By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
When I began to research travel nursing, I had no idea that nurses outside of critical care could be travelers. I always knew the emergency department and intensive care units needed help, but had never met a single medical surgical traveler, much less a general pediatrics nurse.
I was thrilled when I found out that I could be a travel nurse and still stay within my specialty, but I was definitely nervous. Would I be able to find consistent work? Would I be forced to travel to specific locations?
After working as a specialized traveler for over two years now, I am happy to report that you can make your dreams of traveling a reality without having to sacrifice the specialty you love. There are times you may have to compromise on certain aspects, but at the end of the day, I believe having a career and specialty you love is the best way to stay happy and satisfied with your job long term
Here are some of my best tips for working in a specialized nursing field, and being a successful travel nurse.
Set a goal for each assignment
Is your goal to make money or spend time in a particular region? If you are specialized there is a good chance you will have to rotate between dream locations and the big money jobs.
“>You may not be able to check off bucket-list cities and save a bunch of money all at once. By setting one goal for each assignment and focusing on that goal you can stay positive and make the best of any situation.
Know your season
For almost every specialty, there are times during the year that are busier than others. Somehow, even postpartum nurses will tell you that babies are born in waves, even though it seems like postpartum would be the least predictable field.
If you have been in your specialty long enough to travel, you should have a good feel for your busy and slow seasons. Keeping this in mind, you can prepare for times when units may not need as much help by having some extra savings in case a job is harder to find, or if pay packages drop a little to reflect supply and demand.
Slow season may also be a time when you will have to take a less desirable assignment location to stay employed until the market picks back up.
Use extensions to your advantage
If you are at a job that is willing to extend your contract through less busy seasons, I would highly recommend taking that extension.
As an example, April to September is usually slower in pediatrics because the hospitals are not swamped with kiddos who have caught respiratory bugs. If a hospital offers to extend me for a full 13 weeks in March or April, I am highly likely to jump on that extension because I know the job market will likely be down until the next flu season.
Even if it is not your favorite job, it is often better than no job or a lower-paying position elsewhere.
Many times if you are working in a specialized area and census drops, you could be asked to do a variety of tasks outside of basic floor nursing. I do not recommend doing anything outside of your scope, but be prepared to be asked to fill holes within the hospital. This could include acting as a patient observer (or “sitter”), a nursing assistant, or as extra hands on a busy floor.
Even if I do not feel equipped to take a full patient load in a certain area—like ICU or ER—I will happily go and take vitals or start IVs knowing that it is within my scope of practice and capabilities. I am always up front if I feel uncomfortable about a certain situation but thankful I am not being called off or losing hours.
Keep a PRN job or Per Diem opportunity open
If you are in a position where you absolutely cannot have a gap between jobs, you could also look into per diem or PRN work at home. Some units will be more flexible about hours worked and may allow you to simply fill in when it is convenient for you. Other jobs may be more strict and require you to travel home to meet your requirements every month.
You can also look into smaller agencies in the town or city where you live. I found a local per diem job administering flu shots to make some money while I looked for an assignment in a particular location. The hours are not usually guaranteed, but they can help pad your savings if contracts are scarce.
Traveling in a less-talked-about specialty can be intimidating and a scary. It may feel like you are outnumbered at first by all of the other specialties, but don’t let that hold you back! Reach out to other travelers in the same boat, ask questions, and jump into the world of traveling prepared to handle any of the challenges that may come your way.
As you learn to navigate the world of travel nursing as a whole, you will learn that there are nurses everywhere doing things their own way and making it work for them. It may take a little creativity and flexibility, but it is possible to stay in an area you love and still experience all that travel nursing has to offer.
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