July 9th, 2012
By Jennifer Olin, BSN, RN
When we talk about teamwork and nursing I think most of us picture interacting with our fellow nurses at the patient’s bedside. Helping each other get through a rough shift or helping with an overload of patients. For the past week I have been part of a nursing team effort covering three states.
Maybe I should have titled this, “Once a Traveler, Always a Traveler.” I guess I better start with what exactly a “Traveler” is for those nurses who don’t already know.
A travel nurse is a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, or any other certified nurse who travels from hospital to hospital around the United States (and even the world) working on an assignment-to-assignment basis. They are a temporary, short term nurses for hospitals in need of staff.
Travel nurses are able to choose where they wish to work and for how long (usually 4-13 week contracts) Most assignments send travel nurses to hospitals that are understaffed or in need of extra help. Travel nurse positions are almost always in high demand.
Travel nurses are usually paid well (although jobs in really popular locations may pay less because people want to come there). Most make around $30 to $40 an hour. And usually assignments add up to close to $90,000 a year for a travel nurse. For any location that a travel nurses chooses to work in, housing or a housing stipend is provided.
Making the decision to become a traveler, whether long-term or temporarily, is a big decision. All the many travel companies out there will tell you they are your best source of information. That’s really not wholly true. They are your best source for a job but for the real skinny, you gotta talk to a traveler (or several).
A "Traveler's Network
For the last several days I have been fielding phone calls, arranging for housing and helping with pre-contract paperwork for several nurses I know who are on the road. This is what got me thinking about another form of teamwork—the Traveler’s network.
That’s not a formal organization, in fact I’ve never heard anyone call what I am about to tell you by any specific name, but it definitely exists.
When it strikes you that you are interested in being a traveling nurse the first, best thing you can do is talk to folks already traveling. My first information on this field of nursing came from a couple of women who’s been on the road for years. When I asked about what I would need to do to become a traveler it was like I pulled the plug from the dike. Information nearly drowned me.
The cool thing is, the info wasn’t so much about getting a job or picking a company, it was about how to travel, where were good assignments for beginners, and what to ask for and about.
My mentors said I should make sure the place I choose to start this adventure has a history of hosting traveling nurses and knows how to train first timers. That’s a solid tip. You don’t want to have your first experience be at a hospital where they spend half a day doing paperwork, the other half orienting you to the unit and expect you to hit the floor running the next day. Ask your interviewer what exactly orientation involves: how long, computer training, will you have a preceptor for a few days, will you have codes for the Pyxis and the supply before you are working alone? A facility that is used to taking new travelers will have all these considerations covered.
Where Are You Going To Live?
The next thing to tap into the network for information about is housing. Is there good housing available in a certain city, is it near the hospital you are considering, is it safe? Talk to more than five travelers and either one of them has been where you are going or they know someone else who’s been there.
They will tell you the questions to ask. If you take company housing make sure it includes a TV, a washer, and a dryer in the unit, and make sure they know if you are traveling with pets. Or, do your mentors suggest taking the stipend? Sometimes the pay comes out better if you find your own housing. You might share a place with a friend or relative in the area, or, in particular with the advent of Craig’s List, you may find the perfect place yourself and be able to pocket some extra money. Talk to other travelers, they always know the lay of the land.
Heck, just this week, I sublet a traveler friend’s apartment to another traveler I know who is coming to work at my hospital. Everybody wins. One nurse get’s help with the rent she’s paying on a place she’s not staying in and the other gets a deal on a great place to stay.
Instant Friends and Acquaintances
When you get to your assignment there is usually a whole new traveler network to access—the traveling nurses already working at the facility. They will know the best places in town to buy groceries, to see a movie, or take your dog or cat when you need a vet. And, it’s almost like having a clique you didn’t know you belonged to.
Who you see here on the right are some of the best travelers and staff I had the pleasure of knowing on an assignment. We exchanged information, worked like our own team at the hospital and spent a significant amount of time having fun (including some pretty amazing meals).
And, while you won’t necessarily get along with every traveler you meet you already have something in common to start a conversation. You can get the inside scoop on the staff, the managers and the docs from the RNs already there. You can make travel plans for the area by getting reviews from the folks who have already taken in the local sites. It’s an amazing network of information.
Fundamentals of Being a Traveling Nurse
Here are a couple of basic traveler tips:
In the five years I worked as a traveler I met fabulous people, both other travelers and staff members at the hospitals where I worked. I never hesitated to ask questions. Now, I find myself in the mentor role more often since I ended up signing on at a hospital where I had come in on a contract. I love sharing what I learned, passing on information from my mentors and from my own experiences. And, you never know when you can help a fellow traveler find a place to unpack—at least for a while.