I get a lot of questions about what exactly it means to be a travel nurse. Granted, this is my first travel assignment so my understanding of the concept is that of a novice. There are a few experiences that I have encountered thus far that really illustrate what the travel nurse experience is, and more importantly, what it is NOT.
Being a travel nurse means you are a contractor. A medical mercenary, of sorts.
These days, there are a million and a half reasons why a hospital might need a contracted healthcare worker such as: they can’t fill their positions fast enough and they need a qualified person yesterday; Someone may have a medical emergency that requires a long period of recovery; they may have multiple people on maternity leave (or paternity leave, if the hospital is awesome).
They may also be in a state where nurses are unionized, so there may be a staffing shortage due to a strike.Whatever your feelings on that last issue, the point is that people still get sick, and hospitals still need to have enough staff to function safely. That’s where travel nurses come in.
The concept is pretty much the same as any other contract position. You sign on with a company, they find you work, you sign a contract with the hospital, hash out the details, sign your contract and boom! You’ve got a job for the next 13 weeks, or however long the contract is. The details, however, can be a bit more hairy. Here are a few examples-
I signed on with four different companies. That’s right. Four. Here was my logic- I had a very specified niche of healthcare that I had experience in. If you are looking for travel nurse positions, they are loaded with jobs in areas like critical care, emergency medicine, surgery and general medicine. Most of them are inpatient (read “in the hospital on a medical floor”). A few of them are pediatrics. Even fewer of them are pediatric hematology and oncology. Still fewer of them are outpatient. Every company contracts with different hospitals. Some of them contract with the same hospitals, but I figured if I can cast a large net, I was more likely to get the right kind of job.
A good plan, eh?
Turns out I just made the process that much more overwhelming.
When you sign on with a travel company, you are assigned a recruiter. I prefer to call them my “agents.” It sounds fancy, and everyone knows I am fancy.
My “agents” would get an idea of where I wanted to travel, look over my resume and talk about my past experience, then they would scour their job requests for a good match. For a few weeks, I felt like I was fielding calls, texts and emails from my agents almost daily, gauging my interest in places like Portland, OR (YES!!) and Corpus Christi, TX (NOOOOOOOPE). I remember doing three phone interviews in one morning ranging from a pediatric hem-onc floor to adult outpatient oncology clinic. What I certainly didn’t expect was to have more than one option present itself, but that is exactly what happened. I turned down three other positions to take my current job. One of those interviews was so awkward it made me uncomfortable (and that’s saying something) and yet they still offered me a position.
After the dust settled, I realized my first truth about travel nursing: there will always be jobs out there, it just boils down to how much I am willing to challenge myself.
Sure, people told me that I would never want for a job as a nurse, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I was picky. This was my first assignment, and I wanted it to be a good experience. I wanted a travel friendly hospital, a position that would push me outside my comfort zone but not so far outside of it that I felt unsafe. That’s a tall order. I’ve been working for about a month at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. PCH, particularly the floor I am on, is truly wonderful. Everyone is very friendly and helpful, but there is a reason that they need travelers; they are BUSY. This is probably the hardest I have ever worked as a nurse…ever. It’s like the hardest days I had at my old job, except every day.
The biggest change is that I feel like a brand new nurse again. I am struggling just to get all the charting done by the end of the day, constantly asking questions, making mistakes, and not knowing what to do first.
It took me about a year at Duke to finally feel competent enough in my job that I could develop close relationships with my patients and start to think outside the box. Now, I feel like I’m back at square one, and I’m frustrated that I’m not the same caliber of nurse I once was. My only consolation are the few marketable skills I retained from my old job. My first week, I was able to help another RN out by starting an IV on her patient. Selfishly, I needed that- to remind myself that there are skills I have that make me an asset and not a liability. Yet, I am so busy just trying to keep up with it all that I rarely get the chance to use those skills and make myself feel worthwhile again. I feel like I’m just barely getting by and still staying late charting.
The part that really gets me is realizing that just as I’m getting comfortable with everything it will be time to go through it all again!
And yet, through these challenging days, I’m still learning, and I am seeing small improvements. Outside of the job arena, I get to spend my days off hiking by natural mineral springs in the middle of the desert
OR watching my husband rock out with his friend’s band (check it out here)!
Even with rough assignments, when I feel like I’m not the level of nurse I want to be, I still love taking care of kids, mainly because of stuff like this: