Kelli Leach
Kelli Leach
October 10, 2016 - 6 min read

Tears and Fears: Unfounded Worries about my First Travel Nursing Experience

I love telling the story of our first travel nursing assignment, particularly the part about our first day in our new city.

Everybody begins travel nursing for different reasons. Some get into it for the increased pay, some use it as a means to help them get moved, some just fall into it, and then there are those like us that begin a travel nurse career for the adventure!

My husband, Skyler, told me about travel nursing back when we were first dating in 2004. He had a friend that was a travel nurse and thought it sounded like fun.

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Longtime Dream

We have both always had a passion for travel, and as our relationship developed and he was pursuing a career in nursing, travel nursing was always our goal. It cracks me up when people that don’t get it ask, “Why do you have to travel?” We don’t have to; we definitely want to and we LOVE the excitement of it.

We worked toward this goal very hard in the early years of our relationship. We had a timeline written out of what we had to accomplish first before we could begin this adventure. So when the time finally came to take the leap we were ecstatic! No hesitation whatsoever. We couldn’t pack our bags and hit the road fast enough.

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Panic Sets In

Fast forward to our first night arriving at our first travel assignment in Los Angeles, California. We got there, checked in to our apartment, and went to grab a bite to eat at nearby Universal CityWalk.

While sitting at dinner we both called our moms to let them know we had made it and all of a sudden we both broke down crying to our mommies. I’m not kidding.

I am dying laughing as I write this because it’s just so funny that we were so excited to finally be living our dream that we never once stopped to think about the fact that we were moving from a small rural town in Missouri to the second largest city in the US. And we panicked!

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We had visited L.A. a couple times on vacations, but all of a sudden the thought of actually living there on our own was terrifying. We didn’t know where the grocery store was, or Target, or what areas were safe and what areas we should avoid. In that one moment all of our excitement turned to complete terror. What had we done?! What were we thinking?! Why didn’t we just take an assignment in Kansas City or even Dallas before we ventured half way across the country on our own?!

We cried through most of dinner. Our server must have thought we were insane, but by the end of dinner we had decided to stop worrying. We would go to our new home, make the bed, and get some rest. We vowed that we would wake up in the morning with new attitudes and start exploring our new city so that everything wouldn’t be so scary or unknown anymore.

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New Day, New Outlook

And that is just what we did. We had been traveling for over a week (we had made a vacation out of our first road trip). Before that we had been packing and moving and whittling down our belongings and attending farewell parties etc. We were physically and emotionally drained and all of that compounded with the realization that we were (for the first time ever) truly on our own, far away from home. That just sent us both over the edge. But after a good night’s sleep we both woke up excited again and ready to venture out and do some exploring.

We got very lucky on that first assignment and met three other travel nurses that we made quick friends with. Two were sisters from Pennsylvania who lived in the same complex as us, and then there was a guy from Tennessee that was living a couple miles away. We were all young and ready to have fun exploring.

We literally spent nearly every single non-working day of that four-month contract doing some sort of new activity. We stayed busy and we had a blast. That first assignment was all we had dreamed travel nursing would be and we were officially hooked! It took some time to adjust to such an extremely new lifestyle. But once we got over the shock of it we realized it was a much better lifestyle that we now loved!

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Be Prepared and Avoid the Panic

There is no reason for you to go through that moment of shock that we experienced. Not to say that you won’t, because it is a huge transition, but I’ve answered a few questions below that will hopefully calm any pre-travel jitters.

Q: What are some universal experiences all first time travelers go through?
A: I believe everybody’s experience is unique to their own personal situation and background. But I would imagine that most first time travelers experience some sort of anxiety on some level similar to what we did. It’s just a new experience and there are a lot of unknowns until you are actually there, living it. Do your homework ahead of time, try to go into it open minded, and just enjoy the incredible opportunity!

Q: What are common fears of first time travelers – how do you combat them?
A: I am going to speak a little on the behalf of my husband now, because he is the nurse in our family. I think his biggest fear and that of most other rookie travelers (and veterans too for that matter) has more to do with the hospital and staff than anything else. Are they traveler friendly? Will I catch on fast? How much training will I receive? Will I be good at this? Will I like being a travel nurse?

The way my husband Skyler combats those fears is to ask lots of questions during the interview process. He asks if they have travelers often and how the staff reacts to them. He asks what his orientation will be like. And he also makes it a point to stay on top of his game. He takes his job very seriously so he goes into every new hospital prepared and ready to do his job better than anybody else (in a non-arrogant way of course).

He also makes it a point to be friendly and to do things their way. You can’t walk into a hospital and say “Well at so-and-so hospital we did it this way” – that is a sure-fire way to annoy the staff and not fit in from the start. Embrace new ways of doing things and learn from it.

Skyler loves how much he has learned from working with so many different people across the country. Approach each new hospital and staff as a team player and make it clear that you are there to help and they will usually embrace that and be very welcoming.

Logistics first time travelers should be aware of:

  • Make sure you have your licensing and all other required paperwork complete before you leave for your assignment. Double and triple check with your agency rep that your file is squared away and you are ready to begin your assignment.
  • Have in writing the date, time, and location you are supposed to show up to work. Often times the first day isn’t at the hospital, so make sure you are responsible and know when, where, and the dress code. Scout it out and time the commute the day before and get there early. You want to make a good first impression!
  • Be aware of how long it should take you to get from your home town to your assignment and allow extra time for possible mishaps along the way (getting lost, bad weather, flat tire, etc.). Again, you do not want to be the new guy that couldn’t make it in for his first day of his first assignment on time.
  • If you are taking company provided housing, make sure you know when you can move in and when you have to be out by (typically 2 days on each end.)

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Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Adventure

Travel nursing is a lot of fun. The first assignment is a bit of a leap-of-faith into the unknown, but it is definitely worth it. Prepare yourself ahead of time as best as you possibly can, and then remind yourself that it is only 13 weeks. That visualization has always helped us when we feel anxious about a particular assignment – you can do anything for 13 weeks.

And honestly, before you know it it has become second nature anyway and you did all of that worrying for nothing. So just enjoy the adventure!

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