In the second installment of this article series, we explore what it’s like to be a travel nurse in the cardiac electrophysiology laboratory. Here we speak with Kristen English, RN about her experience as a travel RN with Soliant Health.
Tell us about your medical background. How long have you been a nurse?
I have been a nurse for five years. I started out working as a nursing assistant at a nursing home, and decided to continue my education and obtain my BSN (bachelor of science in nursing). I have experience in med/surg, dialysis, cardiac/telemetry, ICU, procedural recovery, and electrophysiology.
How did you get into travel nursing? How long have you been working as a travel nurse?
I think there were multiple reasons why I started traveling. My husband and I moved from our hometown in northern Illinois to Huntsville, Alabama for him to continue his engineering degree. We lived there for a few years, but soon decided that things weren’t working out as we had hoped and we needed a fresh start. I had always been curious about travel nursing in the past, but the timing never seemed right. Once my husband and I decided that we were going to relocate, I felt that travel nursing could be the perfect platform to help us determine where we wanted to move. With the help of my recruiter, we found a good fit in Boston and within a few weeks’ time, I was starting my first assignment. Since then, I have loved every minute of traveling. While there are highs and lows to every job, I feel that this has been a great decision for my husband and I. Although I have only been traveling for a year, I feel I’ve learned a great deal about the world of traveling and how to make it work for me and my family.
Have you worked with other travel staffing agencies?
I have worked with a few different travel companies and have learned a great deal from the various recruiters I have been in contact with. I am extremely happy with my current travel company, Soliant Health. My recruiter, Steve Yang, continues to impress me with his attention to detail and commitment to his job. He maintains contact with me throughout each week and makes sure I am taken care of. He continues to go out of his way to make my assignment fit my needs and always makes me feel like a priority. Everyone I have had the pleasure to work with at Soliant Health has been helpful and kind, and always has my best interests in mind. I truly love working with all of them!
What initial steps did you have to take with the agencies to apply as a travel nurse?
First, I did extensive research on some of the highest rated companies that other travel nurses had voted as some of their favorites. I then made a few phone calls to see if there was a need for EP nurse travelers. Once I found out how many opportunities were available, I started to seriously pursue the idea of traveling. I got in contact with a few companies and provided them with my information to get profiles set up. Travel nursing can be pretty overwhelming when you first start, with all the paperwork, assessments, and information to gather. But as long as you stay organized from the start, the process is much easier. I started working with a recruiter to narrow down which states I wanted to travel to. Once my recruiter found an assignment in Boston, she submitted my information, I interviewed over the phone, and before I knew it, I was driving to the northeast for my first travel job.
How many states/countries have you worked in? How many hospitals or labs have you worked in?
So far, I have worked in 4 states (IL, AL, NY, MA) and at 4 different hospitals. I’ve worked in EP labs as well as in recovery areas for cardiac cath labs, EP labs, and interventional radiology.
Where have been your favorite places to live/work? Why?
My favorite so far has to be Boston. After my first assignment, my husband and I relocated there and we love it! The city is amazing and has such a great feel to it. The CVRR (Cardiovascular Recovery Room) staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital were amazing to work with, and it made my first assignment such a great experience. I have been so thankful to have had great assignments so far and to have met so many great people. I think the relationships I’ve been able to form with the staff I have had the honor to work with is one of my favorite aspects of traveling.
Have you always worked in the EP lab?
When I first graduated nursing school, I was part of a nurse residency program at one of our local hospitals. I was in the program for 9 months, and did 3-month rotations in various areas of the hospital. I worked in Renal/Med-Surg, Cardiac/Telemetry, and ICU. My goal was to work in the ICU, so I ended up staying there for 2 years. I worked days, evenings, and nights, and learned so much in those first few years as a nurse. I am so thankful for all the experience I was able to receive in so many different areas of nursing. I was blessed with some amazing preceptors and worked alongside many incredible nurses. It wasn’t until my husband and I moved to Alabama that I started working in EP. I now have been in EP for the past 3 years.
How long are your typical assignments?
Typically, assignments start out as 13 weeks. I extended this and stayed longer for the first 2 assignments I had. However, I have seen assignments anywhere from 4 weeks to 12 months, with a lot of options in between.
What type of hours do you typically work as a contract staff member?
Since I specialize in EP, my contracts usually consist of four 10-hour shifts. I have seen other options for five 8-hour shifts, or three 12-hour shifts.
Tell us about your very first travel assignment.
