By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
You have finally made it. You hit the coveted two years working as a nurse and are able to start applying for your first travel job. Maybe, just maybe this will be the answer to the nagging burnout you are already starting to feel. After two years of hospital politics, difficult patient loads, and too much overtime you are ready to hit the road and see what other facilities have to offer.
After two or three contracts it finally hits you–maybe it isn’t just your staff job that was the problem. Instead, you realize that your particular specialty just isn’t the right fit for your personality. Travel nursing may help with some of this internal stress, but ultimately your curiosity about your dream specialty is still there.
There is just one problem. The only way to actually stop and start again in a new specialty is to hit pause on travel nursing for the time being. Hang up your travel shoes for a year or more and try to score a job in the new specialty.
Which also entails giving up travel pay, extra time off, and the general adventure that travel nursing has to offer.
This can be a devastating decision for many nurses to make. Inevitably it leads many to ask the question: do I really have to stop traveling to switch specialties or can I find a way to do it while traveling?
The short answer to this question is: maybe.
Many seasoned travelers will tell you there is absolutely no way to switch to a new specialty as a nurse without taking a permanent job for a minimum of one year before going back to a travel assignment. But every once in a while an opportunity may come along that proves them wrong.
In certain situations, travelers will have the opportunity to be hired into an area they may be unfamiliar with. This usually happens when a facility is particularly desperate to get a traveler hired ASAP and leadership is willing to compromise by offering a little extra orientation time in exchange.
Most commonly I have seen this happen between critical care and procedural areas. For example, ICU nurses who are familiar with vents and drips may encounter opportunities to cross-train to a procedural area like Interventional Radiology because management feels that people with those critical care skills will have an easier time learning the procedural side.
I have also seen opportunities for critical care areas like ER and ICU offer extra training to nurses from the opposite specialty. Chances are the worst ER patients will be something an ICU nurse is familiar with, and an ER nurse has the training to manage most of the medications and interventions happening in an ICU, just in a slightly different setting.
While these opportunities may come along every once in a while, they are not a guarantee that you would be competent enough to change specialties after a 13-week assignment. In many situations where they offer to less experienced travelers to a new specialty, the facility may only have time to train the new staff to take care of the less acute patients. By offloading even the “easier” patients this allows them to have more experienced staff free to take the more complicated patients. Because they can’t offer a full orientation period there may simply not be enough time to learn all you would need to to become a fully qualified traveler in that specialty.
There may be ways to still use this to your advantage. If the opportunity arises to extend your contract, consider asking for a few extra orientation shifts during your extension so you can care for a bit more critical patients. You may also find that they will gradually increase the acuity of your patients as you gain confidence in your new area. In the event that you stay 6 or more months in a job willing to cross-train, you may gain enough experience to feel confident traveling in the new specialty.
On the other hand, getting a taste of this new specialty could be a great tool to help you decide if it is really a good fit. Rather than committing to a full-time job and stopping travel altogether, getting the opportunity to try a new setting for three months could be helpful in at least eliminating that area from your list of potential future jobs if nothing else.
This was my experience when I had the opportunity to cross-train to a case management position. It was in a dream location and had great pay, so I jumped on the opportunity to try something new. After thirteen weeks I was so thankful I had not committed to that type of position in a full-time job and was able to move along and be thankful for the chance to realize this before I felt stuck in a permanent job.
Many people will refer to opportunities to learn a new specialty as a “unicorn” assignment–meaning the chance to snag them may be few and far between. If changing specialties is on your mind but quitting travel is not, I highly recommend discussing this with your recruiter so they know if a job like this comes across their desk you are the person to reach out to.
As with anything in travel nursing, stay flexible and don’t be afraid to try something new if the little voice inside your head is saying it might be a good fit. After all, in the end, it is still only thirteen weeks.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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