A traveler must be professional. As soon as you walk into the hospital and onto your unit, your professionalism is what people see. Do you walk with your head up or down? Professionalism is probably the most critical factor in making or breaking a travel assignment.

You have to remember that no one knows you when you arrive. You have to prove to those around you that you are not going from assignment to assignment because you can’t get any other nursing job. You have to prove that you are a traveling nurse because you want to be a traveling nurse.

The first step to professionalism is the way you look. It’s not mandatory, but having your hair up off of your shoulder is a good start. Have it neatly trimmed and pulled back nice. Make sure that your uniform is nice and clean without wrinkles. I know that should be a given, but you would be surprised at how many times I have seen unkept uniforms.

During orientation, be alert to their policies and procedures. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask. Do not just go off and do things your way. Ask your preceptor questions about how they accomplish specific tasks. Never say, “Well, I can’t do it that way because it isn’t what I learned in nursing school.” Get out the policy and procedure book to find out how the facility management wants it done. You also don’t want to say, “You need to do it this way, because this is the way we did it in Florida.”

Although there are times when the nurses take it upon themselves to take a short cut, it is then that you will need to use your nursing judgment. For example, don’t break the sterile field just because the OR tech is doing it. Don’t suction a tracheostomy without using a sterile technique just because the respiratory therapist says that it not necessary.

By asking the preceptor or charge nurse how they do things, you will be perceived as one who cares about doing things the right way. The staff will have confidence in your skills.

As a traveler, it is tough to “tell” people of specific top-notch skills that you may have, like starting those hard to get IVs. No matter how much you tell them, the only way people will ultimately believe in your skills is by proving your skills to them.

Another aspect of professionalism is that you must not get involved in unit politics. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons we travel? The easiest way of doing this is by not hanging out at the nurses’ station talking about tummy tucks, boob jobs, and boyfriends. You need to be down the hallway with your patients. Patient care has to be number one.

In my first year of traveling, I was in a situation where there were two of us travelers taking care of the same patient. I was having a tough time keeping up with a patient that demanded a lot of my attention; therefore, I took my charts down to the far end of the hallway closer so that I could do more frequent checks. I survived the night with the patient in good shape and gave report to the other traveler.

When I came back to work, I found that the other traveler stayed up at the nurses’ station chatting with everyone for an hour, and the patient got into trouble. They ended up terminating her contract over the deal, but not before she blamed the whole thing on me. Luckily, I had obtained a second opinion on the person from my charge nurse, who went to bat for me, telling the unit manager that I had spent all night not far from the patient. If I had spent all night up at the nurses’ station talking with the others or spent my time in another unprofessional way, the outcome might have been much different for me.

If your professionalism is a top priority, then you can become successful in travel nursing and demand as a traveling nurse.

Written by Kay Slane, RN, BSed, CGM (Certified Grad-level Nursing Management) Matriarch of Travel Nursing. The CEO of Highway Hypodermics®, LLC, the longest running travel nursing website by a traveling nurse. Author of “Highway Hypodermics: Travel Nursing 2019.”


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