My first assignment was nerve-racking to say the least! I had taken my assignment in Boston and was traveling from northern Alabama. My husband was in the middle of his school year, so I made the 20-hour trip alone, driving for 2 days. As soon as I got into the city, I fell in love. My first day was scary and intimidating since I felt like I was starting over as a new nurse all over again. When I got to the lab, they informed me that I would mostly be utilized in their busy recovery area. This threw me for a loop since I didn’t have any experience in recovery, but I rolled with the punches, and the staff oriented me and made me feel right at home. I actually ended up staying there for 6 months! I enjoyed how many new skills I obtained during my first assignment and feel like it was a great first experience.
What do you enjoy most about being a travel nurse?
So many things! I feel like I was made to be a travel nurse. I love situations that keep me on my toes, and I feel that traveling definitely provides me that challenge. I love learning and adapting to new settings and environments. I get to travel the country and meet new people and go on adventures every 3 months. What more could you ask for in a job? I am continually challenged in my nursing career and am proud of the obstacles I have overcome along the way.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced during your travel nursing job?
Although there are numerous things that I like about travel nursing, it also has its challenges. One of my greatest challenges is dealing with being separated from my husband for long periods of time. Thankfully, he stays busy with his classes and I offer to stay late at work whenever I can so we keep ourselves occupied. While it is hard being away from family and friends, I have made friends while on assignment that I still stay in contact with, which definitely helps. I would also say that some of the things that I love about traveling can also be some of the biggest challenges. It can be hard to adjust quickly to new settings and environments, and it can be stressful when you are first trying to get settled somewhere. It’s like starting a whole new job with the first day of every assignment, and having to deal with all the stress that goes along with that. Another challenge can be trying to get all of your paperwork in order before starting your next assignment. Sometimes it can be difficult to get the assessments, doctor appointments, and licensing completed all while working your full-time job. Timing is definitely a huge factor when being a travel nurse, and it can be hard to make sure things work out according to you and your company’s timelines.
Tell us about the costs associated with work in travel nursing.
From what I have found, most of the costs associated with traveling have to do with transportation and state licensing. Thankfully, the companies that I have worked with reimburse most, if not all, of the costs for nursing licenses and traveling to and from my assignments. Nursing licensing can be expensive, so that has been very helpful. I try to drive back home from my current assignment a few weekends a month, so that is something that I have to take into account for my own budget. I also have to take into account the costs for parking and some online courses that have been required for certain state licensing. With some assignments, hospitals are willing to provide extension or completion bonuses that help with some of the extra expenses as well.
Who would you say is the ideal candidate for travel nursing? What factors do you think someone should take into consideration before trying travel nursing?
I definitely think it takes a certain type of nurse to be successful at travel nursing. Some of the most important attributes being flexible, easygoing, independent, and a quick learner. Travel nursing demands you to be independent in your specialty and therefore, a few years of experience are necessary before becoming eligible to travel. I also think that being flexible is a mandatory requirement when it comes to traveling. We face numerous challenges as travelers walking into new assignments. Whether it’s dealing with new coworkers, new physicians, new environments, or new policies, there is always a great deal of adapting that needs to happen within a short period of time. Most facilities offer a few days to one week of orientation, and then you are expected to function independently. This can be a great challenge depending on the workflow that you are used to, so flexibility is extremely important. While I feel that many different personality types can be successful travel nurses, it is most helpful to be easygoing and to keep an open mind.
We interact with many different management styles and personalities within our coworkers. I think it has always been best to go with the flow of how that specific area/unit/hospital functions. It’s not our job to show up and change things. It’s important to keep in mind that we are sent to our assignments to help out wherever we can within our specialty area and scope of practice.
Where is your next assignment?
I’m not sure yet where my next assignment will be since I will be in New York with my current assignment until the summer. However, I am excited for what is to come next. Some places I would love to go are Seattle, Austin, or somewhere in Maine.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Although I have only a year’s worth of experience in travel nursing, I hope that this helped to provide a glimpse of what it takes to get started as a traveler. I feel I have learned a great deal from my first year, and I look forward to all of my experiences to come in the near future. To anyone looking into traveling, I would just like to say that this was one of the best career decisions I have ever made. I don’t regret anything about it, and feel that it has provided me with such unique opportunities that not many other professions have. I love having new challenges to face and new places to explore. I have greatly enjoyed my traveling adventures so far. Thank you for allowing me to share my experiences — I hope this encourages others to take the leap into traveling as well.