While on assignment in Alaska, a nurse coworker connected us with his friend who owned a plane. We had no idea what we were in for one Sunday afternoon. We were just told to meet a guy named "Bubba" (aka Johnny) at the local airfield in Anchorage. It was a day we'll never forget. We spent the afternoon flying over Knik Glacier, hanging out at the Goose Bay Airfield watching practice landings, having a picnic overlooking the Cook Inlet, and making a new friend who we'll hopefully go two stepping with in Montana one day :)
These are the kind of experiences you can't predict happening while travel nursing in new locations.
Check out our video from the day……
Here is our "I wish someone had told me about the first day" list. It isn't meant to discourage you but instead make light of what happens to all of us…...
1. You will feel lost.
2. Finding supplies will take awhile and it will be frustrating.
3. You won't know anyone. Then after you do meet people you'll feel bad because you'll forget their name after hearing 30 other new names all within the same morning.
4. Charting will feel like death if it's a system you've never used. Stick with it, each day becomes easier.
5. You'll feel bad for asking the permanent staff so many questions. Over and over and over again...
6. You'll question why you decided to take a new assignment.
7. Patients and family members may look at you sideways thinking you're completely lost. Acknowledge you are, but that you're very capable of caring for them or their loved one.
8. Be prepared for the repetitive 20 questions from all of your new coworkers. For example, where you're from, where you've been, how their facility compares to others, pros & cons of traveling, etc.
9. Realize the IT Help Desk analyst may become your best friend after solving all your access issues. You're not the only one it has happened to.
and above all….
10. These frustrations will be short-lived in comparison to the amazing adventure of your current assignment. You'll soon experience new places, possibly meet lifelong friends and make memories that will last a lifetime.
At the end of the day, laugh it off and do a handstand!
We promise after your first day everything becomes easier. Just remember to smile-- you're now a travel nurse :)
So, how do you work in different states?? Paperwork and money. The only barrier to working in different states is obtaining a license for that state. Don’t be discouraged, it’s only a tiny step in the path on your new journey. Your recruiter can help you along the way with each step to ensure you are licensed in time for the start of your contract. Each state has a website to their board of nursing. The easiest way to navigate what steps to take is to online search your desired destination's state board of nursing website. As you currently or have previously held a nursing license you will need to follow instructions for a license “endorsement”. However, if you have previously been licensed in that state then you will want to “renew” your license. There are 25 states that practice under a compact license. Meaning, if your permanent address (where you file your taxes) is in a compact state then you can get licensed to practice in all states that are members of the multi-state nursing license. For more information on the compact states you can visit NCSBN website (https://www.ncsbn.org/nurse-licensure-compact.htm).
For the remainder of this post assume we are considering non-compact states.
It may be simple enough to get a temporary license. This usually takes less time, but has an additional cost. If you are running short on time this may be the best option for you. Once at your assignment you can look into extending your temporary or getting a permanent license.
As a recommendation, navigate the states you are interested in traveling to in order to see license processing times BUT do nothing more than that until you have an interview and possible contract. However, if there is a state on your "must travel to list" and they have a long process period you may want to go ahead and get started but know without a contract your company will most likely not reimburse you. Which reminds me YES your agency should reimburse you for all your costs associated with getting the license in the state of your assignment. Have this amount included in your contract. Make sure to keep receipts! Aside from paying the state licensing fee, other requirements typically include fingerprints for a background check, proof of graduation from an accredited nursing program, and proof of passing the NCLEX. Also, some states have specific continuing education courses or examinations on state policy. The requirements and directions will be outlined on each State's Board of Nursing website.
Know the specifics for the state you are traveling to.
Find out the typical processing time.
Ask your recruiter for guidance.
Keep all of your receipts.
Be patient but persistent.
Dot your I’s and cross your T’s.
And smile while you’re doing it because you are closer to discovering a new destination!
So you're finished with a contract and you're about to go on a long haul cross country road trip-- what do you need?
First, ask yourself what kind of terrain and weather you might be driving through. Remember it is best to over prepare instead of under. Below is a list of our essentials while driving 3000+ miles (to and from the great state of Alaska).
