What’s it like for a first time travel nurse? That’s exactly what we’ve set out to find with our reoccurring feature Adventures in Travel Nursing. This time, we sat down to speak with Kelsey Smith, a registered nurse with a neurology background and several years of travel nursing experience.
TNC: What made you want to be a travel nurse?
KS: I heard about it when I had just started nursing school and I knew it was something I just had to try. I don’t know what better situation there is than getting to work and travel at the same time.
TNC: What was your first nursing assignment like?
My first assignment was out in Arizona and I remember waking up and thinking I was the luckiest person alive. Life was so exciting. We were always doing new things, and I was in a new place, and there was so much going on. And I met someone who I consider a lifelong friend.
TNC: How many recruiting agencies have you worked with? What do you look for in a recruiting agency?
KS: Just the one. It’s important to know what you want out of your experience. Are you doing it for the money or the travel? There are some companies that pay you a lot, but they might have worse contracts. There are times where I could be paid more with another company, but then the location that I’m at might not be available.
TNC: What would you recommend for first time travel nurses: small hospitals or large hospitals?
Go with what you’re used to. I think travel nursing already feels overwhelming for first timers. There are so many new situations. The more you can keep consistent, the more positive I think that first experience will be.
That being said, I enjoy both. One thing I love about travel nursing is that you get to see the different ways that hospitals operate. You get to see more at a larger hospital, there are more interesting cases, and a lot more is going on with research opportunities. But the small hospitals are interesting too. You learn to manage your resources better because you probably don’t have as many.
In fact, one of the small hospitals I worked at might have been one of my favorite assignments. I felt like I was a part of their little work family. That particular hospital, they weren’t used to travel nurses, it was a one-time thing for them, but it was fun to have them accept us so warmly and they were genuinely sad when the travel nurses left.
TNC: Where were the best places you’ve worked?
KS: Most people know that California is a great place to do nursing. The hospital I was working at was running very well from the top down. The nurses and doctors were very happy. All the patients got really great care. There were so many good resources in the hospital. I’ve always heard that California has great resources for nurses. You know that your patients have been cared for well and they’re going to continue to get good care. The nurse to patient ratio is a huge part of it. Without a doubt. Plus, there’s so much culture and there are so many places to visit: Yosemite national park, the redwoods, and the beach.
Another of my personal favorites is the Pacific Northwest. Last summer, I was in Seattle, and though I wasn’t working in the mountains, they were just a couple hours away from Mount Rainier. I was doing a tough hike alone, seriously questioning whether or not I should go on, when Mt. Rainier peaked out into my view. At that moment, I stopped in awe and said, “Oh yeah, I got this!”
TNC: How did you survive your worst travel nursing job?
In order for me to leave a contract, my working conditions would have to be unsafe. With the average nursing contract lasting three months, the end is sight before you start. You can do three months of anything.
Even if I don’t love my assignment, at least I experienced it and know that it’s not something for me. In that sense, it’s never a waste of time. Early on in that contract, I figured out my next assignment and I was really looking forward to that. I made time for a trip home during the middle of it. There are ways to be excited even if you’re not excited about what you are presently doing.
TNC: What’s your advice for surviving a new charting system?
Patience is the best thing I can say about dealing with a charting system. Try not to get to that place where you want to give up. It only takes a couple of weeks until you feel confident enough to say “I’ve got this.” Keep breathing and keep working at it.
Ask questions a lot too. If you can’t find where you need to chart something specifically or don’t know where to look in a chart for a note, ask. I’ve always worked with hospital staff that’s been very willing to answer my questions.
TNC: Any last recommendations for potential travel nurses?
KS: Because of the national shortage, there’s a greater demand for travel nurses and nurses in general. In a lot of places, the numbers just aren’t there. If anyone’s on the fence about travel nursing, just do it. There’s a lot of things you’re unsure of in life.
And like I said, you can do three months of anything. Even if you don’t have a great experience the first time, you learn new things from every assignment, every place you work at, and every person you meet. It’s just so worth it.
Thanks goes out to Kelsey for taking the time to speak with us. If you want to hear more stories and advice from travel nurses, check out our interview with Sarah. Plus, you can find more information and resources for travel nurses by registering with Travel Nurse Circles.