Boost Your Happiness Factor with Travel Nursing

I'm happy to share this article from guest writer Anne Devine, MA, BSN.

Do you dream about experiencing a different place or climate firsthand? Would you like to experience this in a financially feasible way? Travel nursing may be for you.

Travel nursing can boost your happiness factor while enhancing your personal and professional experiences all at the same time. It provides opportunities to explore new places, make friends, extend professional networks, and learn about regional differences in best nursing practices – all while earning an attractive salary and benefits package.

 Explore New Places: Travel nursing provides short-term (usually 13 or 26 weeks at a time) opportunities to work and live in a place you choose. Select a setting that fits your current yearnings – whether it’s to experience big city life or living in a rural area. There’s no better way to explore the nuances of a place than to actually live there. You can browse nursing job boards for travel nursing opportunities and check hospital review sites like Nurse.org or Glassdoor.com, to read what nurses are saying about working at a specific hospital.

You can scout out which outdoor activities to explore first, and the special, off-the-beaten path places that are unknown to travel websites. You can see cultural performances that might not make it to your hometown, and learn about local history, arts and crafts, and music. If you’re a foodie, tasting regional cuisine may be your passion, as you can find the mom and pop places that serve authentic, home-style food, and explore the bounty of local farmers’ markets.

If you’ve been living in the snowy Northeast, a stint in sunny southern California may increase your pep and Vitamin D. A desert dweller from Arizona may find a tour of duty in the green, beautiful Pacific Northwest a welcome reprieve. Since contracts are short-term, you can potentially experience a variety of locations in the course of just one year. You get the picture!

Make New Friends and Extend Your Professional Network: Nurses often forge bonds that last a lifetime, whether it’s from your BSN or diploma program, graduate school cohort, or the team of nurses you work with in your first nursing job. This camaraderie doesn’t stop with your early nursing career. Along the way, you’ll meet special people you’ll want to keep in your circle, and today’s social media makes this even more possible.

Flexible schedules (such as three 12-hour shifts a week), provide time to explore an area, and what better way to enjoy it than with other travel nurses or local coworkers? Working closely with other nurses can be an intimate experience where memorable experiences are shared. These experiences can result in close friendships and admired acquaintances that can expand your professional network for a lifetime. Be sure to connect with people you value on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and other sites appropriate for your relationships. You never know when these connections may be of future benefit, professionally or personally, or when a former colleague may reach out to you for advice and information.

Learn About Regional Differences in Nursing Best Practices: Although regulatory agencies, accrediting bodies, and medical/nursing protocols dictate standards of patient care, there are regional differences in how these standards are applied. As a travel nurse, you will observe and learn from working in different settings and seeing how patient-centered care is implemented. You can also learn how local cultural and social norms affect nurse-patient interactions.

For example, as a travel nurse working in a rural hospital, you may learn how to assess health literacy so that patients can more fully benefit from the health teaching you provide. Experience in a large urban area may teach you how culturally competent nurses decipher cultural values and practices that can impact an immigrant family’s health.

These experiences will enrich your nursing repertoire of best practices that you can draw upon throughout your career. You’ll also have the opportunity to see how people work together – nurse-to-nurse and as multidisciplinary teams – and decide on the kind of healthcare/hospital environment that best suits your professional style and goals.

Earn an Attractive Salary and Benefits Package: Before signing on with a travel nursing agency, carefully research the details of their salary and benefits package. Of course it’s important to review the hourly and differential rates offered, but don’t forget about travel allowance (for getting to your new assignment), housing allowance, and other benefits, including medical and dental insurance coverage. It may be useful to meet with a tax accountant to review the overall package to ensure that it meets your financial needs and goals. Travel nursing can be financially rewarding; be sure you fully understand any additional paperwork required of you, as well as any tax implications.

It’s been said that travel has three parts: planning, traveling, and remembering. You don’t have to go anywhere to get started as a travel nurse. Begin by thinking of three places you’d like to explore. Then start your web research about travel nurse opportunities in those areas.

Nurses, Don't Be Afraid To Try Something New - Ask Lainey

Lainey and I treating patients on a medical mission in Nepal

Lainey and I treating patients on a medical mission in Nepal

I'm always amazed to learn what Nurses can accomplish during their career. My friendship with Lainey Rudolph developed while volunteering for an incredible organization in Nepal called Anatta World Health and Education. Among other things, this organization allows young women to receive education and train to be Nurse Midwives. Here is Lainey's story.

How long have you been a nurse and what specialties?  I have been a nurse for 40 years (gasp!) I started out as a Staff RN in Critical Care and Recovery Room at Roosevelt Hospital in NYC - lots of excitement, and I was grateful for the opportunity; I got burnt out however, rotating to nights every other month.  I quit after four years to work in a statistical office with Mt. Sinai Hospital, as a Nurse Data Manager for the International Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB.)  I found out that I loved computer programming and biostatistics!  

