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  1. Zaidel, Lisa Brusman

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Before you pack your bags, listen to some advice from three veteran travelers on what to expect, how to prepare, and how to get the most out of travel nursing.


Travel nursing is as wonderful and exciting as you've heard. But before you pack your bags and set out for distant shores, there are a few things you should know. Here, three experienced travel nurses share their advice on what to expect, how to prepare, and how to get the most out of travel nursing, both on and off the job.


1. Make the most of your free time. You have to hit the ground running on the job, and you should do the same with your free time, says Valerie Bacon, RN, who's been a travel nurse for over 10 years. Part of the thrill of travel nursing, she says, is seeing the country, meeting different people, and learning about other cultures."When I'm not working, I have something planned for every day," she says. If you don't know anyone in the area, you might search out other travelers at orientation and planning activities with them. "I also ask about other travelers when I sign in at my apartment," she says.Consider asking for an early move-in, adds Patricia Boudens, RN, a cardiac step-down nurse who's been traveling for several years. "Getting there a few days early lets you see some sights, relax by the pool, and get the lay of the land," she explains.


2. Learn about the area before you leave for an assignment. Finding out about the hospital, the city, and what there is to do before you arrive is helpful. "You'll learn about the opportunities that await you," says Bacon, "which can be exciting."


3. Read and understand your contract before you sign it. The contract is usually slightly different for each job. "I always confirm that the pay rate is what I've agreed upon with the agency," says Bacon. "I also make sure that my hours are guaranteed, so that I know I'll get paid. And I always check the floating policy in the contract. I'm an obstetric nurse, and I'm not comfortable floating to the emergency department or intensive care unit. If necessary, I ask the agency to write into the contract that I will float only to certain departments."


4. Do the final checks before you go. Lines of communication can sometimes get crossed, so Nancy Morris, RN, advises that you always make sure your documents-including your nursing license for the state you're going to-have arrived. Morris, an emergency department nurse who's traveled for a few years, says you should also make sure that you've taken care of all of the hospital's requirements. These can include drug screenings, inoculations, and background checks. Finally, you should talk with someone at the apartment complex where you'll be staying. "The agency you work for will arrange the apartment," Morris explains, "but you should confirm ahead of time that it will be ready."


5. Ask questions. Orientation typically lasts 3 days, says Boudens, the first of which is handled by a human resources person. "After the paperwork gets done, you spend two shifts on the floor with a buddy nurse," she explains. There obviously isn't time to go over every policy and procedure. However, "I've found that colleagues don't mind answering questions about the job; they want you to do things right," she says. "I also ask them questions about the area, such as 'Where's the grocery store?' 'What's the best way to get there?' and 'Are there any streets I should avoid?'"


6. Be informed about your benefits, especially your health coverage. "Knowing what your health insurance covers and where you can go for medical treatment is important," stresses Boudens. "Which hospitals can you use? Which health care providers? Can you use walk-in clinics?" In some places, travel nurses are assigned to a primary care provider, and in others, they can use any provider, she notes. Calling the 800 number on your insurance card and telling them your address can give you the answers. She also suggests finding out ahead of time about transferring any prescriptions from where you are now to where you're going.Besides providing health insurance, many agencies also offer dental, disability, and life insurance; make 401(k) plans available; and provide licensing reimbursement. Free housing is sometimes available, and some agencies pay a bonus if someone you refer accepts a job.


7. Remember that attitude can make all the difference. "Taking a new job can be stressful," Morris says. "Everything is new: You're in a new apartment, working at a new facility, with people you've never met. Not everything is going to be perfect. But if you try to keep an open mind, a positive attitude, and a smile on your face as you adjust to the situation, everything will go more smoothly."The difference between an adventure and an ordeal," she says, "is attitude."