In the last installment of this article series, we explore what it’s like to be a travel tech in the cardiac electrophysiology laboratory. Here we speak with Tyler Duntsch, RCIS, RCES about his experience as a travel tech with Soliant Health.
Tell us about your medical background. How long have you been an EP tech?
I didn’t grow up with anyone in the family being a healthcare professional, so my first interaction with the cath lab or even knowing what that was came when I was 16 years old. I was playing cribbage with my mom’s husband when he started to rub his chest and complain of chest pain. He then laid on the floor and said something just didn’t feel right. When I told my mom that I was taking him to a hospital, she said, “Oh he’s fine. He’s been playing golf all day and he is probably just sore.” Seeing him lying there like a fish out of water — sweating and breathing so fast — I could tell this was not normal. We got him into the car and rushed him to the hospital, and later found out he did indeed have a heart attack. He needed to be life-flighted to a bigger facility (in Billings, Montana, where I actually worked years later). After a stent implant and a brief stay in the hospital, he was fine. We didn’t let my mom live that one down for a while! I became interested in the cardiac catheterization shortly after that, but didn’t really know who to contact to get into this field. Luckily for me, a good friend stumbled upon a program in Spokane that was designed to teach people how to become cath lab techs. I asked a lot of questions and decided that I was going to give it a shot. I officially became a RCIS in 2010, and began my first job in Denver, Colorado.
How did you learn about travel medical staffing? How long have you been working as an EP travel tech?
Throughout the years I have worked with many travel staffers and had always thought about doing it myself. It wasn’t until I was in an unfavorable job situation that I really pursued being a traveler as a career option. I had many talks with my now-recruiter, Steve Yang (aka, “Mr. Cath Lab”) with Soliant Health. He has been a fantastic source of information. I have been traveling now for two years, and all of my assignments have been in either the cath or EP lab.
Have you worked with other travel staffing agencies?
Yes, I have — sometimes it is necessary to get where you want to go. If you don’t love the company you’re with, it’s easy to make the switch.
What initial steps did you have to take with an agency to apply as a travel tech?
Applying was very easy. First, I talked with other travelers to find out who liked what companies and why. From there, I called and talked with different companies and recruiters to see what each company had to offer. All companies offer different things such as location choices, exclusive contracts with certain hospitals, benefits, pay, etc. After figuring out what and where I wanted to go, I sent in my resume with an online application and a checklist of skills. The recruiter then marketed me to potential contracts.
What states have you worked in? How many hospitals or labs have you worked in?
I have worked in 7 different labs, including my clinical for schooling. I did clinicals in Spokane, Washington and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I have also worked in Billings, Montana; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Boulder, Colorado; and Austin, Texas.
Where have been your favorite places to live or work? Why?
It’s difficult to choose a favorite, but I can tell you I really enjoyed the staff, physicians, and work environment in Boulder, not to mention the beauty of the town. Each city has something different to offer, and it depends on what you are into. For example, if you like amazing BBQ and music, then Austin is great. If you like the outdoors and want to live in a beautiful place, then check out Boulder. If you want a big city with fun nightlife, then Denver is the place to be.
Tell us about your work in the cardiac electrophysiology lab.
I started out in the cath lab, and over time, started to learn EP. I have always worked in labs that did both cath and EP. When I started in the EP lab, I initially didn’t like it. I thought of myself as being primarily a “cath guy,” but over the years, I have really taken a liking to it. I received my RCES in 2016 to become an EP tech.
How long are your typical assignments?
Typical assignments are 13 weeks at a time. It is possible to get an extension if the facility has a need for a traveler and you want to stay. I was in Boulder for 1 year, and have been in Austin for 9 months.
What type of hours do you typically work as a contract staff member?
Being a traveler, I always put in my contract that I am guaranteed 40 working hours. However, some places want you to take as much call as you can. This has usually been the case for me.
Tell us about your very first travel assignment.
My first assignment was in Dallas — I chose this location because I have family there. I travel with my wife and daughter, and I wanted to make sure that if something fell through the cracks with housing or work, that we wouldn’t be stranded in a place we’ve never been. Everything went great on my first assignment, and the 13 weeks went by too quickly. I did not renew my contract there because the hospital hired on a full-time employee, and I wanted to keep traveling.
What do you enjoy most about being a travel tech?
What I enjoy most about traveling is both the financial benefit and the flexibility. It is nice to be able to go to a new location that you have never visited before. In addition, I think anyone can do anything for 13 weeks at a time — if you don’t like it, you can move on when your contract is up.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced during your travel staffing job?
The biggest challenge for me is to find housing. Most companies will provide housing, but I find it more beneficial to find my own and take the housing stipend. Our dog is a mastiff, so finding housing within my call range that will also take a 130-pound dog can be a challenge, but we’ve made it work. Other than that, I’ve had it pretty easy as far as transitioning from job to job.
Tell us about the costs associated with work as an EP travel tech.
It doesn’t cost much, because a lot of companies will reimburse you for travel expenses. If they don’t, switch to a company that will! What does cost money up front is the apartment deposit, but I have been lucky enough so far to always get that back.
Who would you say is the ideal candidate for travel staffing? What factors do you think someone should take into consideration before trying this?
From my perspective, the ideal travel candidate would be someone who can go with the flow and easily adapt to different situations. Sometimes it’s hard to jump into a job right away. Hospitals that need travelers need people who are ready to go. Also, a good thing to keep in mind is the phrase: “not my monkeys, not my circus.” Meaning, stay out of all the political talk and drama that can occur with the hospital staff. Do your work and do it well, and when your assignment is up, stay or renew — it’s that easy! The cath lab field is small and you don’t want to create a bad image of yourself, because it will come back to bite you one day. As a traveler, there are also some tricky rules when it comes to doing your taxes, so I recommend getting an accountant, especially if you work in multiple states. As a tech, you are limited to the cath or EP lab, so if there is not a job in your desired city, you might have to go somewhere else until a job opens up there.
Where is your next assignment?
I’m not sure where I’ll head next, but I’d really like to go to Traverse City, Michigan. But as I said before, if there is no need for a traveler, there is no job. Go Lions!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you are on the fence about traveling, I suggest you talk to a staffing company recruiter like “Mr. Cath Lab” or with other travelers to get more information. They will all have good advice and will probably suggest you give it a shot. Feel free to also email me with any questions, I’d love to help you out: firstname.lastname@example.org. Jobs will always be available, so get out of your comfort zone a bit and explore. May peace be the journey.