What to Expect During Travel Nurse Orientation

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As a travel nurse, whether you’re new or seasoned, travel nurse orientation is one of the most anxiety-inducing parts of starting a new assignment.  Completely unaware of what to expect, you’re usually left in the dark on all things besides where to show up to and at what time.  And even then you don’t get that information until a couple of days before your assignment starts!  Will there be a test you’re required to pass in order to come back the next day?  Will what they teach you be relevant to the unit you’ll be working on?  These thoughts may tumble through your head as you toss and turn the night before showing up on an assignment.  But after going through the orientation process 10+ times now, there are a few simple tips you can follow to best prepare for your orientation.


What to Expect During Travel Nurse Orientation

nurse with stethescope and seattle skyline in the background

As stated earlier, it’s hard to know what to expect when you first attend orientation.  Some hospitals are well organized, while other hospitals act as though they’ve never welcomed a traveler before.  Whether orientation goes smoothly, or not, is completely out of your company’s hands and your and recruiter’s hands.


Read more:  Dealing With the Anxiety of Starting a New Travel Nurse Assignment


What to Expect Before Orientation

A few weeks before orientation begins, you’ll be required to complete basic paperwork and other hospital requirements such as a TB test, physical, drug screen, fit test, and immunizations.  The hospital (not your company) decides what is required for you to start an assignment.  Once the hospital tells the company what the requirements are, someone at your company (usually a compliance officer), will reach out to you and ask for your zip code.  They will then set up all your test at a location nearest to you.  Once everything is set, you will receive a “passport” that you’ll need to print off and hand into the front desk at the medical office you go to.  This passport tells the medical team what exact tests you need to have done, and allows for that office to bill your company for the services.  That’s right, your company should be picking up the tab for this!  This will not (and should not) be coming out of your pocket.  Before arriving, always call ahead to double-check that what you need to get done is available at the place that the company is sending you to.  Also, make sure to ask if an appointment is required and if you need to come in on a certain day.

Tip:  Always keep a copy of everything that you get done and keep it in a safe place.  That way you won’t have to go back and do the same things over and over.  For instance, you will need a physical once per year.  If you keep track of your physical paperwork you won’t have to go in for a physical every time that you work with a new company.  I request a copy of all of my forms and keep them in a binder that stays with me as I travel.  But I also take a picture of all of my paperwork and email it to myself so that when a recruiter requests it I can easily forward it to them.

Now that we’ve talked about pre-employment screenings, we also have to address the added healthstreams that are oftentimes required to be completed before you start an assignment.  Again, not every single hospital will require this, but a lot will.  In regards to doing work before orientation starts, you should know that not all companies pay for you for the time you spend doing your healthstreams.  Make sure to ask your recruiter BEFORE signing your contract what their process is and figure out whether or not you’re okay with it.  Also, ask how much you’ll be getting paid for the time it takes you to do your healthstream, as some companies do not pay you at your full hourly rate.  You’ll also want to check with your recruiter if there is any testing done at orientation.  Some hospitals require you to pass a test, whether it’s a medication test, EKG, or simple knowledge test, in order to move through orientation and be welcomed onto the unit.


What to Expect at Orientation

While all hospital orientation weeks vary, typically you can expect to spend the first part of the week doing skills, going through important hospital policies, and learning the charting system.  The first day you’re usually getting oriented to the hospital and getting checked off on using the glucometer, iStat, etc.  Sometimes you’ll have to perform skills like showing how to put on restraints, inserting a foley catheter, using the different hospital turning mechanisms, etc.  After a couple of days of going through important policies, you’ll then sit in on a computer class.  Even if you’ve used the charting system before, you’ll still be required to show up and learn the system again.  At the end of the week, you’ll usually be oriented to your specific unit where you’ll have 1-3 shifts of orientation.  Remember that no two hospitals orient the same way so expect virtually anything once you arrive.  Also, know that all travel nurses will be orienting together, so you won’t be taught specifically what to do on your unit until you arrive at your unit.

Do not expect to get a full 36-hour workweek in.  Sometimes you’ll get fewer hours, and sometimes you’ll get more hours.  Again, this is up to the hospital – not your company.  Follow up with your travel nurse company about how short work weeks are paid out BEFORE signing your contract.


Tips for Preparing for Travel Nurse Orientation

nurse in front of ferris wheel

BYOWB – That’s right, bring your own water bottle!  It’s important to stay hydrated while you’re learning new systems, and there isn’t always a guarantee for an adequate water break.

Bring snacks – Again, there are no guaranteed breaks throughout the day so be prepared with easy-to-pack snacks!  My favorite snacks to bring are always Lara Bars, Perfect Bars, granola, or nuts.

Consider packing a lunch – If you don’t want to eat hospital food then definitely bring your own lunch.  However, know that a fridge and/or a microwave are not guaranteed.  Make sure to pack something that doesn’t need to be put in the fridge or needs to be microwaved.  Note that some hospitals give you long enough of a lunch break to leave the hospital and find food from somewhere else.  However, this tends to be the exception – not the rule.

Be prepared to not get your full hours – This means that your stipend might also be cut short.  Speak with your recruiter BEFORE signing your contract to know what to expect.  For example:  If your contract starts on a Tuesday, American Mobile will not give you your housing or meal stipend on Sunday or Monday.  However, Fusion Medical pays out your full stipend for the week no matter what day you start on.

Get adequate sleep the night before – We all know that it can be hard to sleep when you’re anxious about the next day.  And even if you toss and turn, make sure to turn off the TV and try your hardest to get adequate rest to prepare for the week ahead.

Know your route ahead of time – The day before orientation walk/drive your route to the hospital to make sure that you know where you’re going.  This will cut down on your anxiety immensely!


While travel nurse orientation is one of the more stressful parts about starting a new assignment, with these simple tips hopefully your mind can be put at ease.  Know that your assignment usually gets better and try not to stress out about the orientation process.

Did I miss anything?  Let me know in the comments below!


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Kylee is a NICU nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee has been a NICU nurse for 9 years and a travel nurse for 7 years. Since starting her career in travel nursing, she’s worked in six different states, 10 different hospitals, volunteered as a nurse in North Macedonia, worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, and has traveled to 45+ countries. Her favorite travel nurse assignment was in Seattle and her favorite destination is Georgia (the country). Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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  1. Sara Coverdell
    March 15, 2023 / 10:57 pm

    I keep seeing you mention travel nurse company. Can you explain what the company is and maybe a list of reliable companies? I live in the US and I am a junior looking into it. Also are there any scholarships that pay for nursing if you do so much for them or something similar?

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