May 19, 2008

Who Am I, And What Is Travel Nursing?

I guess I should introduce myself. I'm Aaron. I've been a MICU (Medical Intensive Care Unit) nurse since the start of 2005. I became this after graduating from a previous undergraduate program with bachelors in biology, which yielded squat as far as jobs go. So, I backpacked Europe and Chile, did poorly paid and relatively horrible jobs for a few years, and ended up going through an accelerated, second-bachelors nursing program at Duke University. In the end, I ended up with the same education as nearly every other nurse out there (including associates degrees) except with a much larger student loan load than most others. At any rate, I landed in a MICU.

Who am I? Well, I love travel and photography, and I run a website that blends both. My escape plan from nursing (you need one of those; if you don't have one, get one) is to invest in a microbrewery and run it. I've been married since March of 2007. That's me in a nutshell.

Travel nursing is fairly easy to describe. For those unaware of the medical profession, there is a massive nursing shortage which will only get worse in the next decade as an entire generation of nurses retires. As a splendid side effect of this, hospitals need to fill short-term holes in their staffing. Therefore, they are willing to pay large sums of money to people willing to sign an average of 13 weeks in a contract. Some contracts are shorter, some longer, most are 13 weeks. This means for 13 weeks, a nurse will work in a unit or floor or whatever. They will actually be employed by an agency rather than the facility, and will usually have their housing paid for. Other financial treats include travel expenses, insurance stipends, housing stipends when travelers share apartments (such as my wife and I--we get free housing and a big chunk of change), and much more. The offside is that you have to be willing to give up the security of a normal job, be willing to step into the role of a nurse with as little as a single day of orientation, and be able to move around alot. Which for my wife and I hasn't been a problem yet.

There will be much more of a description of our own definition of travel nurses to follow. I'll put up good links as well.

Start Of A New Life

Becoming a travel nurse, at risk of sounding dramatic, has been a life altering event for my wife and I, in the same league as starting nursing school and getting married. We'd both worked at the Big D for three years. There, I put in my three days a week of fairly predictable work, with the occasional extra shift thrown in. On my days off, I had a routine that I followed most of the time. We had our restaurants, our shops, our coffee joints, our bars that we patronized most of the time. It was a life in the rut.

Big D was paying us tuition reimbursements each year for three years after graduation. The week after I received my third and final installment (which like the rest was taxed at a 46% gift tax rate), I put in my resignation. We'd chosen a travel company, had spoken to a recruiter, and planned our destination by that point, but it was an incredibly liberating feeling to fly that coop. February was mostly over by then, and March exploded by. The next thing we knew, March 27th arrived, and I was walking out of the doors of Big D for the last time as an employee (as far as I know). I was accompanied out the door with an interesting peer review, undeniably the worst I'd ever had, which I won't describe any further; suffice to say, someone had a chip on their shoulder and finally an opportunity to exploit it. That sort of soured my exit; I'm glad I had three good years there to balance that out.

At any rate, news of positions for the both of us came just before that, at a hospital I'll call The Y. This was exciting, since it was not only a similarly sized hospital as Big D, as well as a teaching hospital, there were positions for both of us, so we could endure the orientation together, would have better chances of good scheduling, and could even carpool. Finally, The Y was right in our desired region, New England, and even our requested state, Connecticut. It was close to NYC and Boston, just down the road from New Hampshire and Vermont, and even Maine. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity. Jess got into a PICU position that they opened up specifically for her. I was able to get into the MICU. So, we were definitely happy about that.

In the meantime, we had a lot to do. First, we moved from our apartment. This was a very stressful event, in particular packing up our junk. We got rid of all of our furniture except our beds, first trying to sell it on Craigslist, then just giving what remained to whoever wanted it. I sold my car, as we anticipated buying a crossover SUV to travel with. We literally donated or trashed at least 3/4 of all of the rest of our stuff, and we still packed a moving truck full. Everyone should move every two years, just to clear out some stuff. Finally, after loading the truck, we spent a few days with friends, then headed south to Jess's parent's house, where we deposited half of our remaining belongings in their attic (again, a stressful event). A few days later, we flew out to visit a good friend and her husband in Phoenix.

This was the start of our week-long Southwest Roadtrip. After a few days in Phoenix, we rented a car, and drove north through Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, where we bid farewell to our friends. From there, we headed up through Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods to Bluff, UT. From a little backpackers hotel, we made a daytrip to Mesa Verde and Four Corners. The next day we drove north to Canyonlands NP, where we made a 9 mile hike through rugged canyons and desert environments on nothing but breakfast and a couple of bottles of water. We staggered into Moab that night, where we wolfed down burgers (not my wife, she's a veggie) and beer at a microbrewery and slept like planks. The next day we hiked the full 11.5 miles of the world-famous Slick Rock MTB trail, this time more prepared with food and water. Finally, the next morning we visited the Arches NP before making a 6-hour drive to Denver and my parent's house. You can see all of the pictures on my Photography Website by clicking here.

We spent a week with my folks in Longmont, then flew back to SC to Jess's parents, where we stayed at for about 10 days. We had a lot to do, getting paperwork in order, sending off forms, buying a RAV4, and doing a lot of fishing. After the first of May, we headed back north, passing by North Carolina to visit our friends. We spent a night at the beach, a great part of North Carolina. Then we headed north. We planned on traveling through Virginia Beach, passing through Maryland along the coast to go through Delaware in its entirety. However, we made a last minute decision to go up I95 through Washington DC and Baltimore instead, which turned out to be a bad decision. We hit construction just short of DC, which slowed us down enough to hit Baltimore just at rush hour. The 50-60 miles through DC and Baltimore took us 3 hours to drive through. We were stressed, angry, and exhausted by the time we reached the northern tip of Delaware and our hotel. The next day, we took the long route through rural Pennsylvania and New York to reach our destination of New Haven, CT.

Hence, our journey begins. A month and a half after my last day at the Big D.

Introduction To This Blog

So, here is the introduction of this blog. My wife and I just started as travel nurses. This blog will chronicle the experiences we have, as we uproot and try something very different from the lives we'd be living. For personal reasons, at this time I will not be naming hospitals or people; I will refer to my "original" hospital, where I worked the first three years of my nursing career, as the "Big D." I will refer to the current hospital as such, and to hospitals where I've finished an assignment by names I develop after working there. This policy of self-imposed privacy could change in the future, I don't feel like dealing with it now.

As for authors, I will be the primary author. I will try to convince my wife to write as well, and will pick up other hopefully as they start out as new travel nurses. This blog is simply to describe the experience of becoming a travel nurse--its trials, tribulations, and benefits.

I hope you enjoy.