Your First Travel Nurse Job
I remember trying to find my first travel nursing contract. I was really disappointed, and quite frustrated, that every single hospital in or around Boston required me to have travel nursing experience. They wouldn’t even look at my resume. I tried smaller hospitals outside of Boston, but still no luck. I decided to change approaches and stay in my home state (New York). My recruiter was working on finding me a job in New York City. Well, she found me one…that was in the South Bronx, one of the most underserved areas of our country.
I have touched on my experience in prior posts, but as a reminder, it wasn’t the best. But, I told myself if I could make it through that assignment, I could make it through anything. I took the contract because it was literally the only place less than 500 miles away that would accept my application without any prior travel nurse experience, and I held a current license in the state. And yes- since that contract, I have had ZERO problems finding a job.
Finding Your First Travel Nurse Assignment
Finding your first travel nursing job can be tough because hospitals often want prior travel experience. You may ask- Why is do they want me to have experience? Aren’t we having a nursing shortage? Wouldn’t a facility rather have a warm body filling the spot, rather than no one?? You would be surprised at the number of nurses that sign a travel contract and end up bailing before the start date, or shortly thereafter. This costs the facility and the agency a large amount of money, not to mention the time that was taken processing your documents, setting you up for success, and completing the hiring process.
Travel nursing can be challenging, especially for the first assignment. Travel nurses need to be flexible. As a new travel nurse, avoid statements like “well, at my hospital we do it this way”, or “at my old job we did this”. No one wants to hear that. They want you to show up, do your job the way they ask, and have minimal complaints. And this seems fair. In what other job can you dictate your time off (both during and in between assignments!), only stay for a few months and leave if you’re not feeling it, and get paid a little extra for your willingness to travel??!
When you are interviewing be sure to portray yourself as adaptable, accommodating, and willing to learn the methods of the facility you are applying to. Hospitals need assurance that you are not going to break the contract when things get a little difficult.
Steps to Apply for Your First Travel Nursing Job- Make Yourself More Likely to be Hired!
Aside from declaring that you promise not to break the contract (and feel free to do this if you feel it is appropriate in your interview!!) and fulfill your duties, there are some other ways you can mitigate your lack of travel experience:
1. Get certified!
Get your advanced certification in your specialty or general area of care. Any extra education shows that you are willing to go above what is expected of you. Make sure you highlight this on your travel nurse resume and mention it in your interview. Earning any advanced certification is a huge personal achievement and you should be proud of all your hard work!
15 Suggested Certifications to Increase Your Possibility of Obtaining Your First Travel Nurse Contract:
1. CCRN (Critical Care RN, neonatal, pediatric, and adult available)
2. TNCC (Trauma Nursing Core Course)
3. TCRN (Trauma Certified RN)
4. AOCN (Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse)
5. CEN (Certified Emergency Nurse)
6. SCRN (Stroke Certified RN)
7. TCAR (Trauma Care After Resuscitation)
8. CMSRN (Certified Med Surg RN)
9. PCCN (Progressive Care Certified Nurse)\
10. CSC (Cardiac Surgery Certification)
11. CMC (Cardiac Medicine Certification)
12. PEARS (Pediatric Early Assessment, Recognition, and Stabilizations)
13. ACRN (AIDS Certified RN)
14. RNC (RN Certified in Inpatient Obstetrics)
15. CPN (Certified Pediatric Nurse)
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to certifications. There are a lot of opportunities out there to increase your knowledge and increase your probability of attaining your first travel nurse assignment.
If you’re looking for more information these links will take you to lists of advanced certifications.
2. Make your travel nurse resume sparkle.
First, review my post about writing killer travel nurse resumes. Next, focus on keywords to make yourself appear flexible and excited for the job and prospect of exploring a new area. Make sure to mention any floating experience or anything you have done beyond your normal job requirements. If you make a lot of schedule switches or work OT- mention it!
Discuss how excited you are to travel- either in the ‘summary’ or ‘activities’ section of your resume. Sometimes if you reveal your reason for travel (explore new areas, expand the knowledge base, gain experience at other facilities), you can show the manager that you really want the position, and you plan on sticking around.
3. Research the region and the hospital that you are applying to, and tailor your travel nursing resume accordingly.
In my prior post, I discussed how to use buzzwords and phrasing to customize your resume to the facility’s goals and missions. If there is a specific reason you want to practice travel nursing in a certain location- you can list this on your resume somewhere. For example, if your significant other is in the military and you want to be close by, or you have family in the area; these reasons may persuade a hiring manager that you won’t be breaking the travel nurse contract without notice since you have other local commitments.
