17 Tips for New Nurses in Travel & Per Diem

Just starting out as a new nurse or looking for best-practice tips? It can be jarring to move homes, start a new job, leave family and friends—and you’re doing it all at once! 

But don’t worry—there are shortcuts, tried-and-true methods, and workarounds for the stressors involved in your new adventure. Whether you’re a new grad or a seasoned healthcare professional, working in a new environment can make anyone feel like a novice nurse again.

Possibly, you could be looking at two nurse contracts – travel and per diem – unsure of which path to pursue. We compiled tips for new nurses to help you succeed on your first day, regardless of your assignment.

1. Prepare For Your First Assignment

The first day at any new job can be a challenge—from learning certain protocols to finding the bathroom. That said, your first day as a nurse in a new facility requires a bit more preparation, as you’ll be working hands-on with patients and other medical staff from day-one. 

You can anticipate meeting other coworkers and participating in on-site orientation and training.

To best prepare for your first shift, heed the following:

  • Identify who you must meet and what time you must clock-in prior to your arrival
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before to improve your mental function
  • Plan a self-care activity to reward your hard work after your shift

2. Communicate Openly 

When starting your new position, it’s important to communicate your strengths and weaknesses with your supervisor and other nursing staff to ensure every patient is cared for properly. Even as an experienced nurse, it’s better to over-communicate with your new team so everyone can work together seamlessly. If you’re learning a new specialization, let your team know so they can assist you when needed. 

You must be direct and honest with: 

  • Yourself – Understand your motivations, goals, and what you need to thrive, maintain your health, and feel safe in a new environment. 
  • Your agency – Be frank about limitations, complications, or negative feelings before clocking in. Your agent will thank you—their goal is to find the right person for the job, and the right job for the person. 
  • New managers and colleagues – You can hasten how quickly you fit into the workplace and your new nurse team’s rhythm by providing up-front, honest communication. Manage your commitments and boundaries, speak up if you don’t understand instructions or a new process, and ask for help when you need it. 

3. Connect With Your Community

To integrate seamlessly into your nursing team and build trust among your colleagues, show them you care. It can be difficult to be the newest nurse on the floor, but making an effort to share rapport (or a snack) with fellow medical staff can create a welcoming workplace for yourself and others. 

To connect with your community more quickly, you can: 

  • Print “business” cards to hand out summarizing your goals, hobbies, and interests
  • Ask colleagues to be part of your skills development by sharing best practices
  • Set weekly socializing goals like asking one new person to join you for lunch
  • Join groups or outings outside of work, such as a yoga class, MeetUp, or a happy hour

4. Start as a Tourist, Live Like a Local

There’s always a must-see list for short-term visitors—the Golden Gate bridge, the Empire State Building, the Grand Canyon—but most locations have hidden treasures that only residents enjoy. When you accept a medium or long assignment, try to: 

  • Join seasonal celebrations, festivals, and traditions
  • Taste the best in local cuisine and restaurants
  • Visit smaller natural wonders, historical sites, and roadside attractions that tourists miss
  • Find the best bargain shopping
  • Visit museums, zoos, and other attractions on free or low-cost days

Read local newspapers, join Facebook groups featuring local attractions, and ask your new colleagues and neighbors for ideas. You may end up with suggestions plus a few invites!

Take control of your career. Learn more!

5. Stay on Top of Your Paycheck

Traditional jobs provide a rinse-and-repeat paycheck, but when you’re working as a travel nurse, it’s critical to understand exactly how you’ll be paid. A trustworthy travel nursing agency can be your advocate during the nursing interviews. When you arrive to a new facility, you’ll want to confirm:

  • Standard and overtime pay rates
  • When you’ll receive your first paycheck and subsequent payment schedules
  • Travel and housing payment amounts and timing
  • Any state, local, or employer regulatory differences that could affect pay structure
  • Where to access and download pay statements and tax documents
  • Bonus pay opportunities, requirements, and timing

6. Choose Your Housing Wisely

If you’re selecting a new home virtually, you may be in for an unhappy surprise by relying on landlord photos and descriptions. How do you make up for not knowing the ins and outs of neighborhood desirability, transportation, highway access, and so on? 

First, review destination housing resources and guidance provided by your agency. Next: 

  • Check Google map 360-view and neighborhood photos 
  • Look up neighborhood details and crime statistics on sites like Niche or Best Places,
  • Map out routes to the workplace including time of day to compare commutes
  • Compare the cost of deposits, laundry, transportation, and other expenses

7. Take Care of Your Health

You’ll get your steps in during your nursing job, but remember to plan for physical activity that’s just for you. Ask your agent and new colleagues about: 

  • Gym, fitness classes, or walking paths for employees at the new site
  • Agency recommendations or discounts 
  • Fitness facilities and access at potential homes

8. Maximize Your Benefits

Taking short-term positions or working with an agency doesn’t mean giving up the security of job benefits. Be sure to: 

  • Review and compare agency information on benefits
  • Work with your agency partner to ensure you take advantage of programs
  • Investigate private and government options 

While medical and dental coverage is at the top of the list for most, don’t forget: 

  • Retirement savings – Consider a blend of 401k participation (especially with matching contributions) plus SEP, Roth, and traditional IRAs.
  • General savings – Join a credit union or compare traditional and online bank rates for savings vehicles. Consider CDs, money market, and savings accounts for emergency and longer-term savings funds. 
  • Network coverage – If you’re on a medical plan with limited networks, you may want to switch to an agency plan or look at a health plan marketplace for a plan that will follow you on assignments to multiple locations.  

