Travel nursing is an amazing career that many nurses aspire towards. Even before the pandemic and the high paying contracts, a lot of nurses were allured by the opportunity to see new places while making more money than they would as a staff nurse. There is more interest now than ever in travel nursing because of the pandemic-related high paying contracts and the desire of nurses to want to help out around the country in the areas most in need.
New Grad Nurses in Travel Nursing
Last year, some agencies were using brand new nurses to work as team nurses in hotspots like NYC. This is highly unusual in the travel nurse world and was used as a quick fix to a severe nursing shortage in a very centralized location. As time has passed and more crisis contracts became available, there are exponentially more experienced nurses seeking out those assignments and there is no need to hire new graduates to help out. These new nurses were not practicing independently, they were practicing under the guidance and supervision of experienced (mostly ICU) nurses. They did not receive a full, or what would be considered appropriate, orientation for a new graduate nurse.
Who Sets the Experience Requirement for Travel Nurses?
Travel nursing assignments have always required at least one year of experience, and this may be more depending on the specialty or assignment. The hiring facilities determine this requirement, not the agencies or recruiters. The facilities determine how much experience they will require in a travel nurse based on hiring unit, acuity, and hospital culture. This is why when travel nurses apply for jobs, one contract may require only one year, but another may require two if the facility wants a more experienced nurse. This is usually a non-negotiable term for the hiring hospital, but if you have LPN, medic, or other relevant clinical experience prior to your current specialty, you can try asking the recruiter to get approval from the hiring manager.
Why do You Need One Year of Experience to be a Travel Nurse?
Travel nurses get a very short clinical orientation, and this can be even more limited with a crisis contract. Traditionally, travel nurses only get 4-12 hours of orientation. This is usually split into two days. The first day is an onboarding, non clinical day that includes review of HR procedures, hospital policies and protocols, and the EHR system. The second day is a clinical day for the travel nurse to test their system logins, medication machine access, and to explore the unit for things like supplies and emergency equipment- while also taking a patient assignment with another nurse.
After the ‘orientation’ travel nurses are expected to practice independently. Travelers ask questions about specific hospital policies and protocols, but the facility assumes that they have proficient knowledge within their specialty. Furthermore, travel nurses are often asked to float so you must be confident in your core nursing skills and be able to adapt to new situations quickly. A good travel nurse knows his/her resources and knows when to reach out for help. But, a good travel nurse also knows that they are there because the unit is short staffed and the core staff aren’t always available and ready to answer clinical questions.
What if I don’t have One Year of Experience and Want to Travel?
If you are a newer nurse and want to bridge to travel, you will need to get some clinical experience before you can start taking travel assignments. I know this is disappointing for those of you who want to start now, but think of it this way: would you want a nurse with less than one year of experience that is in an unfamiliar hospital with unfamiliar equipment, staff, and protocols, to be taking care of your family member?
That is not meant as an insult and I know that there are some newer nurses out there that could pull it off! But, it is generally not safe for patients to have nurses put in that type of situation. And, it could put the nurse’s license at risk if they are practicing at a level that is beyond their present scope.
In the meantime, new grad nurses and less experienced nurses can work towards their travel goals by working on specialty certifications and gaining their experience with a wide variety of patients within their specialty. The more experience practice you have, the better travel nurse you will be!