How to Adapt to the Changing Life of a Travel Nurse

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Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned globetrotter, there are always adjustments when you move and start your new assignment. Your new job is temporary, and so is the discomfort of being the new nurse on the floor. Here are five ways to help you adapt to your new life.  

1. Remain positive

“I love everything about travel nursing. I love the change and the new experiences. I love working in different facilities.” — Megan Nash

First things first: whenever you are trying something new, there is always a learning curve. And some things are harder to learn than others. Do you get a vein every time you draw blood? When you miss, do you just give up? I didn’t think so.

Starting a new job in a new place where you likely know no one is hard. If it were easy, it would not be so rewarding. Nursing isn’t always sunshine and rainbows (unless you’re traveling in Hawaii), but keeping your spirits up during challenges will help make them fun, too. So, put on a happy face. You made it through nursing school. You got this.   

Putting it into practice:

  • Focus on your patients and how you are improving their day
  • Remind yourself that everybody is there to do a good job and care for patients
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Bring treats to work — it does wonders for unit morale and makes you feel good, too
  • Whistle while you work, or hum, or sing, or even throw a little mini-dance party on your lunch break
  • Think about something that makes you happy (puppies!) or do one of the mood-boosting quick fixes on this list

2. Be curious about your new environment

“I love getting to meet all kinds of people, in and out of the hospital.” — Tiffany Cash

You’re here to experience new things, right? The best way to do that is to be curious, explore, and ask questions!

Start with your hospital. Make a list of all the who/what/when/where/how questions you want answered at orientation. Don’t be shy about getting all of your questions answered. You’re here to do a job, and knowledge is power, right?   

Find out what your coworkers do when they’re off. What sort of activities can you do in your new town that you can’t do back home? Many travel nurses become avid hikers, take up body surfing, or become foodies while on assignment. What will you discover in your new home away from home?

Explore the neighborhood where you’re living and branch out from there. You won’t learn things by sitting inside and watching Netflix (though we all need some of those days on occasion, too), so get out there and experience life in your new town.

Putting it into practice:

  • Find out about the history of your hospital. When was it founded and by whom? There is often a great story there.
  • Request a tour of your new facility
  • Connect with a variety of other nurses to learn the ropes
  • Have one-on-one or small group lunches with your co-workers to find out more about them
  • Find out the demographics of your new area. If there are particular cultures you are unfamiliar with, find out any customs or mindsets about healthcare and life in general that can help you with your job.

3. Treat each new hospital with respect

“You’re just a visitor in each hospital, so be very respectful of the way they do things. Be open-minded, think outside the box, and be open to criticism. You need a little tough skin and a little tough love sometimes.” — Tiffany Cash

Think about how you act when you are visiting someone’s home.  When you’re a guest, you don’t insist on doing things the way you would at your own house. You wouldn’t tell them how to take care of their family or the best way to clean up the kitchen. The same is true when you’re in a new hospital. While you can and will bring new knowledge and perspective to new hospitals, it’s also important to understand and respect the unique protocols of each hospital you travel to.

So, ask your nurse leader about best practices, how they prefer to do things. Find out how the unit charts, any mandates or preferences you should be aware of. If it’s a hospital that regularly gets travelers, ask them what new nurses need to know. It shows you care about their protocol, their patients, and their hospital home.

Putting it into practice:

  • Ask thoughtful questions and listen to their answers
  • Find a nurse mentor at each new assignment
  • Remember the Platinum Rule: treat people how they want to be treated

4. Celebrate your accomplishments

“I’m proud of the fact that I can go into these new hospitals, adapt to new policies, work with different patient loads, and with different coworker personalities.” — Megan Nash

If you didn’t know, you’re a rockstar! And being a traveler adds another level of super power to your hero status because you’re likely by yourself, in a new town, starting a new job. This is not easy!

Being kind to yourself as you start this new venture will help you adjust. It takes work to ‘start over’ in a new place, even if you know it’s temporary, so take every opportunity to celebrate what you’ve learned and the challenges you’ve overcome.

Putting it into practice:

  • Take yourself out for a spa day when you’ve completed the first two tough weeks of a new assignment
  • Find a new restaurant to go to each week to celebrate and explore your new town
  • Phone a friend and take turns ‘bragging’ about all your wins
  • Give yourself one of those Netflix and pajamas days

5. Be thankful

“I think the change has really prevented burnout for me. It’s helped to see the profession from the perspective of a lot of different nurses, through traveling.” — Nancy Koopmeiners

It’s hard to be stressed or grumpy when you’re remembering what you’re thankful for. And, as it turns out, gratitude is good for your health! No joke, there are major physical and social benefits to practicing gratitude.

If you tend to have trouble with gratitude, think about it in reverse: when the going gets rough, what are you missing? Is your shift easier to get through when a certain colleague is on at the same time? You’re probably grateful for her help/humor/wisdom, etc. Are you happier when the sun comes out and you can enjoy a quick break outside? You’re grateful for sunshine. Are your feet/back/legs sore after your three 12s? Give gratitude for your healthy body that carries you — and sometimes your patients! — through your long days in the career you love. What else is on your list?  

Putting it into practice:

  • Get a special notebook to be your Traveler’s Gratitude Journal and carry it with you through all your assignments, with each location as a new chapter
  • When you wake up or before you go to bed, list 5 things that you were grateful for throughout your work day
  • Think about various people who have sacrificed for you to get to where you are or people who were important teachers and mentors in your life or career
  • If you can, call them (like actually call them) or send them a handwritten card

Remember: the first two weeks are always the most challenging. These tips will help you adjust to your new environment. Keep calm and nurse on.  

What do you do to overcome your new nurse challenges? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out our interviews with travel nurses just like you.  

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