When that office moved to another state I took a role as Director of Data Management for a big cardiology study testing intra-coronary streptokinase in three hospitals. Later, I moved upstate and became a Medical Claim Review nurse in managed care for MetLife. I thought that it would be a temporary job until I could find something more interesting, but I was wrong!  I found it intellectually stimulating, as the program was a revolutionary approach to managing outpatient costs and identifying providers that were over-testing, "up-coding" and even billing in a fraudulent manner.  I worked my way up over a period of 18 years to the position of Director of Operations managing over 120 nurses across the US with 10 managers reporting to me before my position was eliminated!  As cliché as it sounds, it was the best thing that ever happened to me!  

Lainey (front row 3rd from left) with me (far right) with the young Nuns in Nepal with Anatta

Lainey (front row 3rd from left) with me (far right) with the young Nuns in Nepal with Anatta

A tidy severance package allowed me to take almost a year off as a kind of sabbatical.  I was free to pursue "mindfulness" education, silent retreats, practicing meditation and yoga, running and biking.  I became a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructor, teaching small groups locally while also being, for the first time in my life, a "stay at home Mom" for my son's senior year of high school!  When I went back to work, I took a low-stress position as a Quality Improvement nurse for a local HMO - another job where I was able to use my skills in data analysis as well as creativity in finding ways to influence network providers to perform appropriate preventive care measures for their patients, e.g., mammography, colonoscopy and well visits as well as improving care of patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.  

Most importantly, I loved the people with whom I worked and we maintain a group relationship to this day - meeting for dinners together many times throughout the year.  After almost 5 years however, due to a merger, the job changed drastically and I no longer enjoyed it. I found a position as a Research Nurse at a local Gastroenterology group and identified new studies, enrolled and treated patients as determined by the studies, kept the records and grew the program until they merged with a larger group with a substantial research program and once again, my position was eliminated. (... After I trained the non-nurse replacement for my job - ouch!) 

Now I had extensive hands-on experience with Hepatitis C, Ulcerative Colitis and many other common GI diseases.  So, within 10 days, I was hired by a large contract organization to work from home to train patients and providers in the Northeast as a Nurse Educator on a new blockbuster medication for Hepatitis C.  What a fantastic opportunity to first, receive top-notch training in the pharmaceutical industry to help patients learn how to take their medications (a fairly complex, long regimen including both oral and injectable medications.)  I loved teaching and working with patients, many of whom who had failed previous treatment regimens with debilitating, sometimes brutal, side effects, now with a fair chance of cure!  The contract ended after 4 years when newer, more effective medications became available virtually making the injectable part of the regimen obsolete.  I easily found a job with another contract organization as a Manager of Nurse Educators in the Northeast for a brand new all-oral treatment regimen.  Unfortunately this drug did not do as well as they had hoped and they slashed jobs including mine, after only a year.  I did find another position as a Clinical Trial Educator, which is where I am now helping Investigators find appropriate patients for a Phase III Ulcerative Colitis study with a new drug.

What do you most love about nursing?  Being helpful to people in need is number one.  Number two is that I have found nursing to be an incredibly diverse field, with opportunities touching so many different fields and therefore intellectually satisfying.  For example, I learned computer programming, data management and biostatistics while working in an academic research setting.  With practically zero computer experience, I had to put in an afternoon each week at the Research Computing Help Desk while I was working in the Dept. of Biomathematics at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in NYC as a Data Manager for a clinical trial.  Boy, do you learn fast sitting at the Help Desk as the "Answer Man!"  I hated that boss for at least 6 months until I realized he was probably one of the greatest teachers I ever had.

What concerns do you have about the nursing profession?  It has taken a long time for nurses to get the respect, and remuneration they deserve and while we are not there yet, it has improved greatly over the past 40 years.  I'm optimistic, especially now that NPs are widely accepted providing more opportunities than ever.

What advice would you give to new graduates or nurses looking to leave traditional bedside roles?  Do your research and don't be afraid to try something new!  I had no idea how much I liked working with numbers and statistics until I was exposed to it.  The possibilities are truly limitless.

How do you know when you are out of balance and what do you do to align into balance?  I get irritable and anxious.  Sometimes the anxiety is unrelated to any specific thing - just 'free-floating' anxiety.  That means I have to get back to basics - meditation, enough sleep and exercise.  Also, metta - sending loving-kindness to myself and others.

Lainey and Susan having a good laugh at me when a baby peed on me during a photo shoot!

Lainey and Susan having a good laugh at me when a baby peed on me during a photo shoot!

WRAPPING UP 2016 WITH A BIG BANG!!

Like most years, 2016 had its shares of ups and downs. We lost my Dad in February, yet I was blessed to be with him when he passed. The hospital that I work at had a lot of staff turn over and changes in management that required creative scheduling adapting until things returned to “normal”.  The summer brought me to Iceland as an active travel guide surrounded by glaciers, mountains and waterfalls.

However, the last 10 days of 2016 have brought more drama than I care for, along with uncertainty, pain, gratitude and wonder.  I met my active travel guide colleagues in St. Kitts and Nevis to explore the region to ensure a perfect vacation for the guests we would be guiding. I studied the sugar plantations, rum industry, the painful history of colonization and slavery as well as the beaches, hikes & bike routes. We were well on our way to make a perfect trip. We just had one more trail to explore.

