10 Common Mistakes Made by New Travel Nurses & How to Avoid Them

Starting a career as a travel nurse is both exciting and frightening. We all know that starting in the nursing field comes with its number of common mistakes. But, when you add in the travel aspect, you’re bound to face even more risks of making mistakes. 

1. Not Taking The Housing Search Seriously

When it comes to housing, travel nurses can work with their agency to arrange accommodations for them, or they can choose a stipend to find their arrangements. It’s common for new travel nurses to choose the latter as they believe they’ll be able to find reasonably priced housing and save some money. 

However, most people underestimate how long it takes to find housing. By the time their assignments begin, many new nurses find themselves without housing arrangements. Not to mention, many find accommodations that are too big or too small for their needs, which can mean additional expenses. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: Start by planning your house search way early in the process. Ideally, you want to talk with your travel nursing agency to ask for help with housing. Remember, they have experience making these arrangements for thousands of travel nurses across the nation. Whatever you believe you can do, they’ll probably do it faster and find a better deal.

2. Making Charting or Documentation Errors

As you’re going through nursing school, there’s a lot you focus on, but most people forget about paperwork. One of the most common mistakes new travel nurses make in the field is charting or documentation errors. Recording the essential patient’s information is a critical part of your job as a nurse. But, it’s also one that leads to many common mistakes. You must become aware of the proper way to fill charts and documentation, as any error can make you liable for lawsuits. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: First of all, make sure you take the time to read through the documentation as you see it for the first time. Make it a habit to double and triple check your input before you file away a chart. Include any prescribed medication, discontinued medicines, every nursing action, any changes in your patient’s condition, and any order or suggestion given regarding the patient’s care. 

3. Making Assumptions About Policies

If this is your first job as a travel nurse, you’re unlikely to make this mistake. However, if this isn’t your first assignment, but you’re still new to the industry, making assumptions about policies is a common mistake. Not knowing the procedures and policies of your workplace can be detrimental. While no one expects you to memorize them on the first day, you should follow policies and protocols after a few weeks in the role. Remember, never assume policies or procedures are universal; what works for one hospital might not work for the other. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: Try to familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures of your new workplace before you arrive. Reach out to your travel nursing agency to see if they can help provide you with the right information. If you can’t do this beforehand, then make it a priority to ask about policies on your first week and start getting used to their process. 

4. Not Asking for Help

Most new travel nurses fall for this mistake. Travel nurses are expected to be experts in the field, which leads new nurses to abstain from asking questions out of fear of looking inexperienced. However, not asking for help from a coworker or your travel nursing advisor might place you at risk of making a medical error that could potentially endanger a patient’s life. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: Get rid of the idea that seasoned nurses are unwilling to help. Stop making excuses to avoid making questions. If you have a concern or question, reach out to coworkers, supervisors, and other personnel around you for help. Ideally, you want to find yourself a mentor that will guide you through the various situations you’ll encounter as a travel nurse. 

5. Making Mistakes with Medications

While this mistake might arise from faulty administration policies, it is a common mistake many new travel nurses make. Dispensing the incorrect dosage, handing out the wrong medication, or giving a prescription to the wrong patient are all errors that most nurses have experienced. It’s common for new nurses to feel extra pressure, which can lead to a foggy mind, therefore result in common mistakes like handing out the wrong medication to a patient. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: The best way to ensure you prevent this mistake is by focusing on your patient and having a clear mind. Try to find ways to manage your emotions and stress, as well as keeping your personal life outside of your work life. As a nurse, you need a sharp mindset to prevent as many mistakes as possible. 

6. Not Being Prepared

Many new travel nurses get caught up on the excitement of their assignments and forget about the details. Making sure your state nursing license is ready, your credentials and other documentation are current, that you’ve done all required training and tests before deadlines. These are just some of the things you need to know before starting your assignment. Also, knowing who your supervisor will be, what floor you’ll be working on, and more is all part of the process. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: Talk to your travel nurse agency recruiter and make sure they can guide you through every checklist item you need before you start your assignment. They should be able to provide you first-day instructions to give you a better idea of what to expect.

7. Skim Through Your Contract

Landing your first assignment as a travel nurse can be quite exciting. However, most people forget to read through their contracts and end up having questions or issues with the terms and agreements. Beyond the overall picture, you have to look at your compensation package and your assignment guidelines. The more you get familiar with your contract, the fewer surprises you’ll encounter than the road. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: First of all, read through your entire contract. Look for sections that discuss missed-hours penalties, your untaxed income, contract violations, and more. If you must, try to find a lawyer with experience working with travel nurses to look over the contract before you agree to any commitment.

8. Not Having a Tax Home

Even many seasoned travel nurses make this mistake. Most travel nurses have what’s known as an untaxed income, or stipend portion of their salary. The only way to reap these benefits is by establishing a tax home. It’s not difficult to have a tax home, and your travel nurse agency can help you make sure you have all the paperwork needed to file for one. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: The moment you start looking for your first travel nurse assignment, you should begin the process of filing for a tax home. There are many IRS rules for establishing a tax home, but if you have them all, it should be an easy filing. 

9. Staying Too Long

Stemming from our previous common mistake, staying for too long is another common issue. It’s easy to fall in love with an area, but sometimes it can become a double-edged sword. When you stay too long on the same location, you can undermine your tax home, which means you might lose tax benefits. While “too much” is a challenging timeline to determine, you should avoid any long-term assignment contracts. If you don’t qualify for a tax home, then this is a mistake that won’t bring you any adverse effects.

How to Avoid this Mistake: Make sure you double-check your assignments timeline. If you’re working with an agency, let them know you have a tax home established, and you cannot work in one place for more than 12 months in any 24 months. 

10. Failing to File All Your Taxes

We all make tax mistakes from time to time. But, new travel nurses often find themselves making the same tax error. It can be confusing, after all. As a travel nurse, you’re likely to move from state to state, which means you have to pay taxes in every state you work. It doesn’t matter where your tax home is, or how much your agency pays in taxes; you still have to pay them in every state. How much you pay depends on many factors. 

How to Avoid this Mistake: Even if you understand your taxes well, as a travel nurse, it’s best to work with a professional. Because you have to deal with various state laws, don’t procrastinate on your taxes. Start working on your filings as soon as you can to avoid any penalties or issues. 

While there’s no way to prevent these mistakes altogether, knowing about them can help you be more self-aware of your actions and your first steps as a travel nurse. Reach out to seasoned nurses and travel nurse agencies and ask them about the common mistakes they’ve seen, their stories might help you avoid some of these mistakes. 


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