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IF YOU'RE RELATIVELY new to travel nursing, each assignment can be both exciting and a little nerve-racking. You enter with enthusiasm, hoping to meet inspiring people and, perhaps to learn something along the way. You also hope that the "match" you've made in advance is a good one. That may not always be the case, but this advice from experienced travelers may help you cope.
Although you'll probably get an overview of the assignment during preliminary phone interviews, once you arrive, the reality of "getting down to work" can be daunting. During orientation, make sure the basics are covered. One travel nurse offers this advice: "When you take on an assignment, the most important thing you need to know is the emergency information and how to call a code. Then, you need to know specific unit rules-and ask questions. 'Who does blood draws?' 'What are the roles of unlicensed assistive personnel?' 'What are my shift duties?'"
Postorientation, you'll probably be met by nurse-managers or administrators, who'll welcome you and introduce you to appropriate staff. "Walking in without introduction is difficult," says Pennie Gomez, RN, BSN, a travel nurse currently on assignment in Lebanon, N.H. "It may be a while before you feel comfortable with the staff if administration isn't involved from the beginning."
Being assigned to a support person right away is essential. She should give you a brief tour of the department and details about the assignment, then orient you to the computer system and paperwork. Make sure she shows you the bathroom, the medication room, supplies, and linens!!
Once on the job, you'll get a real "trial by fire." Your writing and documentation will be reviewed immediately. "The regular staff may seem to be on the watch for travelers to make mistakes," says Becca LaViolette, RN, BSN, RN, C, MEd, an experienced travel nurse. Show them that, once you're oriented to their system, they can rely on your work.
In the best of situations, assignments wow and amaze you. Good assignments might inspire you to seek an extension on your contract. Many travel nurses walk away from a completed assignment feeling that their time was well invested and that they've grown from the experience.
On one assignment in Alaska, Gomez was taught how to initiate intravenous therapy on very small infants. "I'd never done that before because I'd mainly worked with adults who have larger veins," said Gomez. "I'd already learned how to use my sense of touch to start I.V.s, but I developed a more heightened sense of touch to deal with the fat that babies have. This skill really helped me in my next assignment in which I worked in a very busy, small emergency department. I became known as someone who could get the difficult sticks."
Besides new skills, most travel nurses walk away from assignments with enduring friendships. For example, Gomez keeps in touch with three staff friends from previous assignments and gets regular updates on the "goings-on" of units after she leaves. Between these contacts and the travel nurse friends she's met, Gomez has added 40 names to her e-mail list of friends in the 2 1/2 years since she started traveling.
"I've made extremely close friends in all my assignments, and we keep in touch weekly," said LaViolette, currently on assignment in Yuma, Ariz. "That's one of the best things about traveling. It's funny how no one from my home hospital writes or calls, but those I've met on assignments get in touch frequently. This is the best gift that travel nursing brings-the opportunity to make new close friends!!"
As challenging as travel assignments can be, they offer a lot of pluses-and they're also of limited duration. When you move on, take some good memories with you of new experiences, new skills, and new friends and let them fuel your adjustment to your next assignment.
Linda Bird Randolph is a freelance writer/editor in Newtown Square, Pa.
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