What to Expect During Your First Week as a Travel Nurse

Stethescope and laptop

Author: Katie Fitts

You finally got credentialed and cleared for your travel nurse job and now the time is rapidly approaching for your first week on the job! Not knowing what to expect can be a little nerve-racking. While every hospital or facility is different, you can generally expect a few things to be happening. Let’s take a look at what to expect during your first week as a travel nurse!

First Day Instructions

After you are credentialed you will receive your first day instructions. This is usually the only thing you will really be able to solidly plan on as far as your first week’s schedule goes until you get to your orientation. First day instructions are literally JUST that. You likely won’t have your whole week’s schedule just yet until you get through that first day. It will tell you where to show up and what time and perhaps an agenda but that’s about it.

Many times you may not receive these first day instructions until a couple of days shy of your first day! For example, you start on a Monday, and you may just get them the Friday prior.  This often may be in the midst of a road trip traveling to your new assignment, so just be sure to stay attentive when you are resting off the road (and plan to get to your destination early!)

For the extremely organized and people who like to be in control of everything (like myself), this is a tough thing to get used to. The key is to be patient and flexible, but also proactive: 

The flexibility of time and patience that your instructions will come, but actively assuring all your “ducks are in a row” to get credentialed in a timely manner and your recruiter has done all necessary paperwork.  I once drove all the way to Salt Lake City from Charleston, SC and showed up to my job on the first day and my recruiter hadn’t submitted all the correct paperwork. I was NOT happy and was not allowed in orientation! It ended up working out the next day, but just be proactive with your recruiter!

First Day/ First Week Orientation


Your first day and week can be a number of things. Sometimes you may go directly to the unit, other times you may go to a hospital orientation, and yet other times you may go to a computer charting class. I have done all 3, and the order and schedule are all just facility dependent. However, you can usually expect to have some sort of combination of all 3 during the 1st week.

For my most recent jobs, it has usually been a hospital orientation to start and thus a typical Monday start date (depending on when their hospital orientations fall). A lot of hospitals will have orientation weekly or biweekly on Mondays.

Unit Start

For unit starts you will typically get a tour around the area you will work, get introduced to your coworkers and your preceptor.  As travel nurses, we only get limited time for our orientation so take in all you can as soon as you can! (As we used to say in ER get your roller skates on!) You may have a full day with your preceptor, or perhaps a partial day awaiting a hospital orientation or computer class. Typical orientation on the actual unit may be anywhere from a couple of days to perhaps stretching into a week depending on the job you are doing and your ability to acclimate.

However, the general expectation is that you will be ready to be on your own after your first week of work shadowing your preceptor! So as I said, use your time wisely and absorb all you can! Now, do they expect you to know every single little thing within that first week? Certainly not, and always ask questions! Just understand they are trying to quickly fill a need for another able-bodied nurse for the unit and thus the quick orientation. 

Hospital Orientation

Many hospitals have you go through a specific hospital orientation. How long this maybe depends on the hospital. I have had anything from a half-day type orientation to one that lasted all week and everything in between during my first week as a travel nurse!  (Half days to one full day are the way to go!) Usually, somewhere in this hospital orientation, you will also have some time to do all the lovely CBLs(computer-based learning) needed. You might as well get VERY used to doing this, as you will be doing this every 3 months! This usually includes things such as glucometer training, bloodborne pathogens, PPE, HIPPA, OSHA and the likes. The good news is you will be an absolute pro at these soon and can essentially do them with your eyes closed!

Computer Charting Class

This is if you actually have computer charting. I have been shocked to see here we are in 2020 and some facilities still use paper! Crazy! At any rate, the computer class will likely be based on your skillset. If you have had this type of EMR(electronic medical record) before, your class will likely be an abbreviated version so you can learn the specifics of charting in your particular area and/or a refresher. If you are brand new to the EMR, it may be a whole day’s worth of class or longer depending on your needs.


Digital Planner

Again, this is a tough thing for us who like to have everything laid out ahead of time and have control of the situations.

You will likely receive some sort of makeshift schedule for your first week that will include your hospital orientation, computer work, and unit orientation. This schedule may be completely different from your contracted hours. For example, if you are going to be working 3 x 12-hour mid shifts, you may be 8a – 5 pm 2 days a week for orientation and then a 12-hour shift. Keep in mind, these schedules may be subject to change as well!

A word for hours during the first week: Due to the irregularity of the schedule of the first week to fit in hospital orientations and computer classes, it is highly likely you won’t get your full contracted hours that the first week. In fact, most travel nurse contracts will have something noted stating that orientation week hours are not guaranteed or that you may work less than your stated contract in that first week. So definitely something to keep in mind for that first week!

As for the schedule for the remainder of your shifts(some of us like to plan our lives, ok!) that will come with some time. Usually, as you are finishing up your orientation week you will get a schedule for the next week. That could be for just that next week or sometimes they have a solid few weeks out!! (Can you tell the excitement for me here!)

Key Takeaways for your First Week as a Travel Nurse

  • Be FLEXIBLE and PATIENT. (The latter being a difficulty of mine!) Truly this is across the board in travel nursing from start to finish…but certainly in getting your first day instructions, going through your first week at your new assignment, and getting your schedule
  • Be Proactive – With your recruiter to get all the info you need to have your best week, with your preceptor to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can
  • Remember you may not get your full contracted hours that week, so accept that and be prepared for that
  • Be prepared for a potential combination of compressed unit, computer charting, and hospital orientation in the first week

Travel nursing can certainly be daunting at times, but take a deep breath and enjoy the ride! Not only will you have a paid opportunity to go see our beautiful country but you will gain valuable experience, meet new people, and be made a stronger nurse ready for whatever challenge lies ahead.

Good luck and safe travels!

Gypsy Love,


Author Bio:

Katie Fitts

Katie Fitts is a travel nurse by day, travel blogger by choice. Chaser of adventure and love! Native to Charleston, SC but has traveled extensively over the US and internationally. She has a passion for people, culture, and nature’s beauty.
Follow Katie on Insta, Facebook, and her blog!

Published: March 16, 2020

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