7 Things Travel Nurses Can Expect at Indian Health Service Facilities
Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities provide free primary and preventive healthcare services to Native American Tribes and Alaska Natives, which is approximately 2.2 million people in the United States. IHS employs approximately 2,380 nurses, which is the highest number of healthcare professionals they staff. Typically located in remote areas, healthcare travelers play an critical role in keeping IHS facilities operating and bringing proper care to the tribal communities.
“There are several unique factors that travelers should be prepared for when taking a contract at an IHS facility,” said Javier Llevada, Director of Client Advisory at LiquidAgents Healthcare, a leading travel healthcare staffing agency. “It’s a very different environment that every travel nurse should try to do at least once in their careers. They’re also first-time traveler friendly.”
Here’s an overview of what travel nurses and allied healthcare professionals can expect at IHS facilities.
The culture at IHS facilities is very different from traditional hospital settings. Many staff are American Indian or Alaska Native (an estimated 71 percent). Tribes still practice many of their original customs and traditions. It can be a very enriching experience for travelers to learn the new cultures and philosophies. Some tribes also maintain their own language, so travelers could face language barriers and working with interpreters if needed.
“The No. 1 thing to remember when considering an assignment at IHS facilities is to be open-minded and willing embrace the culture,” said Llevada. “It’s good to know that the IHS staff are really appreciative of travelers and want to help make the transition and lifestyle change as smooth as possible.”
There are typically three housing options for healthcare travelers at IHS facilities: onsite at the facility if provided; RV or hotel. Travelers need to be properly prepared and get guidance from their recruiter on the best housing options for your lifestyle.
IHS facilities usually offer higher weekly pay packages to attract travelers to the remote locations. “With a typically lower cost of living in the area, travelers can maximize their pay and save more, especially if they select the facility’s provided-housing or RV living,” Llevada said.
For example on the StaffDNA Job Board, Chinle, AZ has openings paying more than $2,000/week for ER, Pediatrics, OR and Labor & Delivery.
Relationships with IHS Staff & Other Travelers
In healthcare traveling, there are sometimes stories of staff nurses treating travelers differently or having tight knit cliques that make it difficult for travelers to fit it. That is not the case at IHS facilities. The permanent staff are so grateful for the help from travelers that they make sure to be very welcoming and express their appreciation. It’s not uncommon for the whole community to come together with a potluck meal to welcome travel nurses who are starting an assignment, or to bid them farewell when they leave.
Travelers on assignment at the same time can also build strong friendships as their going through a similar experience together. For example, a group of LiquidAgents’ travelers on assignment at the same facility in the Navajo Nation went on an excursion together on their days off to the Canyon De Chelly.
Compliance & Licensure
Located on federally recognized tribal land,IHS facilities accept any active state license for Registered Nurses, which is great for travelers. If you’re waiting for a new state license to be processed (i.e. California can take up to 3 months), taking an assignment at an IHS facility can be a good option in the meantime. Compliance is also relatively simple to complete to get started.
With the higher pay and smaller community, travelers need to be aware that they’ll have to be self-sufficient and able to work more independently. IHS facilities have less support staff than full-sized hospitals, so Registered Nurses are expected to provide total patient care.
One of the most exciting parts of working at IHS facilities is the locations. Beautiful outdoors, state parks, mountains, canyons, hiking, kayaking, scenic views—there are endless places and activities to see and do.
If you have worked an assignment at an IHS facility, share your experience in the comments below!
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