We spoke with Jennifer Corona, BSN, RN, CCRN, about her decision to give travel nursing a try. Read on for some insight into the trials and triumphs of her experience.
Why did you decide to get into travel nursing?
I worked as a nurse in Connecticut for 5 years, splitting my time between Medical-Surgical nursing and Intensive Care nursing. As I was going through the nursing program, I’d encountered several experienced nurses who taught me about what travel nursing entailed. It intrigued me, as a single woman, to go see the world and enhance my career while traveling to different areas, and seeing how policies/procedures may differ. For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a particular shift I had in the ICU that led me to actually start researching travel companies. I got tired/burnt out of having, at times, 3 ICU patients. No matter how critical, if it’s your turn to triple, it’s your turn. We did not have laws regarding nurse/patient ratios, nor a union to fight for such a law. Later, I learned this to be true in other states.
Could you us a bit about your first assignment, and what the process was like?
My first assignment was in Los Angeles. I was annoyed at first, because I wanted to be in San Diego, which was tough at the time of the year I was trying to get there. (November was when I had inquired about travel). I knew nothing about the areas. Did not know much about the hospitals at all. I took a CCU/ICU float pool travel position. I once flew to Anaheim, CA for a nursing conference while in nursing school, but didn’t know enough about anything in CA. I knew, however, with my short stay for the conference, it was definitely something I wanted to explore further. I just didn’t know when I would pull the trigger on actually going. Once I signed the contract, I was nervous and scared. That meant it was final, and that it was time to give my notice at my job in CT, which was hard because it was my first nursing job ever. It was where I met my friends and learned everything I knew. Just picking up and moving across the country alone isn’t easy. I kept telling myself, “It’s only 13 weeks. I could always come back.” In fact, I kept my apartment in CT, just in case I hated it, so I could move back. However, it worked out. 13 weeks turned into me living in LA for 6 years and meeting my husband.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of being a travel nurse? What was most challenging? Most rewarding?
The benefit of being a travel nurse is that nothing is permanent. You’re only there for as long as you signed your contract—8 weeks, 13 weeks, not forever. The most challenging is adapting to the new hospital. Nursing is nursing, no matter where you are. As long as you know where supplies are/code cart/med room and how to get a hold of the doctor, you’re golden. It can be difficult, if you don’t have a good team of people working with you, though. A good charge nurse and fellow nurses make all the difference. When a patient acutely declines, you cannot do it all, you depend on your fellow coworkers to help, and you have to instill trust in these people, who you may have just met when you started the day before. The challenge is trusting their knowledge. The rewarding factor is the same, no matter where you work. It’s the foundation of why we become nurses. It’s all about helping and advocating for patients. Guiding them through their hospital stay. Teaching them what needs to be done or what they need to watch out for when they leave the hospital. Rewarding is watching a patient, who you thought may not make it, or someone who just arrested in front of you, end up walking out of the hospital weeks later. Knowing you were a part of that puts a reward in your heart that can’t be explained.
What surprised you the most about travel nursing? What did you learn from being a travel nurse?
I learned you have to make sure you research your travel company to the fullest. The big names aren’t always the best companies. Some of them may try to withhold money from you. You have to be firm, more direct, when negotiating your contracts with your recruiter. If not, you may be walking away with the bare minimum for pay. We, as the nurses, are the middle people; we are the demand or the pawn, in the eyes of the recruiter/hospitals, so our moves are very important, as far as what we want in our contracts.
What advice do you have for those considering becoming a travel nurse? What questions should someone ask before taking an assignment? Any tricks of the trade? Any common misconceptions about travel nursing you want to clear up?
I highly recommend researching multiple companies. Write out what each is offering—bonuses, housing stipend, moving expenses, parking, etc. You can use what other companies offer as a bargaining tool. I suggest getting your own housing. Going with the housing offered through the travel company will usually use the entire stipend—a mistake I, admittedly, made. It was nice not having to worry about paying rent, because the travel company handled that, but if you take the housing stipend, they will send you a full check and you keep whatever is left over, even if your rent is cheaper. As a former traveler, you do get floated a lot. You’re normally first to go. That is a drawback. I didn’t know that when I signed up. Also, the hospital that I first signed with is notorious for such behavior—I would even float 3-4 times a shift. Not every hospital is like this, though. I strongly recommend travel nursing. You get to see the world—literally. What other position will provide the relocation, housing, and the job? None. I encourage nurses to take this opportunity and see how other hospitals function, other parts of the world. For me, I learned the West coast is the place for me, including their nurse/patient ratio laws. Hence the reason a 13 week assignment turned into 6 years for me.
Interested in sharing some insight about your specialty and experience with your fellow nurses? Email us to set up an interview.
Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.