While you may have heard about what it’s like to work as a travel nurse, have you ever thought about travel nurses who work in the ICU?
Daisy Award-winner Deji “DJ” Folami, RN is an ICU registered nurse from Oklahoma with Cross Country Healthcare, who specializes in critical care nursing and travel nursing. He told us what it’s like to work as a travel ICU nurse—and why he loves doing it. What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.
“I was just simply blown away by their [ICU travel nurses] level of confidence, their can-do and go-getter attitude, and their all-around knowledge, that the motivation to explore travel nursing came easily.”
DailyNurse: How did you get interested in being a travel nurse—especially one working in ICU?
DJ Folani: I joined ICU nursing after one year of being a Med-Surg nurse because I was fascinated by the skills and organization of the code team. Same degree, just higher levels of training and knowledge. After one year in ICU, I met a few travel nurses. I was just simply blown away by their level of confidence, their can-do and go-getter attitude, and their all-around knowledge, that the motivation to explore travel nursing came easily. In 2016, I started my journey as a travel or contract nurse, and I have never looked back since.
Explain to me briefly what a travel nurse specializing in ICU does? How long do you tend to work in any one facility?
A travel nurse must be an experienced and adaptable person. However, a travel nurse who specializes in ICU is expected to be dynamic and ready to meet challenges when circumstances change.
For example, most ICU travel nurses specialize in medical-surgical ICU but may be asked to float to a cardiovascular or neuro ICU to take care of patients within their scope. Simply put—same skill set, different unit or different protocols.
Typically, a travel nurse works as a contract employee at a facility. Each contract can be a period of 8 to 26 weeks, renewable up to one year. After that one year is up, a break is required up to 30 days, depending on state laws. If the facility wants to continue with the nurse, they will offer to renew the contract.
How and why did you get into becoming a travel nurse? Did you have to sign up with one specific business that places travel nurses? Are ICU travel nurses in high demand?
I was satisfied being an ICU nurse, but I was not content with the knowledge I had acquired. I wanted to impact the world beyond my residential city. I love meeting people. Therefore, I pushed myself to follow up on a referral made by another experienced travel nurse I had spoken with. The recruiter asked questions about my interests, specialty, etc. While awaiting offers, I called and spoke with other travel agencies to compare my preferred assignment, convenience, and of course salary rates.
Yes! Travel nurses are in high demand. An ICU travel nurse with experience in complex critical interventions such as continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT), hypothermia protocol (Arctic Sun), and certifications such as critical care registered nurse (CCRN), etc., are in high demand.
What do you like most about working as a travel nurse?
Every facility has its own unique way of carrying out nursing processes. I love learning new ways of doing the same thing. These new experiences add to my wealth of knowledge.
What are the biggest challenges you face in travel nursing?
Finding a suitable accommodation. A comfortable and affordable place to live while on a travel assignment is vital to my overall well-being. I love to find a place that is close to a gym, a grocery store, and at closest proximity to the hospital.
What are your greatest rewards as one?
New friendships and networking.
Is there anything else that is important for our readers to know?
The key here is to add value to their team and strive to make an impact such that you become an asset and not a liability. I always ask the nurse manager or leaders what ways I could be more useful to their team. Have a positive attitude, rid yourself of trivial complaints. Be a part of the solution you are there to be and have fun while doing it. Blend in quickly and be an important team player. Do this, and you’ll be surprised at how fast the facility will ask you to stay longer with them.
Travel nurses are highly skilled and experienced nurses who fill in staffing shortages at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant shortage of nurses, as many have been sickened or quarantined. Travel nurses help to fill this void and provide much-needed care to patients.
The demand for travel nurses will continue to grow in the coming months. It’s because they’re precious to hospitals during COVID-19 surges. And the pandemic is far from over. Since travel nurses don’t directly work as permanent employees, their contracts are time-limited, and the hospital doesn’t pay for their health insurance. So, what are the options for travel nurses when it comes to health insurance? Here are three.
Short-term health insurance
One excellent health insurance option for travel nurses is short-term health insurance. These policies are designed to cover you for a specific period, which is great if you’re only working in one place for a few months.
These plans are affordable and can be tailored to your specific needs. You can also choose how long you need the coverage, which is excellent if your assignment is shorter or longer than expected.
The flexibility and affordability of short-term health insurance make it an excellent option for travel nurses. If you’re considering this type of policy, compare different plans and find one that fits your needs. You can also talk to a licensed agent to get more information about short-term health insurance.
Comparing plans and talking to an expert are great ways to ensure you get the best coverage for your needs. Or you can use a health insurance lead system to get quotes from different insurers.
However, remember that short-term health plans can deny you coverage for pre-existing conditions and may not cover some essential health benefits, so it’s important to understand your policy before purchasing it.
