Travel Nursing

Epstein LaRue, RN, BS

Epstein LaRue, RN, BS

To have a job as a nurse and to enjoy your job as a nurse are definitely two different things! Many men and women go through nursing school and have a great time the first few years, only to get burned out by the everyday politics of high nurse/patient ratios, mandatory overtime, paychecks that fall short, and managers that expect more with less time to do it in. I was undeniably that way until I found the magic of travel nursing. Now as a telemetry, emergency, medical, and rehab traveling RN, I have found the excitement of nursing that once eluded me. What exactly is travel nursing? Simply defined, it is contract nursing. I spend my time contracted to a hospital for 13 weeks at a time. In the winter I may find myself in Arizona or California, only to spend my summers in Iowa, Idaho, or Tennessee. I prefer to call myself a professional snowbird! To date, I have been to Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Iowa, Florida, Tennessee, Washington State, and Oregon. I travel with my husband, and up until this last assignment, my son. I have done everything from rehab in a small town to emergency nursing at a Level 1 trauma center in the metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona. But just how do I get to all these wonderful places? My travel agent will look at several contract warehouses to hospitals that require temporary nursing staff, and tell me which of those contracts are available. From that list, I will choose two or three to have my profile (resume, background, qualification, certifications, and references) sent to. After the hospital reviews all this information, they then contact me for a telephone interview. After the telephone interview, a decision is made whether or not to accept the assignment or to hold out until a better deal comes along. Approximately a week will elapse before a decision is made by the traveler and hospital. Once the agreement is made to accept the assignment, then the housing department looks for appropriate housing, which may include an extended-stay facility, apartment, or rental house. Next is the excitement of moving to a new place, exploring new territory, and the adventure of seeing new places along the way. I take my time, traveling an average of only 500 miles or less per day. If there is an interesting historical marker or national landmark, I always stop to learn about it and take a few pictures. The first few weeks at the hospital are spent establishing new working relationships, learning where all the supplies can be found, how to do the appropriate charting and establishing the fact that I am a professional and competent registered nurse. This is also the time when you really find out what types of patients you will be taking care of. In my cardiac experiences, I have worked on telemetry floors, which only monitor their patients, to a step-down unit, where the floor nurses were pulling cardiac catheter sheaths. Each new hospital brings new experiences with a chance of different educational opportunities. The best facility that I have been in is one that not only has educational opportunities for me, but where I also received the opportunity to give back as a preceptor to a new nurse. Education can come in the form of learning a new technique that the hospital has been using for years to a new product that can only be found in that part of the country. The most interesting to me is not necessarily the technique, but why that hospital believes that their ways are better. What is the scientific basis of their new found procedure, and/or why does the old one work so much better? The nurses that I have met nationwide are what really make these jobs worthwhile. Some of the nurses I have kept track of include my golfing friend in Phoenix, the telemetry tech in Oklahoma City, the girls from Iowa who used to bring me homegrown tomatoes and my Bible Class instructor from Florida. People often think that you lose friends as a traveling nurse, when in actuality, you gain more friends all over the United States. Outside of work, my family and I have had plenty of fun and excitement. We explored the Grand Canyon in Arizona, viewed the OKC Bombing Memorial in Oklahoma City, visited the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and made a shopping trip to the Mall of America while in Iowa. During our travels, we have also been to the ballparks of the Minnesota Twins, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Seattle Mariners, and the Florida Marlins. We have had the privilege of watching the Diamondbacks and the St. Louis Cardinals in the years that they won the baseball pennant. Currently my assigned rental house is only a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, so I spend my time off fishing, crabbing, and beachcombing on the Oregon Coast. I’m patiently waiting for salmon fishing season, too! What effects does travel nursing have on family? For families who can travel with the nurse, it is a great opportunity to get out together and see the country. With all the homeschooling options that are out there, if there is a will, there is definitely a way that any nurse can educate their child while on the road. In addition, a nurse’s spouse has many job options, from working at a national chain of restaurants or retailers, to creating an online business in an effort to help support the family. I’m lucky that we sold our house and paid off the bills ahead of time so that my husband could retire early and become a full-time househusband. Many other nurses also find traveling as a way to visit their parents, brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren who are scattered over the United States. Travel nursing isn’t always fun, though. There are some disadvantages, trials, and tribulations to travel nursing. My first trial came in California on December 22, 2003 at 11:15 am. It was at that time that a 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit, with the epicenter only 50 miles south of my assignment. The ground began to shake, rock, and roll, but my family and I were safe and sound in a retail store. I will never forget when the sales clerk grabbed us and told us to get in between the store aisle because we were in the midst of a major earthquake. I looked up to watch the signs that dangled by chain from the ceiling sway back and forth, and felt the earth rumble underneath my feet. This disaster would only be outdone two years later on October 24, 2005, when we arrived in the Fort Lauderdale area only to be met by Hurricane Wilma. As we left Iowa, we knew that we were headed into a possible hurricane. We moved in the day before in the bright sunshine, and the possibility of a hurricane seemed like a distant dream. Unfortunately, that dream became a nightmare at 5 am. The wind began to howl, and then the green and blue lights of the exploding electrical transformer were followed by darkness. Although we didn’t have electricity for a week, I’;m glad that I was there to help during the aftermath of Wilma. It is very important for nurses who are thinking of going into travel nursing to realize that not only are these types of disasters a possibility, but to remember that you are going into a hospital that may be having staffing issues. The issues range from short staffing, to strikes, to just not enough nurses in the area. Whatever the issues are, the traveling nurse must be part of the cure and not part of the problem; they should stay out of the politics that are surrounding the issues. I keep on telling myself and my co-workers, I’m just here to help. I should mention that there are also a few hostile hospitals out there, where some nurses may think that the traveling nurse makes all the big bucks and needs to have all the difficult patients. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that a traveling nurse have a positive attitude and take what is given to them, if only to make the best out of a bad situation for 13 weeks. By delving into your patient care, forming a support network of family, and keeping a smile on your face for your patients, you can survive! Very rarely does an assignment get to the point where the nurse feels as if her license is in danger. When I get to the point that I know the phone number to the lab, radiology department, house supervisor, and at least one physician, it is time to go. This will usually occur after being in one place for six months. My feet get that traveling fever! I pack up, exchange email addresses and say my goodbyes, then travel on to my next adventure. Without any hesitation I would definitely recommend travel nursing to anyone who has at least a year of experience, is confident in their nursing skills, can hit the floor running, and wants an adventure in their nursing career. I have been doing it for four years, and personally I can never see myself going back to being a full-time staff nurse, committed to only one hospital. Travel nursing is not just a job, but a way of life: in particular, it is a way of life that has brought me immeasurable happiness and joy. For more information on Epstein LaRue’s writings, please visit: www.epsteinlarue.com. For more information on travel nursing, please visit: www.highwayhypodermics.com.