of course. They’re often the window through which you secure your opportunities.
Experience as a travel nurse? Yup! The more you dip your feet into the ocean of opportunity that is travel nursing, the more you’ll get a feel for which traits and habits will help you swim, and which will cause you to sink.
Mentorship from other clinicians? Absolutely. There’s nothing like the ability to draw from others who’ve been-there-done-that.
But the most important factor in our opinion? Attitude.
As a travel nurse, in order to successfully commit to this profession and lifestyle, you must hone a mindset made of certain traits that shape the way you interpret and act upon both the highs and the lows that you’ll face. And the best part? These traits come in handy at the bedside and beyond.
Embracing Minimalism in Your Travel Nurse Lifestyle
Any travel nurse will tell you that they move way more often than the average person (whether it's every 26 weeks or even 13 weeks), and as we mentioned in our advice on travel nurse housing, if you want to make this aspect of the travel nurse experience easy on yourself, you’ll do so by carrying around as few things as possible. Minimalism makes things easier by making them simpler.
The average individual makes around 35,000 choices a day: each of those decisions cost precious time and brain power. And research has shown that information overload negatively affects your productivity at work. Some decisions and details, like those related to your patients’ care, must take priority in your brain.
But when it comes to less important things, like what shoes to wear on your next trip to the movies, you can (and should!) look for ways to cut that decision making down.
And that’s where minimalism comes in. By learning to do more with less and simplify your life as much as possible, you not only save on time, money, and stress that would probably arise when something doesn’t go as planned; you also free your brain to focus on what’s most important.
Staying Flexible Before, During, and After an Assignment
The happiest travel nurses understand that with each new search for their next assignment, they'll need to balance their dreams with the market. They may not get the assignment with the perfect compensation, location, benefits, and start date that they want... but that doesn't stop them from making the most of their travel nurse experience!
Flexibility takes on many more forms when it comes to travel nursing. You’ll need flexibility in preparations around moving―if things don’t arrive on time or your new place doesn’t have all of the amenities you’d hoped for. You may need to roll with the punches during travel nurse orientation, which can range from overly thorough to minimal, depending on your facility.
And you’ll need to constantly adapt on the job―from learning new procedures (or new ways of carrying out procedures) to making fast, efficient decisions on patient care―the travel nurse experience is bound to toss you curveballs.
So that flexibility that took you through the maze of applications, middlemen, and interviews that was the job search process? Hang on to it. Because you’ll need it at every step of your travel nurse experience.
You’ll need flexibility at every step of your travel nurse experience.
Being Resilient in the Face of Bad Travel Nurse Experiences
There are days when you’ll love your travel nurse assignment. There are days when you’ll wish you were anywhere else. There are days when you’ll feel lonely and separated from your friends and family back home. There are even days when you’ll be surrounded by a team of coworkers and new friends and feel like you truly belong.
It’s important to know that the travel nurse life comes with a full set of challenges, but if you’re resilient enough, the results in yourself are so worth it.
Re-center yourself by remembering your why. Don’t compare yourself with others―whether they be fellow travel nurses seeming to have a better time than you, nurses back home hanging out their loved ones, or other individuals you know with a more “grounded” life.
Ditching the Fear
Courage comes in handy in multiple areas as a travel nurse.
As a contract worker, you have less stability in your job. While it’s important to keep open your options to mitigate the risks, these risks will still exist―no matter how much backup you plan in advance. You’ll need to take the plunge and face them with each new assignment you take, but don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith!
As a clinical professional, you’ll need to have backbone. Sometimes, it’ll be the backbone to say "no" to your company or recruiter. Although finding you an assignment that you’re elated about is a best case scenario, it’s not always a priority for your recruiter.
Ultimately, when it comes to the experiences you want to pursue as a travel nurse, you are your own best advocate, so you must get comfortable telling your recruiter what you will and won’t accept. Other times, it’ll be the backbone to stand up for what you know to be moral and ethical when it comes to patient care. As a travel nurse, be extra prepared to advocate for yourself and your patients.
Remember, as a stranger to new facilities, you’ll need more time to prove your competence and garner the level of trust that an experienced staff nurse receives. But in the meantime, be brave enough to raise concerns or speak out against situations that put yourself or your patients in danger.
Staying out of Workplace Gossip
One of the best parts about the travel nurse experience is staying out of workplace drama and politics, and that’s impossible to do if you’re the busybody in the middle of it all! Gossip can be a guilty pleasure, but it’s one that you definitely shouldn’t indulge in at your facility.
