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So you wanna go back to school: 4 tips for travel nurses

back to school as a travel nurse

Travel nurse Jennifer Vu shares her insights on going back to school for an advanced degree while working as a travel nurse.

Maybe you have your ADN and want to fulfill your promise to yourself to complete your BSN. Maybe you have the desire to become an advanced practice nurse in a new avenue where you see yourself for the long-haul. Or maybe you just like school!

Many of us have landed on the decision to continue our education but there is one problem. WE ARE TRAVEL NURSES! We are used to the flexibility and thrill of exploring new places and meeting new people. This unique lifestyle can throw in a number of complicating factors that those outside of the travel world may not run into when deciding to go back to school. The good news is — it is doable! Here are some important points I considered that may be helpful to you.

1. Figure out what is realistic for you

First, ask yourself what your goals are. What do you want out of school, the near future, and the far future? What do you want out of travel nursing while you are in school?

The answers to these important questions will help guide you in determining the number of credits you take on and distance vs. a hybrid or in-person program. For example, I wanted to continue travel nursing to experience new places. I knew over the next couple of years I wanted to pursue a NP program without completely giving up the adventure. Therefore, I decided on a part-time curriculum. Sure, the thought of this taking even longer than usual was gut-wrenching, but the adventure is more important for me. Graduation may take me longer but that is something I am okay with! Because I would continue moving from place to place, I found a program that was completely distance. There are hybrid programs out there that may require on-campus visits once or twice a semester. Determine if this is something you can accommodate while on the road.

Are you the type to strive for straight A’s or will you be happy with B’s? Which academic goal is more realistic for you with everything you have going on in your life? Figure out what you are comfortable sacrificing with travel nursing in order to complete school.

2. Plan what you can 

It won’t be perfect but thinking ahead and being proactive will set you up for success in the long run. Take into account time zones. Will you be traveling and living in a different time zone than your school? Keep in mind how this can affect deadlines and exam times.

Try to avoid starting a new travel contract during the first or second week of school. Often, work orientation can last all week and you could potentially miss a lot of important on-boarding instructions in your classes.

travel nurse helping a child patient with a prosthetic

Do you have any extended time off or trips planned? Will these trips compromise your ability to complete your schoolwork? I had my wedding and three-week honeymoon scheduled during my fall semester and got approval from my program to only take one class that semester. Most programs will work with you if you communicate needs ahead of time.

Another large component of school to consider is clinicals. Will you still be on the road by the time your clinical rotations begin? Does your program find clinical placement for you or will you have to find them yourself? Living in a new area with little to no connections may make finding your own clinical placement difficult. Start reaching out and networking well ahead of time. Try to make connections or ask around at the facility you are working at. Keep your program advisor up to date on your search in case they have other avenues for you to try to lock down a preceptor.

3. Set boundaries and remember to live!

Let’s get it right out there — this is going to be TOUGH at times. You’ll be juggling work and school but you’ll still want to live.

Set boundaries to get schoolwork done. Remember, tasks only take as long as the amount of time you allow for it. Don’t let yourself take two hours to complete a one hour assignment. Use social and exploration time as a motivating factor. Utilize to do lists, scheduled time blocks, or whatever works best to help you stay productive.

This will be a short couple of years compared to the rest of your life, and the stress will be temporary. Give yourself grace. Going to school the second (or third) time around is expected to be harder than the first. We have more and/or different responsibilities now than we did before, and we should make adjustments as such.

4. And remember, you can do hard things!

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About the author

Jennifer Vu

Jennifer Vu is a passionate travel nurse whose goal is to experience as many new cities and cultures as she can while growing her skillset as a nurse. When she’s not taking care of patients, you can find her outdoors hiking, hanging out at the beach, or searching for the best pastries in her new town.

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