As anyone who has worked in an emergency room or emergency department will attest, there’s no end to the variety of situations you’ll see from one day to the next. And if you’re an ER travel nurse, every day is not only different, it happens in a different place as well.
One of our most experienced ER travel nurses — we’ll call her Sue — took a quick break to talk to us about life on the road as an ER RN. This article is a summary of the insights and practical suggestions she shared with us.
Sue hadn’t worked in emergency services when she chose the traveling life and “just sort of fell into” ER nursing through her new assignments. The field wasn’t as demanding back then, so she was able to pick up the rhythm and routine of emergency nursing on the job. Over the last decade or so, though, emergency nursing has become a specialty in itself, requiring specialized knowledge and skill, along with a highly flexible and collaborative personality able to juggle rapidly changing priorities, sometimes under extreme stress.
“You need to be a jack-of-all-trades and not specialize in one area,” Sue points out. “The nature of being an ER nurse is being a specialist in a long list of areas and never knowing which one you’ll need to be day to day and minute by minute.” With each placement, Sue picks up new skills that she takes pride in sharing with colleagues at her next assignment. Even the terminology changes from one placement to the next, Sue notes with amusement. “It’s interesting that we call the same devices and procedures by different names across the country!”
Sue has been a traveling nurse for 19 years, working as an ER nurse all that time. Her average placement is six to eight weeks, allowing her time to be with her family between assignments, a big priority for Sue. Travel nursing gives her special advantages over a full-time employment situation in a single location because she can control her schedule. “If I were at one hospital full-time, I’d have limited time off, and time off is based on seniority; it would not be on my terms. I can also select assignments close to home when it’s important for me to be available for my family.”
Another personal benefit is the fact that, as a travel nurse, she is coming to the aid of nursing staffs that desperately need extra hands. “You arrive and are there to help the nurses who are feeling really overworked,” Sue explains.
As so many of our traveling nurses tell us, Sue chose the travel nursing route because she loves see new places and work in different settings where she can learn and improve her professional skills. And, of course, the excellent pay for travel nursing is a drawing card.
Sue’s advice to would-be ER travel nurses: “Get some ER experience before traveling. It’s best to hone your skills at one hospital before moving to different hospitals. When you do start traveling, you’ll have countless opportunities to hone your skills. It keeps you fresh.”