Have you thought about becoming a travel nurse, but are holding back because you don’t know anyone who has done it? Travel Nurse Circles is looking to solve that problem. This is the first of an ongoing series we’re calling Adventures in Travel Nursing. We’ve interviewed Sarah Mahlum, an ICU nurse and former travel nurse, who has worked at healthcare facilities from coast to coast.
TNC: How long were you a travel nurse?
Sarah Mahlum: I was a travel nurse for 2 years. I started in Maryland, 20 minutes outside of Washington D.C. Then I went to Columbus, OH, Phoenix, AZ, and a small town in Washington State.
TNC: What drew you to travel nursing?
SM: I always loved travel and being able to go somewhere and see different places. Living somewhere, being immersed in the city, and seeing how other people live is a fun experience. If I didn’t meet my boyfriend, I’d still be doing it.
NC: Where would you recommend new travel nurses take their first assignment?
SM: I’m not 100% sure. For a first time traveler, I would not recommend a rural city. You don’t know very many people and it can be harder to get to know them. I feel it’s better at first to go where there are a bunch of other travel nurses. That way, you’re all in the same stage in your lives and you’re all willing to go out and have fun. I just feel like that would be a better place to start.
TNC: How did you get to your first assignment?
SM: I always have driven and I would recommend it because most of the places I went required me to drive to work. Hospitals and recruiting agencies don’t provide transportation or anything like that. Plus, you have more independence with a car too.
TNC: What were you told about travel nursing that turned out to be wrong?
SM: Some people have said there are places that they’ve gone to where the nurses aren’t very nice and it’s hard to mesh with the nursing staff. I always try to be extra nice and extra helpful. Because everyone needs help in nursing. Really, I’ve never really had a bad experience with the other nurses.
TNC: What was the typical training at each new hospital?
SM: Some places give a typical hospital orientation and then you would start on the unit. Then you have two days on your unit to get to know the floor. Other places did not give you hospital orientation, they didn’t go over the chart, they didn’t go over the machines in the hospital. It can be very different.
TNC: Was it tough working with different charting systems?
SM: For some assignments, hospitals require that you have some training in the system that they use. Others will train you for a couple of days before they let you loose. My advice to new travel nurses: just practice using it. The first day you’re doing orientation on your unit, just start charting. Hands-on learning helped me find the differences, like where to find patient’s information and other details.
TNC: What was your experience with your travel nurse recruiter?
SM: My recruiter was amazing. I found out about her through the referral of another nurse I had met in Florida. She was always there for me and would call randomly during the week to see how I was doing. Especially when I first started an assignment, she often checked in and made sure everything was going okay. Plus, she was on the ball with getting all the documents to the hospital. I never had an issue with housing. She was top notch.
TNC: What made her the type of recruiter travel nurses should seek out?
SM: One thing that I really liked about her is that she didn’t push me. She wanted to make sure that I wanted the assignment. Since she gets paid when I take an assignment, and for her to not push me into something is something I appreciate.
TNC: What is one of the best experiences to come out of travel nursing?
SM: One of the most memorable aspects of my time travel nursing was meeting one of my closest friends. We were sitting at orientation in Phoenix and she was a couple rows behind me talking about how she had worked at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. And since I’m from the Chicagoland, I turned around and found out that we had so much in common.
We liked doing outdoorsy stuff and exploring the world. I would have never met her if I didn’t turn around during my travel nurse orientation in Phoenix and start talking to her. I feel really lucky about that.
TNC: What experience will you remember most from your time outside of work?
SM: In Washington, I was right by Cascade National Park. I decided to do this 6 mile hike and I didn’t have anyone to do it with, so I just decided to do it.
There were a couple older guys in front of me and they were picking these little berries and eating them and I asked them, “Oh, what are those, what are you eating?” That started us talking on the way up and I ended up doing the entire hike with them.
We ate berries all the way up and all the way down and they were amazing. I don’t even know what they were called but I would do the hike again just for the berries.
TNC: How do you feel about the nursing license compact?
SM: If you are in a Compact state, take advantage of it because it’s so much easier. My residence is in Illinois and Illinois is not part of the compact. So, I had to get a license in every state that I went to which can be a pain in the butt.
Maryland you can walk through and get it if you have all of the required documents. I applied for my California license, which was an option that I had wanted to pursue, and it took me over a year to get that license. It’s so variable. It just depends on how quickly the state gets through the licensing process.
Any last recommendations for new travel nurses?
Be outgoing. Take advantage of every opportunity that you can. Just take a deep breath before you go in for your first shift and you’ll be okay. Ask a lot of questions, make sure you ask a lot of questions.
Thanks Sarah and stay tuned for future volumes of travel nurse adventures. Until then, you can find more information and resources for travel nurses by registering with Travel Nurse Circles. Those who register on our website, there is a chance to be entered into a $1,000 sweepstakes. Don’t waste time! Get started today.