Ever wondered what it is like to be a travel nurse? In this article, we hear from EP professionals who have worked in the travel healthcare industry with MedSource Travelers. Here they describe what it has been like for them in this industry, including how they adapted, costs involved, lessons learned, etc.
Cristina Cuellar, RT(R)
As I sit back and reflect on the last 11 years of my life, I can honestly say without any hesitation that I was truly blessed with the job I had as a medical traveler.
It all started in Columbia, South Carolina, where I worked as a cath lab technologist, when I made the call to my first recruiter, Tracy Sullivan Hall from MedSource Travelers. I knew at that moment I had found a lifelong friend, and developed a business relationship that carried on for the next decade. She led me to my first travel assignment in Honolulu, Hawaii. Whatever fear I had at that initial moment of taking that leap of faith to leave a stable permanent job had gone out the door. Hawaii was a no brainer — it was meant to be! Shortly thereafter I packed up all my belongings, headed back to Michigan where I was raised, and deposited my life’s belongings into a tiny storage unit where they stayed for the next 11 years.
After living for a year in Hawaii, it was time to move on, regardless of my love for the islands. I knew in my heart that the reason I had started traveling was to see the country and take in all it had to offer, so I headed back to the mainland for a brief break before heading out on my next assignment. San Francisco, California was my second adventure, and boy, was it ever! I was born and raised in the Midwest, and often had felt very sheltered. That was another reason why I wanted the experience of traveling — to see what other parts of the country had to offer and to find where I really wanted to live.
I have been fortunate to work with so many talented cardiologists who have taught me so many different things about cardiology that I might not have ever learned if I had not traveled across the country. That is one of the major benefits of working in different medical institutions — having the chance to work with highly trained staff and physicians. There are two exceptional hospitals in particular that always stick out in my mind, one in Minneapolis and the other in Boston. The staff gave me so much experience and knowledge, that I will always remember where I learned it and who taught me those valuable lessons that I use professionally every day.
Three years later, I received a phone call from my old cath lab in Columbia; they had asked me if I would be interested in coming back to help them out as a traveler. How could I resist? I contacted my recruiter, and she put a contract in place so I could go back there to work. My previous manager had given me permission to choose the company of my choice to come back to as a traveler, and I chose MedSource Travelers. It worked out to both of our advantages; I chose my favorite company, and they got a contract with the facility.
It was there I started in the cath lab as a permanent employee, and now as a traveler, I have started my training in the EP lab. It was a good chance for me to get my EP lab experience, especially as they were willing to take the time for me to learn. They had just hired a new young EP doctor, who had the passion and ability to teach while also making it fun at the same time. I was glad they called me back, because I had the wonderful adventure of learning EP.
As you may be aware, there are many traveling companies out there; my advice to anyone who wants to travel is to first do your research. Ask other travelers about their experience, if you have the opportunity to do so. They know the “good” and “bad” companies out there, and will hopefully steer you in the right direction. Make sure you know what the companies offer to you as an employee — travel expenses, medical and dental insurance, daily allowances (also known as per diem), housing allowance, competitive hourly rate, call rate if it applies, and car rental — all these issues should be addressed before you sign your contract. It is also important to work with an honest company who never stretches the truth. For example, for one job I was told I would be working in Boston. However, the place they put me to live was an hour commute by subway. I learned my lesson never to take anything literally.
I did try to stay with MedSource Travelers, because I had such a good relationship with them. However, there were times I did use another company of the location that was available. Fortunately, you never have to go anywhere you don’t want to. One more piece of advice is in regard to the vacation time off; you have the ability to take as long as you want in-between assignments. I got to the point where I would take three months off each year. It was a pretty nice break, and as we all know, we need that from time to time.
During my 11 years of traveling, I only had one regret: not doing it sooner! I have grown as a person in so many ways: I’ve tried foods that I never thought I would eat, learned to surf with the locals in Hawaii, and even went skydiving on the North Shore. These are just a few things I had been exposed to because of traveling, and there are so many more.