1. The Basics (food & water--- we carry a couple gallons of water and fill up along the way, you never know when you might pull over to camp and need water to cook. Also throw in a couple Mountain House packs of your favorite food for a just in case quick fix---we're big fans of always having tortillas for making Breakfast Skillet Mountain House tacos)
2. Car essentials (spare tire, jack, fix a flat, flares, tire chains--fyi, some regions require chains when going through mountain passes-- we also heard a rumor that various US and Canadian border crossings occasionally require chains during certain months)
3. A map (we use the road atlas and we highly recommend "The MilePost" for travel to & from Alaska). Don't always rely on your phone. You'll often lose service through valleys and mountains.
4. Pillow & Blankets-- or your camping gear--- tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad.
6. Toilet Paper/Sanitary Wipes (we store ours in the side of our door, easy access and a quick find when you gotta go!)
7. Matches/Lighter/Kindling/spare bag of Doritos (these chips are the real deal, they make the best fire starter!)
8. Dry Fire wood (we only carried this for part of our trip when we knew we planned on camping---don't always count on being able to find dry wood)
9. Chocolate, Jalapeño Chips (Tim's Brand is the best!) & Hot Sauce (Sriracha, Tobasco, & Frank's).
10. A Spare Can of Gas! (might seem silly, but you never know when you'll need extra gas in the middle of no where--if you take the Cassiar Highway to & from Alaska there are long stretches with gas services occasionally closed-- We strap our can to the top of the car (see below) so the inside doesn't smell like gasoline, we also place a mat underneath the can to not tarnish the top of the vehicle)
11. Bear Spray (we also store this in the side of our car door--- never know when you will feel threatened, you don't want to be digging through your belongings during a tense moment)
12. Lots of music playlists. We use Spotify and download multiple playlists to use when offline. We also listen to quite a few podcasts. Sometimes listening to music gets old after 5 days on the road.
13. A Jetboil. These are amazing for boiling water to make food or coffee. They're easy to use and probably one of our favorite camping gear products. Word of advice: Do not use them in an enclosed space, there needs to be appropriate ventilation.
14. Last but not least--- A polaroid camera! While on assignment in Seattle we decided to purchase a polaroid. We've taken the polaroid everywhere. Anytime there is a fancy sign or we meet new friends we make sure to snap a picture. We have a glue stick and journal in the glove box. We immediately post the picture and write a blurb. It's the best way to scrapbook and journal. And loads of fun :)
These are simply our suggestions when traveling. Do not let this list deter you from a long road trip. Be prepared, clear your mind & enjoy that open road!
The Liard Hot Springs is a popular stop along the Alaskan Highway. It's truly in the middle of no where-- approximately 4 hours from a town in either direction. Plan on stopping here if you find yourself on the Alaskan Highway. During our first drive to Alaska we stayed in the Liard Hotsprings Lodge located directly across from the hot spring park entrance. This time we decided to tent camp. There's a nice campground for both tent campers and RVs right as you enter the park directly off the highway. Site #16 is a nice spot, not too far from the boardwalk that leads to the springs and close to bathrooms in the opposite direction. Do not let cold weather prevent you from visiting these springs either. At the end of the boardwalk there is a nice new platform with a shelter for bags and both men and women changing rooms. We bundled up in the cold weather, carried a change of clothes, some snacks, cold beverages and a bluetooth speaker to enjoy an evening of relaxation. We've also been fortunate to meet great people at the hot springs both times we've visited. Many people at the springs are traveling so it's interesting to hear their stories. The first time through we met a now close friend, Evan from Vermont, who lives in Alaska, and a hitchhiker from Poland he had picked up. The second time through we were casually chatting with a couple who turned out to be travel nurses- Josh & Britney! Encountering other traveling RNs has happened to us a few times while on the road. It's always fun to hear their adventures and where they've been and where they're headed. They'd been traveling together for four years and were headed to Delaware. After nice conversation and a good hour or two in the hot springs, you'll be ready for bed. It's a short 5-10 minute walk back down the boardwalk to your campsite.
p.s. Don't forget to stop and take photos of those while buffalo in between the Liard Hot Springs and Watson City!
