In this revived article series, we explore what it’s like to be a travel nurse in the cardiac electrophysiology laboratory. Here we speak with Kayla Norton, RN, a travel nurse with Soliant Health, about her experience.
Tell us about your medical background. How long have you been a nurse?
I have been a nurse for 7 and a half years. Immediately after nursing school, I had the opportunity to start my career in a small cath lab, where I had actually trained as an intern before finishing nursing school. I’ve been a cath/EP lab nurse ever since.
How did you get into travel nursing? When did you first start out as a travel nurse?
Traveling has always been a goal for me. My best friend was interested as well, and the timing worked out where we both had an opportunity to travel at the same time. I had been working in cath/EP for about 5 and a half years when we started traveling in February 2015.
Were you assigned to different locations?
Our goal wasn’t necessarily to work at the same hospital, but we wanted to be in the same city where we could share the living expenses. It worked out perfectly — since we are both cath lab nurses, our recruiters were able to find us jobs in the same lab!
Have you worked with other travel staffing agencies?
I initially worked with another company before I came into contact with Steve Yang, a cath and EP lab recruiter for Soliant Health. To be honest, the other company was good, but not exactly what I was looking for. A good friend of mine who is also a travel nurse introduced me to Steve. He really takes the time to learn what it is that cath and EP lab nurses want and need. After my first 2 travel assignments, I started working with Steve, and have been working with him for the last year and a half. He takes care of everything that I need.
What initial steps did you have to take with these agencies to become a travel nurse?
As with any new job, you have to start with a resume and references, a background check, shot records, and lots of other paperwork to fill out. It can be kind of a long process when you are first getting started; however, it is well worth it in the end. Now that I’m working with just one company, it’s much easier because they have all the information on file and we update it as needed.
How long are your typical assignments?
I’ve found that hospitals usually want 13 weeks, but 8-week contracts are also sometimes available.
What type of hours do you typically work as a contract staff member?
In my experience, it is usually four 10-hour shifts with a negotiated number of days of call. However, hours for the cath and EP lab can also vary as five 8-hour shifts with call, or sometimes 12-hour shifts if it’s a busier lab.
Tell us about your very first travel assignment.
My friend and I — two Texas girls — traveled to Danbury, Connecticut, during what ended up being one of the worst winters in some time. Despite having to deal with the snow, we had an amazing experience. Our teammates made sure we both felt welcome and treated us like family, which I think is what you more often find in cath labs of smaller sizes. They even offered to pick us up for work on snowy days! Being in a new lab, it was sometimes overwhelming to have to learn someone else’s way of doing something in the lab. It is important to learn to be flexible, have an open mind, and adapt to their way they are doing things. I found it to be a really great experience, because it opens your eyes to better and more efficient ways of doing things — and offers a different perspective in general.
How many labs have you worked at so far as a travel nurse, and which was your favorite?
I’ve worked in 7 labs so far. Seattle was probably one of my favorite cities, but Portland was my favorite job. The staff at Oregon Health & Science University were the best — they really made us feel welcome, there was a very good team atmosphere, and they were appreciative and open to having us there. I made some lasting friendships. Honestly, I have not yet been to a lab where I didn’t feel like a part of the team or where I didn’t have a good experience. I have been very fortunate to work in some great labs across the country with some really great staff.
What are some of the challenges that you have found during the travel nursing experience?
Setting up your own housing is usually my biggest headache; fortunately, I now have a great recruiter who helps with that. As far as the challenges that present when you start on the job, you have to remember to be flexible. You can’t go in with the attitude of “this is how I’ve always done it” — you have to be open to new ways of doing things. You also have to figure out what your place is and what is expected of you. At the end of the day, you have to make sure that what you’re doing is best for the patient — that is your priority. I haven’t had too many struggles. Before beginning travel nursing, I was fortunate enough to work in a fairly busy and complex lab as a permanent staff member for many years — the training I received definitely prepared me to be confident but also humble, and adaptable to whatever lab I was walking into.
What do you enjoy most about being a travel nurse?
I enjoy having the ability to see parts of the world that I never thought I’d see, especially on a longer timeframe. I have always been one who likes to get on a plane and go somewhere, but it’s usually only for a weekend or for a week at a time. Travel nursing allows me to learn more about the culture of the locations I’m in and see the landmarks that I never thought I’d see, all while being able to make a living. My itch to travel is now supported by my current career — I can still do what I love, but also discover new places.
What other locations are on your wish list?
There are so many to choose from! I’m heading to Charleston, South Carolina, which was on my list, and I would like to go to Nashville, Tennessee. However, my heart keeps drawing me back to the Pacific Northwest. My experiences in Portland and Seattle were so much fun, but I’m trying not to rush back there, because there are so many more places that I want to see.
What is the deciding factor when choosing your next job: the location, the facility you will be working in, or what is available at the time?
I guess it’s kind of a mixture of them all. I come up with an idea of where I’d like to go, and discuss it with my recruiter. I’m not that particular on the facility that I go to. I make sure it’s a good fit for me, but I’m not necessarily searching after the top facilities. My decision is based more on the location and where I’d want to explore, because I can make this job into what I want it to be. Based on my adaptive personality, I can make anything into a good situation — that’s the way I look at it.
Who would you say is the ideal candidate for travel nursing?
The ideal candidate is someone who has a good foundation in whatever area they’re working in, whether it is the cath lab or ICU. You definitely do not want to be fresh out of school — you have to be confident in what you’re doing. You have to put the patient first and never put that principle in jeopardy. Finally, you have to be flexible, because you’re going in to help a team that already has their processes in place. I may not have always been the most flexible person, but I learned very quickly that being flexible and adaptable was the only way to be successful.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A unique aspect of my job, which my traveling career has financially allowed me to do, is that I am part of a non-governmenal organization called Madaktari Africa (www.madaktari.org), which has developed a “train forward” model to teach cath lab procedures in a lab in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They are currently doing diagnostics and interventional coronary procedures with a few implants, but they are looking to expand into the EP realm in the future. I learned about it from another travel RN (Jordan Slayton, RN, BSN, who is also one of the developers of the program). We are in need of volunteers, in case anyone is interested.