Ten days ago, a muddy trail on St. Kitts was the doorway to my path as a trauma patient. One unfortunate step on muddy unstable terrain dropped me at least 25 ft. below into a dry riverbed. My partner, Charles was an efficient first responder and is the reason I’m alive today.  My left eye and face looked like a bear attacked it. My radius bone was hijacked from its normal resting place. Because I couldn’t see my face, I was most disturbed by the possibility of losing my hand as the swelling erupted and my fingers turned blue and numb. He splinted my arm with a stick and an ace wrap, popped Advil in my mouth as he ran to get help. We were the only ones on the trail and were without cell reception. If I were hiking alone I would not have survived.

My colleague and first responder Charles

My colleague and first responder Charles

I waited alone for an hour and a half. My meditation practice provided peace and solitude while waiting for the rescue team. I focused on my breathing and contemplated losing my hand. Aron Ralston, played by James Franco in the movie 127 Hours, inspired me. I tried to get up and start walking and soon realized that was not an option.  I came to the conclusion that “this body” was not a body that was walking off the trail. The eight-person rescue team arrived with two EMT’s and placed my Humpty Dumpy body on a backboard. It was a tortuous, hair raising, four hour journey; one in which I dug deep to find peace with.

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To say the hospital left a lot to be desired would be a tremendous understatement. Towels, pillows and even narcotics needed to be purchased at an outside pharmacy. Pain medications required a two RN sign off, creating time-consuming barriers to alleviating my pain.  My co-leader, Samantha provided most of my personal care in the hospital and served as a much needed patient advocate. With nine broken bones and inadequate pain relief, it was hard to keep a smile on my face. I was lectured by the staff for my irreverent choice of words that I resorted to in pain.  My Caribbean nurse also told me that while God saved me, he also punished me with this accident. She said that I had an opportunity to get on “the right path”. Fortunately I could find humor in this and told my Nurse that while I agree God is good; My God is not a punishing God.

My favorite Caribbean Nurse

My favorite Caribbean Nurse

A Christmas miracle brought a Critical Care flight team to airlift me to NYC.  I was transferred to NY Presbyterian Hospital for a full medical workup that revealed much more extensive injuries than the initial workup revealed. I was met with professionalism, warmth and compassion from everyone I encountered. The care I received at NY Presbyterian surpassed anything I could have hoped for. Prior to moving to San Francisco, I spent ten years working across the street from NY Presbyterian at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). I was back in the hood. In many ways, NY will always feel like home and the medical and nursing team treated me like I was one of their own.

In the meantime, I have at least a three-month road to recovery (with five fractures of the pelvis, three rib fractures, a hand and wrist fracture) and I get to keep living this awesome life. While it is a painful time, I have a renewed appreciation for resilience and abundance of the human spirit. I’m left wondering why I got this hall pass to escape death and what will I do with this precious life.  I’m grateful for my awesome family and friends I'm privileged to know that light this amazing life of mine!

Finding Balance Outside The Bubble Through The Holidays

Holidays are a funny time. Christmas lights go up, Rudolph songs hum through stores and customers pummel each other for Black Friday sales. Even when life is treating us well, holidays can be a stressful time. With so much uncertainty politically, it adds a bit more tension at family gatherings, doesn’t it?

As a Nurse for many years, I have filtered the news to understanding what interests me most, such as science, healthy living, fitness and self-care related issues. That has shifted for me recently as I investigate my personal actions and the impact they have on the world. It is not enough for me to stay in my little bubble and my happy place. I am attempting to find balance in investigating true news sources, staying open to listen to other viewpoints and taking steps to align my actions with my values.

For example, I value clean water, clean air and equal rights. As Nurses, I think most of us do. Last week, while I celebrated Thanksgiving after working at the hospital, I reflected on the North Dakota Pipeline and the actions by Native Tribes, Americans and Veterans to peacefully protect the land. While it is much easier to stay in my bubble and do my part at the hospital, I needed to question myself. Are my actions aligned with my values. After watching THIS VIDEO I knew they weren’t.  I took action to transfer my money from Wells Fargo to a local credit union because big banks and our President elect are invested in this pipeline. 

Now I’m not saying we can’t have fun. Don’t boycott holiday shopping altogether; That probably wouldn’t go over too well with the kids! I invite you to do it consciously. Give some thought to how much is enough? After watching the documentary TRUE COST. I am more aware of the consequences of shopping at H&M or The Gap verses Patagonia who promotes fair and safe labor practices. This sounds like a political issue and not such a Nursing issue but where do we draw the line? This is absolutely a Nursing issue. I was enlightened by The California Occupational Nurses when I spoke at their Nursing Conference. We as Nurses are responding to the impacts of how politics impacts individual people who show up at our bedside.

After maintaining weekly blogs for nearly three years, I will be shifting the frequency of my posts to monthly and as needed. I still look forward to engaging with you and supporting all of us in self-care. What better way to do that than dial back commitments?

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I will be offering the 8-week MBSR Course in January. SAVE $50 with Early bird registration which ends December 9th. If you live outside SF, stay tuned for an online offering coming in 2017.