Ready to get started with your job search? Learn more…

9. Get Your Ducks (and Your License) in a Row

Travel nursing tips wouldn’t be complete without mention of state licensing and professional growth. Work with your agency to identify states in which you could easily obtain a registered nurse licensure based on current credentials and what steps are needed to work in states you most want to visit. 

Avoid license and renewal delays:

  • Obtain credentialing common to your preferred and target nursing specialty
  • Stay current on continuing education requirements, especially if you’re aiming to become an advanced practice nurse or nurse manager
  • Keep your basic skills, such as BLS certification, up to date with refresher courses on patient safety

In regards to preparing for your next assignment, our recruiters offer 1:1 support to connect you with travel nursing jobs and local contracts that match your criteria. You can either negotiate to extend your current assignment or broaden your horizons to start your next adventure.

10. Write a How-to Handbook for Yourself

Whether it’s a concept in your head or an actual manual, consider coming up with your very own “How to Manage Me” overview to share with new managers.
Ask questions and be open to new styles, but it’ll help you both if you can share this shorthand with a manager: 

  • How you learn new tasks and commit information to memory
  • What motivates you 
  • What discourages you
  • Your career goals related to this assignment
  • A few notes on your social style, sense of humor, etc.

11. Plan for Self-Care and Mental Wellness

Travel nursing can produce a lot of change-related stressors. Plan ahead to keep yourself mentally fit by:

  • Integrating practices such as meditation, mindfulness, or yoga in your daily life
  • Planning how you’ll replace key support networks or maintain them virtually
  • Asking for help when you need it

On the other hand, per diem nursing (also known as PRN nursing) may offer more structure to achieve work-life balance. Specifically, MAS Medical offers block booking for nurses to help create your ideal schedule that fits work and play.

12. Pack Wisely

Whether it’s baggage fees or extra time and hassle, bringing more than you need will cost you. Keep it light by considering: 

  • Digital copies of documents, photos, books, and media
  • Future weather patterns
  • Activities you plan to engage in such as hiking, skiing, or swimming
  • Portable versions of hobby supplies

It can help to maintain a digital packing list that you update as your needs evolve. 

13. Make a Home

Although you want to travel lightly, it’s important to create a welcoming, personalized environment wherever you land. 

Think in terms of: 

  • Lightweight, colorful throws and pillow covers
  • Unframed posters and prints of family, friends, or other personal imagery
  • Double-duty items that are both useful and decorative
  • Colorful or patterned yoga mat, robe, scarves

14. Plan Time to Settle In

If at all possible, give yourself some breathing room before you start a new assignment. Plan bumper time to: 

  • Test out the commute
  • Unpack and settle into your new home
  • Grab groceries or other necessities
  • Locate a grocer, coffeeshop, laundromat, or roller rink—whatever you need to survive

15. Stay in Touch

It can be easy to get caught in the whirlwind of a new assignment, but don’t forget to tend to family,  friends, and colleagues back home. 

Use whatever works—email, text, calls, social platforms, video conferencing—to keep your personal network strong. 

16. Keep a Captain’s Log

If you keep notes and reflect on your experience, you’ll be able to write your own version of this list once you have a few travel nurse assignments under your belt!

Throughout the assignment, find some way to jot down joy, frustration, screw-ups, stressors, and successes. At the end, review each leg of the journey, reflect on what changes you can control, and communicate with your agency contact on how to improve your next experience.

17. Take Control of Your Schedule

Find a position that meets your work-life balance needs. With a dedicated recruiter like MAS Medical, you can find positions that block schedule your shifts to streamline your payment schedule, create work flexibility, and free up time for personal travel or self-care. 

Ready to Get Started as a Travel Nurse?

You’ve got the tips list—ready to get packing? MAS Medical Staffing partners with motivated nurses and other healthcare professionals to find opportunities that fit your needs as a professional and an individual—no matter where you go.

While you care for your patients, we take care of you—our compensation packages include health insurance, 401(k) matching, housing stipends, and same-day pay.

Whether you’re looking for travel or per diem opportunities, MAS Medical can show you the way.

About The Reviewer

Heather Kezer, Nurse Recruiter – Heather has been with the company for almost 2 years and in the healthcare industry for over fourteen. She lives in the state of New Hampshire with her loving husband and their four amazing children. Outside of work, her family loves spending their time together going to the beach, lakes, and attending fun activities.

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