4. Stay engaged in the travel nursing process.
If your interest in travel nursing seems lackluster than the recruiters’ efforts may be suboptimal as well. Additionally, submit your documentation requirements in a timely and efficient manner. Your recruiter will pick up on your energy, and they are more likely to advocate for you if they feel your ambition and can see that you are organized and likely to succeed. That being said, some hospitals have a strict ‘no contract if no prior experience’ rule and may decline your application despite your recruiter’s best attempts to change their minds. Don’t take it personally. Move on and find that first job, then come back and rock the world of the hospital that refused you the first time ?
5. Choose at least one large nationwide travel nursing agency to represent you.
These agencies have a lot of resources and may be more skilled in managing new travelers. Better yet, choose a few different agencies, at least 3-4, to be sure you encompass all possible job options. Vivian works with hundreds of agencies. Using your universal profile you can browse jobs from all of the agencies with transparent pay rates. We recommend starting conversations with multiple recruiters to enhance your chances of finding the right job for you!
6. Consider any and all travel nurse assignments.
Of course you want to travel to Hawaii, who wouldn’t?? But, more than likely the experienced travelers are applying to those types of dream jobs and you may not have such a competitive edge. (But, still try!! You never know!! I had a friend complete her first and only contract in Hawaii).
It’s only 13 weeks. 39 shifts. Take what you can get and you will never have this problem again as a travel nurse. Likewise, If you want to increase your likelihood of finding a hospital that takes first time travel nurses- try California- they have a TON of jobs and certain facilities that are known to take first-time travel nurses. The license is expensive, and takes a while to process (See when and how to apply for travel nurse licenses)- but your chances of finding a hospital that will take a first time traveler are high. The northeast is notorious for not taking first time travelers- so avoid those areas the first time around.
7. Love that travel life- stay flexible.
Don’t ask for long chunks of time off unless you absolutely need to take it. We all love to vacation (I literally live for vacation!!!), but a facility wants to know the travel nurse is dedicated to helping them and not just using them to get the days off that they want. Also, it’s not going to help your cause if you have a laundry list of demands for your first travel nurse assignment. Don’t be a pushover, but keep in mind that you are there to serve them and their needs.
8. Have your BSN and the right amount of experience.
Many hospitals across the country won’t even consider an Associate’s prepared nurse. I’m not saying this is true 100% of the time, but you will be way more likely to find that first travel nurse job with a BSN. Find out if your current employer will help pay/help for the degree and just get it done! I know it’s painful, but it will serve you well.
Plan for at least two years of experience before you take a travel nurse job. More is better. A hospital may be able to overlook the fact that you’ve never traveled if you have 5+ years of experience in your specialty.
9. Take a local travel contract.
If you are aren’t sure you want to move across the country- take a local travel job first! You may not be eligible for the tax-free stipends if you don’t live at least 50 miles from the facility, but your rate will still be higher than the average rates in the region. Furthermore, the hospital may be more likely to accept your application if they see you already live in the region (less likely you’ll get homesick and run back to where you came from)—Or, if you aren’t quite ready to leave your job- pick something up per diem in your area at another hospital (in addition to your staff job). It shows you are adaptable and able to work in other facilities.
10. Travel with a friend that has travel nursing experience.
If you are lucky- you may know someone in your specialty that is already traveling. If you are committed to becoming a traveler- ask if you can take an assignment with them. This could backfire if the facility does not have more than 1 position. But, often a unit will take the 2 RNs even if one doesn’t have the experience, as long as the other RN has the experience and positive references. Again, you are less likely to leave if you are there with a friend.
11. Look for ‘crisis rate’ positions in travel nursing.
These hospitals are often in such despair that they won’t hesitate at your lack of experience. There is a possibility that you may be inserting yourself into an even more stressful situation as a travel nurse in these hospitals due to their staffing- but you will get an assignment! I only recommend this to more experienced RNs who are super confident and comfortable in their nursing practice. Moreover, be open to these possibilities and you can ask your recruiter’s advice as well. Sometimes they may have another traveler that has completed a contract at the hospital in question. You can ask if they can put you in contact with that person to get an idea of what the facility is like on a day to day basis.
12. If you are in nursing school and travel nursing is your goal- get into a specialty.
It may be difficult to jump right into a specialty out of school, but it will be worth your time when it comes to finding travel nurse assignments. ICU and L&D usually have assignments abound. Cath Lab and OR jobs pay well and are in high demand. Obtain your BSN (if you haven’t already!) and advanced certifications and you will be set up for success in travel nursing!
I know how frustrating and discouraging the process of finding your first travel nursing contract can be! Be persistent and don’t give up. You will be more likely to find a travel nursing job if you can be flexible in where you can relocate. After this first hurdle, you will be able to be pickier about your assignments. Stay committed to your goal and engaged in the process. And, PLEASE, when you DO land that first contract- don’t quit! Show up on time, do things ‘their way’, and make efforts to get along with the staff. If you stick it out and show the manager what a great nurse you are- you will never struggle to find travel work again.