First, it makes you appear less professional and can hurt your job performance. Gossiping may also hurt your relationship with some of the very coworkers that you’ll need to collaborate with when managing your patients.
Recent research has linked employee gossip (particularly the negative kind) with multiple unsavory outcomes in the healthcare space, including lower rates of job engagement, less safe conditions for patients, and suboptimal care.
Second, gossiping jeopardizes the trusting relationship you may build with your patients. The fastest way to weaken a relationship with a patient? Chatting about them (especially if you’re revealing sensitive information) behind their back. Not only are you potentially burning patient bridges, you’re also putting their safety and the confidentiality of their health information in serious danger.
In case you don’t already know (but honestly, of course you do), accessing and sharing patient information without their consent―especially if you or others involved aren’t part of their care team―is grounds for a HIPAA violation. And you don’t want a HIPAA violation on your records―just ask some of the nurses who were a bit too curious about Jussie Smollett.
Long story short, if you want to be a great travel nurse, skip spilling the tea!
Preparing for Each Part of the Travel Nurse Experience
Because there are few guarantees in each travel nurse experience (and in the hospital!), the best you can do is be ready for whatever life throws your way. And that means being prepared!
Having a prepared mindset on the job actually starts with your orientation. Come ready with a list of questions that commonly arise among travelers in your position. If this is your first time (or even second) on a travel nurse assignment, browse articles and forums online to see what information others have found helpful.
And remember that the lessons and questions shouldn’t stop once you start the assignment! Be proactive in your own clinical learning. At some point, you’ll run into clinical challenges that stretch you beyond your comfort zone: it may be a procedure used by your facility, an unfamiliar charting system, specialized medical equipment, or even a unique patient care case.
This happens to everyone, and the most successful travel nurses take these challenges as opportunities to gain experience rather than roadblocks to avoid.
In these situations, go home and pop open a book or take an online continuing nursing education course. While you may not always get the mentorship as a travel nurse that you would get at a well-staffed facility, the upside is that you quickly learn to anticipate areas of weakness and become self-sufficient in addressing them ahead of time.
Meeting Every New Traveling Experience with Humility
When it comes to your agency, walk the line between standing up for what you deserve and giving others the benefit of the doubt. Yes, you’ve heard stories about the hurdles that travel nurses can face in this industry, but for every nightmare story, remember that even more nurses each day are thriving at their assignments... and you can be one of them!
One of the most important things you can do to put yourself in that track is to go in with the assumption that you don’t know everything. One recruiter could do things differently from others and both could be right. Don’t instantly get defensive and assume others are taking advantage of you, but be willing to ask questions and get things in writing.
Work with multiple travel nurse agencies and compare deals to protect yourself and secure the best possible arrangement for you, but don’t go in with a chip on your shoulder from a bad Facebook review. You may consider factors such as higher pay, a larger housing stipend, and cost of living.
When it comes to your facility, know your role. As a travel nurse, you’ll have the chance to witness some of the most (and unfortunately, least) effective approaches to patient care. With enough travel nursing experience, there may come a day where you realize that a former facility handles certain procedures better than the one you’re at.
Remember that as much you may be itching to swoop in, make improvements, and save the day, you’re not there to be a consultant. You’re there to plug in and help. Chances are, you also don’t have the full story behind why your facility does things they way they do.
Remember: You’re a Professional
There’s a domino effect to any behavior, and word travels especially fast in the travel healthcare space. A nurse with a particularly bad experience with an agency or at a facility can end up being blacklisted with a “DNR” (do not rehire) label not just at the agency level, but even within the database of the VMS that their former company worked with, which essentially closes the nurse off from any future positions through that VMS.
It’s easier than you think to avoid predicaments like these. First and foremost is to let your “yes” mean yes and your "no" mean no. Take responsibility and commit fully to any assignments or agreements you sign onto, whether they be verbal or written.
In a world like travel healthcare, there are various actors whose hard work is required to ready you for and bring you through a successful travel nurse experience, and the best service you could do for them (and yourself) is to maintain integrity and consistency by keeping your word.
Be honest with yourself about the travel nursing jobs you are capable of handling, and don’t say “yes” unless you’re sure you are able, willing, and ready to see the assignment all the way through. Trust us: your company, facility, and future patients will thank you for it.
It takes a special person to sign up for the travel nursing experience, so remember to pat yourself on the back every once in a while. And remember, the mindset that you’re developing won’t just help you on your adventure as a travel nurse, it’ll help you in life.
Ready to Try Travel Nursing?
If you have any questions about the travel nurse mindset or are ready to find your next travel assignment, you can create a free Trusted profile and reach out to one of our Nurse Advocates!