We've made it to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, far north Canada. We're big fans of this town. Both times traveling through we've been able to meet some nice people and find great food. Our time spent in Whitehorse has always been short, but if you're driving in for the night there are some good spots in this town worth checking out. We recommend trying The Gr8tful Spud for dinner or The Dirty Northern Public House (good eats and live music!)-- both downtown and just a couple blocks apart. Given it's the right time of the year and weather permitting, it's also a must to try and catch a glimpse of those Northern Lights. If you're staying downtown there's a good little spot locals told us about without driving too far to get away from city light pollution. It's a short drive from downtown-- take the Lewes road across the Yukon River and take a left at the next light, Hospital Road. Follow the road a short distance and take a left on the road before the hospital, Wickstrom Road. Follow this road up through residential areas and you'll see a gravel turnout that overlooks the city of Whitehorse and allows for great photos and sightseeing opportunities of the Northern Lights. The photo below was taken at this spot.
After exploring what this quirky town has to offer, we recommend the Beez Kneez Bakpakers hostel as a perfect place to rest your head. If dorm style sleeping isn't your cup of tea they have super cute private cottages for half the price of a hotel room. Enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning with other fellow Al-Can travelers, share any tips or highway updates with each other, and be on your way!
We're writing this first blog post while driving out of Alaska on a snow covered highway. We have the Wrangell St. Elias mountain range on our right side energizing us to throw out some travel info. Kasey has the wheel and I've got my trusty notepad so here we go…. We've been debating the first blog post topic and realize a general explanation of travel nursing is necessary….
To start, here's a list of FAQs we receive on a daily basis from anyone new we meet:
What is a traveling nurse?
A traveling nurse is a registered nurse who is a contract worker at a hospital for typically 13 weeks. Contracts vary in length, they may be 8 or 26 weeks, or sometimes you're given an option to extend your time. Hospitals across the United States staff traveling nurses, the need varies from hospital to hospital and state to state. When the current contract is coming to an end, the nurse will find their next contract (often with the help of a staffing company) and be on their traveling way to the next job.
Can you choose where you go as a traveling nurse?
Yes! No one dictates where you travel. You can choose to take an assignment in Maine, then go to California, then down to Arizona. It is 100% your choice. Your only requirement is to have a license in each state (which we will eventually go into further detail about).
Can any nurse be a traveling nurse?
Hospitals and staffing agencies want nurses with experience. The standard requirement is one year of experience, most prefer two years. Hospitals hire travelers to fill a need. Confidence in your skills, flexibility and above all adherence to safety is a must. A traveler is given 1-3 days orientation and then you are on your own. Don't let this deter you though, you're still never alone and have coworkers at your side. As experienced travelers, we've felt welcomed with open arms by the permanent staff because we are there to help them in a time of a staffing shortage.
How do you get paid as a traveling nurse?
Typically, you have a staffing company take care of all the details for you. There are hundreds of staffing companies out there. Your recruiter will negotiate a contract with the hospital. Your paycheck and benefits will come directly from your agency. (On rare occasions, some hospitals may staff their own travelers) We have numerous details about navigating staffing companies and working with recruiters. Stay tuned!
How do you know where to live when you go to a new location?
You may choose to use company provided housing or take a housing subsidy and find your own place. Yes, that's right, your housing is paid for! Company provided housing is typically a furnished one bedroom apartment with all utilities included, often close to the hospital and/or attractions specific to your location. If you choose to take the housing stipend, other resources to find housing include craigslist, AirBnB, and word of mouth from other travelers or friends.
With an open mind and sense of flexibility, don't be scared to go to unknown areas of the country to do a job you're already doing and love. You'll meet all kinds of people and learn something new everyday. Often, permanent nurses ask us about being lonely in a new place. Nowadays, it's easier than ever to meet people. A specific site and app we use that is extremely helpful is Meet Up (www.meetup.com). Simply, create a profile, choose your location and numerous groups will appear ranging from walking/hiking/biking groups to board gaming to simple weekday nightly hangouts. Not knowing anyone may seem intimidating at first but once you get out there you'll realize others are looking for friends as well. Also, each assignment has a new hire orientation which is an opportunity to meet other travelers. Don't be afraid to say hello to someone and you might meet a new best friend!