The personal and professional benefits of traveling, including the life lessons, experiences, friendships, networking, and adaptations, are priceless. I highly recommend it.
I currently reside in Sonoma, California. I finally planted roots and found my home. However, from time to time I get the urge to travel again, because I miss it so much.
Cathy Lucey, RN, BSN, MS
I always remember the poem by Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken.” After college I had initially taken the same road that most of my friends had. Fortunately, I’m glad to say now that I have also had the opportunity to venture down the road not taken.
My experience in travel nursing has been the best years of my nursing career. I have been a nurse for 23 years — the first part working in a hospital close to my home. For the past eight years, I have been on the road traveling to different areas of the east coast.
There have been many benefits. For instance, it has given me the chance to make a lot of new friends along the road. I have also had the opportunity to work in great hospitals, as well as with wonderful doctors and staff.
As a country girl, traveling was always a dream. I always wanted to see different places. As a travel nurse, my dreams have come true. However, coming from a rural area had its disadvantages. I lived too far away to work at another hospital because I would be driving over an hour one way. I was working in a cardiac cath lab, and I knew I couldn’t go to another hospital to work because of having to be on call. So, I started looking into travel healthcare.
It was getting colder, so I knew I wanted to work in a warmer climate. I had vacationed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the year before, and loved it.
At the time, I didn’t know of any travel companies, so I started by looki ng online in a Florida newspaper for a job. I found a travel company that was offering jobs in Ft. Lauderdale, and I called the next day. I was excited that I was able to choose the area where I wanted to work.
After being hired, I was given three different apartment complexes to choose from to live in for the next 13 weeks, which turned into six months. Assignments are 8 to 13 weeks, with the option to re-sign if the hospitals ask you to stay.
I had to be within 30 minutes of the hospital because of the on-call situation, so this limited my choices slightly. Secure, gated housing was available, which is something I request for all my housing. I was traveling alone, so this was very important for my security and peace of mind.
The travel company immediately arranged an interview for me with the manager of the cardiac cath lab at a hospital in Ft. Lauderdale. It was a phone interview; the manager said he would hire me, even though I didn’t have interventional training. I was given two weeks of training in diagnostic and interventional cardiac cath, as well as in electrophysiology. My salary was going to be $10 more per hour than what I was making in West Virginia. Fortunately I had my own health insurance, and most companies give you a monthly reimbursement for not taking theirs.
Next I had to complete some tests required by the company. I also had to apply for my Florida nursing license by endorsement. This required paperwork and specific Continuing Education Units (CEU), as well as a $265 for the license and $70 for the CEUs. It took two months to receive my Florida nursing license. The nursing license can be expensive depending on the state, and every state requires different paperwork, but all require verification of your nursing license in your primary state. Most states belong to an online nursing site, which costs $30. However, a few states are not yet a part of this website, including West Virginia.
Finally, the true adventure started. Since I had always lived in the country and was moving to Ft. Lauderdale, one of the biggest challenges I was going to face was that I had never before driven in heavy traffic. The company provided a nice, private one-bedroom apartment in a beautiful location along the Intracostal Waterway. All I had to do was take my personal items along with the apartment necessities (linens, dishes, etc.). The biggest expense was food.
I moved in on the Saturday before I started work. This always gives me some time to explore the area and see how long it takes to get to the hospital from my apartment.
After six months of working, I took time off to go home for two months. I was able to fly home once a month while on assignment. Most workplaces will work with you to get long weekends off.
While working in this industry I have met other travelers, and have asked them about their travel company and what they liked or disliked about them. This is the best way to find out about which company you want to work for and which provides the best housing, benefits, and most money.
I started working for MedSource Travelers two years ago. Another traveler had told me about how she had worked with them for many years. I called them and had a job by the next week. I cannot say enough about the great care and treatment I have gotten from MedSource.
I have really enjoyed my traveling adventures. I have grown so much in my career, which I never would have done if I hadn’t taken that first difficult step to go on the road as a travel healthcare nurse. The most difficult part about going to a new assignment is moving. The first two weeks at work are usually the hardest, including learning their routines. On every assignment I try to walk into the workplace with a positive attitude and a smile.
