What to Expect on Your First Day as a Travel Nurse

Job Seeker

By Sarah Wengert

Congratulations! You’ve landed your first travel nurse assignment and you’re ready to get this new career adventure started. You’re probably a little anxious in addition to your excitement and that’s OK. It’s totally normal to be a little nervous about what to expect during your first week as a travel nurse.

In fact, almost every successful, now-veteran traveler has at some point wondered to themselves: “How do I prepare for a traveling nurse job?”and“What should I do on my first day as a travel nurse?” So, remember: You’re not alone in your first-day jitters and you were hired because you’re great at what you do. You got this — and, as always, we’ve got you. Read on for some tips and information that will help you prepare for your first day as a travel nurse.  

Travel Nurse First Day Basics

The answer to the common question “What should I do on my first day as a travel nurse?” actually begins before your first day! The first step to a good first day is to prepare and plan ahead. You’ll want to make sure to accomplish some of the super common-sense basics, like making sure you have the right color/type of scrubs for you new facility. The night before your first shift, go ahead and lay out:

  • your clothes
  • paperwork (IDs, certs, first-day paperwork, anything else the facility requested, etc.)
  • stethoscope/equipment
  • bag (with wallet/phone/keys)
  • lunch/water bottle
  • notebook/pen
  • medications
  • anything else you’ll need in the morning

A day or two before your first shift it’s a great idea to go ahead and take the drive or ride to your new facility. This allows you to get familiar with your commute, any current construction, parking, and/or where you want to be dropped off if riding public transit. You should plan to arrive early on your first day. This will reduce your stress should you hit any traffic or snags — plus it makes you look dependable and prompt, and that positive first impression will benefit you in the long run.

Finally, the most common-sense advice of all: Get a good night’s sleep (or day’s sleep for you night shifters!) and be sure to eat a solid, healthy meal ahead of your first shift. Get at least a solid eight hours of sleep and maybe more if you’ve recently changed times zones.      

What to Expect from Orientation

Most travelers will have orientation on the actual first day of their new assignment, so come prepared to pay attention and learn lots! Orientation for travelers can vary greatly, depending on your facility and position, from a half-day up to several days. Typically, you can expect 1-2 days for orientation, but you should be advised of the expected length of your orientation ahead of time by your recruiter and/or first day information paperwork so you know what to expect. You should prepare for orientation by bringing a notebook (you’ll want to take lots of notes!) and all of your required IDs, licenses, and certifications.   

Orientation is going to be different at every single facility, so it’s best to go in expecting the unexpected to some degree. For example, you may be in a traveler-exclusive cohort or your group may include perm staff, and other such variations. However, you can usually expect a facility-specific portion that introduces you to the hospital or clinic itself, with topics like physical layout, badge and parking info, procedures, and policies.

Next, your unit orientation is more likely to answer questions like “What does a travel nurse do on a typical day?” — at that specific facility and in that particular unit. You’ll usually be assigned a guide/preceptor, as well as be able to tour the unit and be educated and/or trained on any clinical/technical knowledge, unit-specific policies and procedures, charting and report, and where to find equipment and supplies. Even if you’re already a whiz in your specialty, please pay close attention to all of this training! Things can vary greatly from one facility to another and it’s crucial for you to absorb this information in order to do your best work when you hit the floor.

Your unit orientation is also typically where you’ll meet your colleagues and unit leaders — speaking of which …   

Interacting with New Colleagues

Be friendly and confident when you meet the staff at your new facility. Every facility and team are different, but all people will appreciate this approach and it will make for a great first impression.

As you already know, gossip and word of mouth is a reality in most facilities, and you definitely want people giving you a good report when others ask about the new traveler! Positive interactions with the perm staff at your new facility will only make your experience a better one, which ultimately allows you to provide the best possible patient care. Interacting well with new colleagues is not just a matter of popularity, it will help you succeed there!  

A couple more tips for interacting with new colleagues: Don’t discuss things like your pay, hours, or anything else that could promote jealousy among perm staff. Also, ask lots of questions in orientation and beyond! This shows a level of respect for your new co-workers, who likely know the facility/unit inside and out. Bonus: Being inquisitive will also help you succeed in your assignment. Don’t try to change things or talk about the way you did things at your old facility. This can be adversarial and create a bad relationship with perm staff. Remember that you’re basically a guest in their “home,” and approach the situation with that level of respect!

Planning Self-care for After Your Shift

No matter how prepared you are, your first several days are likely to be exhausting! Make sure to plan a little bit of self-care for after your first shift or even your first week. You’re adjusting to a lot all at once: New city, new home, new facility, new procedures, new co-workers! It can wear you down no matter how great of a nurse you are, so plan ahead to treat yourself to some carryout, a nice hot bath, a yoga class, a hike, a Zoom session with your bestie, or whatever charges your battery.

Your job is hard enough even without all the adjustments of a new travel healthcare career and a new assignment — make time for yourself to avoid burnout. This will help keep you mentally and physically healthy, and again, allow you to provide the best care for your patients and succeed in your career goals. 

We hope these tips for day one of your travel nursing assignment help you understand what to expect during your first week as a travel nurse, and are helpful as you kick off this wonderful new chapter of your career in care! If you have any questions or need more support, your recruiter is always here to help you. Never hesitate to contact them, and remember, the Medical Solutions team as a whole is here to support your through our 24-hour customer care line at 1.866.633.3548. We wish you the best and we’re here for you!

If you’re an aspiring travel nurse, we’re also here for you! Search travel nurse job openings now, apply to get started, or give us a call today!

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