A Day in the Life of a Travel Nurse’s First Shift on the Job

A Day in the Life of a Traveling Nurse

By: Miranda Kay Belcher RN

My first contract position gave me little to no time to prep. It was around seven o’clock in the evening during a weeknight when I received a call asking me if I wanted to pick up a shift in the morning at a community hospital about an hour’s drive away from my house. As it was short notice, I was going to have to come in ready to dive in and learn with just a 4-hour training (2:30 in the morning) to get everything I needed to know right before the shift (6:30). Sure. I’ve got this. I thought to myself, “I’ve never done a travel or contract assignment before, but here I come!”

I signed up for a day shift with the intention of getting a three-month contract signed, or exploring travel nursing full time. Working mornings in a hospital means you deal with the doctors as they make rounds, management and therapists, in addition to the usually ancillary staff (nurse’s aides, secretaries, etc.).

The pay was good, the excitement was real and I was ready to try this out.

It’s kind of a big deal to work in a new hospital, report with new nurses, round with new doctors, and delegate to and work alongside a new group of nurses or aides.
To some nurses, this scenario might sound like a nightmare. To others, that’s part of the adrenaline rush that is travel or contract nursing. You work for yourself and the hospitals are usually welcoming and appreciative to have the help. My dream was always to become a travel nurse.

“Sure, I will pick up the shift!” I gave my reply and forced myself into bed where I would struggle for sleep with my stomach tying in knots all night. The same feeling came over me as a child the night before Christmas morning that cannot sleep because of the excitement (however, a much different type of excitement). I was anxious/excited to hit the floor, but couldn’t sleep much from anticipation.

Orientation Time
I woke up early and left for the hospital around 1:00 AM. I arrived in the town early and was able to hit up one of the only open options to get a fast food lunch not knowing how long it will be until I would eat again.
I arrived at the hospital and third shift security let me in at the ER entrance. It didn’t take me long to connect with the night shift manager who would give me this impressive “learn everything that normally takes two weeks to learn in 4 hours” intensive orientation.

First Shift, Med-Surg
Ah Med-Surg.
The very title of this type of unit draws mixed emotion from nurses with a general consensus that these can be the busiest and often the most understaffed units to work on. And it was.
During report that morning, I wrote down as much detail as possible about my patients on my printed nursing cheat-sheets I made. I clutched my storage clipboard that held my most important nursing essentials (pens, flashlights, pens, alcohol pads, gauze 2x2s, more pens, etc.) and put a confident look on my face like I knew what I was doing. Inside, I felt like I didn’t have a clue! Report flew by and my busy group of patients left me no time to waste.

Fortunately, we had a team nursing model on the floor and a great LPN that assisted with a lot of patient care which allowed me to give my attention to higher priority tasks. I had more post-op and pre-op patients than any other nurse that entire day.
Miraculously, this 16-hour day flew by quicker than you’d think! One of the greatest takeaways was I spent a lot of time searching for supplies, and from there on out, I made it a priority to always get oriented to the supply closets prior to a shift.
Later in the day, the LPN I worked with was amazed when I told her I was a newer nurse (four years' experience) and that it was my very first day as a travel nurse. In her words, “You hit the ground running.”

I was hooked.
That was it. The rush. The excitement. Stepping into a new building full of people I didn’t know to pull off the impossible (any nurses’ day often equates to the impossible).

I knew contract or travel nursing was my calling.
From that moment forward, I never worked another hospital full-time nursing job again and only contracted my nursing services. It’s that thrill that kept me going through the two years I worked as a travel nurse and I imagine that most the other nurses I met in my time do it for the same reason. Plus, the pay is nice.

Don’t wait to travel. If you have been considering travel nursing, there is no better time than now.