Renee Meunier, RCIS
For the last 17 years of my professional life, I have worked in the setting of cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology labs. The last 12 of those years have been spent employed as a traveler. My credentials include certification as a Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS). The title of RCIS can be achieved through a professional educational program or from on-the-job training and then passing the exam. I enjoy spending time in both the cardiac catheterization labs and the electrophysiology lab.
The majority of interventional cardiology labs include both cardiac cath lab and electrophysiology. As a traveler, it is important to have a solid set of skills and be able to integrate into the environment that you are assigned to with little orientation. You must be versatile and adaptable, and be willing to perform tasks that you may not be completely comfortable with. You must learn new documentation with each assignment, and be able to adjust to the different styles and personalities of the physicians and existing staff. This can be challenging at times, but it also allows you to become more flexible and insightful about yourself and your position.
To begin as a traveler, there will be a series of interviews, both with the travel agency and the prospective assignment. You will need to prove your credentials, and usually do a skills checklist so the agency you are employed by knows your skills and limitations. It is important to present yourself as a marketable asset, and there are many ways you can do that. You should always smile, even on the telephone. A smile can be heard in your voice. Present your enthusiasm in being an active part of the team, and also your interest in learning new things. Conduct some research on the facility that interests you.
The interviewing process is also your opportunity to ask questions. Remember, they want to find out if you are right for them, but you also want to be confident that they are right for you. Be sure that you discuss their hours of operation and the call burden that you are expected to carry. Will you be expected to wear your own scrubs, or are they are provided by the facility? What type of footwear is acceptable? What variety of procedures do they perform? Is the equipment they have the same equipment that you have experience with? Will you have the opportunity to learn procedures or equipment that you don’t have experience with? Jot your questions down in a notebook prior to the interview so you will appear professional and prepared. Employers appreciate that in a candidate.
Working as a contract staff member will be quite different than being a permanent staff member. If you arrive to an assignment and find that it is not what you expected, remember, it is only 13 weeks! It is advisable that you not get involved in hospital or departmental politics. Do not choose sides — it does not have anything to do with you. You are there to fill a staffing need — try to remember that. Travelers are used for medical leaves, staff shortages and startup programs. You may be asked to train new staff members. To serve as a valuable resource, you should stay on top of the latest trends in the field. Remember to take advantage of the clinical equipment representatives — they are a valuable source of information and education.
My first travel assignment was in Hartford, Connecticut. When I left Lubbock, Texas, there were still remnants of the ice storm from the night before. When I arrived in Hartford, imagine my surprise and pleasure when I stepped off the plane into beautiful 58 degree sunshine! I am fortunate to have chosen a wonderful travel agency and recruiter. Tracy Sullivan Hall, now CEO of MedSource Travelers, called to be sure that I had arrived safely. This kind act gave me a feeling of security in my new adventure as a traveler.
There are many advantages to traveling if you are a single person. I am single, and therefore, I only need to make arrangements for myself. However, many professionals who choose to travel are able to easily do this with children and spouses. There are many options for travelers who involve their families. If you have a cherished pet, you can easily take them with you. Cats and small dogs are almost always welcome. My dog is large, and even she has been able to travel with me to many assignments.
Even though you will have the responsibility of a full-time job, you will have plenty of free time to explore and experience the things you enjoy. I enjoy photography, symphony music, theatre, sightseeing, zoos, wine tasting, dog sledding, sailing, snowshoeing, and skiing, as well as area-specific seasonal events. Being employed as a traveler has allowed me to participate in all of these hobbies and activities in some parts of the country that I may have otherwise never seen. I have spent time in 49 of the 50 states, and experienced adventures that I never dreamed of.
If professional traveling is something that interests you, I recommend that you take full advantage of the gifts that it will offer. Enjoy the beauty of every assignment you accept. Take in the sights and sounds, meet new people, and treat yourself to the adventure of a lifetime. Although traveling isn’t for everyone, give it a try. You could open yourself up to experiences you never dreamed of. For me, I believe that, by traveling I found myself.