Individual and family health insurance
ACA-compliant health insurance plans are another excellent option for travel nurses. You can get these insurance plans online through Healthcare.gov or a private insurance company.
These plans will cover you and your family while you’re on assignment, and they’ll usually be much cheaper than getting health insurance through your employer. Just make sure to research and compare prices before buying a plan.
Also, be mindful of the open enrollment period for ACA plans. You can only enroll in these plans during specific times of the year, so make sure you’re aware of the dates. But there are exceptions like:
switching your coverage area
having a baby
These qualifying life events will allow you to enroll in a new ACA plan outside of the open enrollment period. Choosing this insurance plan allows you to control your coverage and keep your family insured while you’re on the road.
Agency-provided health insurance
As mentioned, travel nurses are not permanent workers in the hospital. Instead, an agency contracts them to work for a specific number of weeks or months in a hospital, and then they move on to another assignment.
Many travel nurse agencies offer health insurance to their employees. It’s a great benefit, as it can be difficult and expensive to find your health insurance.
You don’t need to shop around and compare plans, as the agency will usually have a plan that they offer to all of their employees. However, even though this is appealing, the health plan might not be the right insurance for your needs.
Before you accept a position with an agency, make sure to ask about their health insurance policy and whether or not it will meet your needs. You don’t want any surprises down the road!
Also, be sure that you fully understand the policy. Some policies have a waiting period before you’re eligible for coverage, so if you have any health concerns, make sure that you’ll be covered right away.
The last thing you want is to start your new job and then find out that you’re not covered for the care that you need.
Can you get fined for not having health insurance?
Although the tax penalty for not having health insurance has been overruled, some states have enacted their mandates. You can get subjected to a fine in the following states:
The amount varies by state, but it is typically a percentage of your income or a flat fee. So, if you ever get assigned to work in a hospital located in those states and don’t have health insurance, you could be subject to a fine.
Not everyone has the same health insurance options and needs. Everyone’s plans are unique and different, requiring thoughtful consideration. The same is true for travel nurses. While they may not have many health insurance options, three options stick out. These are short-term health insurance, ACA-compliant plans, and agency-provided health insurance.
Explore the country, and VA, as a travel nurse. Through our Travel Nurse Corps, you can join an internal pool of registered nurses (RNs) who go on temporary, short-term assignments at VA medical centers throughout the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The Travel Nurse Corps is one of many unique ways nurses can advance their careers at VA, where they are highly valued members and leaders of the health care team, contributing their knowledge and expertise to Veteran care.
A unique opportunity
If you’re flexible, mobile and able to take at least three assignments per year, this opportunity might be for you.
These positions are temporary, intermittent appointments, usually in medical centers with an explicit need for more staff. The shortest assignment is generally 13 weeks, with your first assignment selected by Corps administrators.
You’ll typically work an eight- to 12-hour day, evening or overnight shift. Some weekends and holidays may be required, with extra pay for these shifts. RNs in the Travel Nurse Corps can also earn overtime and premium pay, all in keeping with VA pay guidelines.
A beneficial experience
In recruiting nurses to the Travel Nurse Corps, we’re seeking to reach a number of goals that will improve care for Veterans:
Maintain high standards of quality and safety.
Reduce the use of extra, outside staffing.
Support the delivery of VA health care in rural or underserved areas.
Provide options for experienced nurses considering leaving the VA system.
Create a potential pool of RNs for national emergency preparedness efforts.
There are numerous benefits for you as well. Through the Travel Nurse Corps experience, you can be hired and on-boarded more quickly than those applying for permanent positions.
You can get a feel for different VA facilities throughout our network, offering an opportunity to find one that is a good fit for a permanent placement. You may find you prefer facilities in more rural areas or establish that you prefer big city living, an experience you might not have explored otherwise.
This effort benefits VA as well by improving recruitment and reducing turnover, which allows us to keep familiar faces in our facilities, men and women like yourself that our Veterans have come to know and rely on.
Work at VA
If you’re looking to explore the country and meet a variety of Veterans who have served so diligently, this may be the opportunity for you.
I wanted to become a NICU travel nurse since nursing school and I was determined to make it happen. I knew all the steps I needed to take: land a new grad job in a NICU, gain experience for 2 years, then secure my first contract.
But, I never could have expected some of these opportunities that came from my travel nursing journey.
1. Seeing parts of the country I never would have otherwise
Travel nurses get to choose the locations they want to work. I grew up in New York, so when I was finally able to travel, I made my way up the west coast. From Los Angeles to Berkeley, California, all the way up to Everett, Washington, I saw new landscapes and cultures I had never experienced. I never imaged I’d be able to experience living in some of the most expensive cities in America. And if someone told me I’d be living in Everett, Washington for three months, I would’ve denied it! My most recent contract took me back to the east coast in Georgia – another place I never would’ve expected to be living!
2. A jungle experience with elephants
One company I worked with, Atlas Medstaff, offered an “Atlas Adventure” to all nurses at the completion of their first contract with the company. It was basically free money that Atlas gave to their nurses to do something fun like sky diving or taking a special trip somewhere! My husband and I had a trip planned to Asia, so I chose to visit an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia for my Atlas Adventure. We spent a week in the jungle with elephants and Atlas paid for our private bungalow! This made our experience in Asia so much more amazing, as we probably would not have footed the bill for the bungalow on our own.
3. Time off between contracts to travel the world
I knew travel nurses didn’t have to wait for approval on PTO to plan a vacation, but I never expected to be able to take so much time off! I always take several weeks off from work between each contract to travel. One time I took a four-week Europe trip through Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark. Another trip was spent backpacking through Asia for three weeks, followed by a week in Hawaii. I also got to take my little brother on a sibling trip to Iceland and Denmark. After that, another trip to Sweden!
4. Paying off all my student loans
I knew travel nurses were paid well, but I didn’t realize how much I’d be able to accomplish with the extra cash. I was able to pay off all my student loans in the first year! Then, the extra money went to my savings and paying for more traveling. The boost in income can be a blessing for so many nurses and I’ve heard of some who paid off their homes with the extra income.
5. I became a better nurse
I’ve now worked in over 8 different NICUs around the country, including Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which was ranked #3 NICU in the U.S. when I was working there (by U.S. News and World Report). I have learned new ways of doing things and have taken care of some of the most unique cases and babies with rare diagnoses. I’ve become a nurse that can easily adapt to different challenges and settings. I’m now a more well-rounded nurse and will always take my collection of knowledge with me as a souvenir to new facilities.
6. I learned how to live minimally
Relocating every few months meant that we (my husband, myself and our cat) needed to be mobile. When we decided to travel nurse, we went all in. We sold all of our furniture and most personal items. Everything we owned fit in our car! Something special came from it though – I realized how little “stuff” was actually needed to enjoy life. Shedding all of my physical items was surprisingly a huge weight off my shoulders and I have learned that less equals more when it comes to physical items. I value experiences over materials.
7. Meeting nurses from all over the country
I’ve met nurses from all the country and have made some lifelong friends thanks to travel nursing. One nurse friend of mine moved to Australia. Others continue to do travel nursing and see new places. I now have a couch to crash on in so many parts of the world with friends who can show me around like a local and that is priceless to me.
8. Starting my own business
In 2020 when covid hit, I had free time between contracts to get creative. I made my own NICU nurse t-shirt to wear to work and shared a photo on my social media. I didn’t realize how many nurses I had actually met from all over the country until my inbox was flooded with messages from tons of nurses who wanted one of my shirts. Within a month, I fulfilled over 300 t-shirt orders of all different specialties for nurses across the U.S.! I realized quickly that this could turn into something more so I officially launched my business, called Minimal Nurse, where I make comfortable, minimalist style apparel for healthcare workers.
Travel nursing taught me that unexpected opportunities can be the most amazing and rewarding experiences of all.
As you are no doubt aware, travel nurses have never been busier or more in demand. The pandemic has pushed many healthcare workers to become stressed and burnt out to the point that they’ve taken long leaves of absence or just quit altogether. This has resulted in an uptick for travel nurses needed across the country as hospitals are desperate to be well-staffed, as COVID-19 continues to impact the U.S.
However, this situation presents traveling nurses with a challenge: where will they live? Traditional corporate housing providers are not equipped to scale with the growth of the profession. At Travelers Haven, we’ve watched this issue grow and seen first-hand how hard it can be for travel nurses to secure suitable housing, especially when they’re just given a stipend and left to find their own housing. Nursing is already a stressful enough job, they don’t need the added stress of having to find affordable housing as well. Searching through a long list of options is tiring and it can be almost impossible to find a place that aligns with your needs.
With a new variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreading, it will be no surprise to see the demand for travel nurses rise, which means more housing will be required. That also means the search to find suitable accommodations will be increasingly difficult. To help find housing in this tight market, we’ve put together three tips for travel nurses with a stipend who need short-term housing. Whether it’s a three, six, or nine-month stay, these tips can be used to make the search for housing more of a smooth process and lessen some of the anxiety and overwhelming stress that comes with searching for a short-term rental.
Communication is key
When you receive your next assignment you will either secure housing yourself, work with a housing-on-demand partner, or have a staffing agency seek out suitable accommodations for you. However, communication is sometimes overlooked. Our advice is to consistently and openly communicate with all parties involved. If you share the non-negotiables upfront, as well as trade-offs and the urgency of your request, the right short-term rental for you can be found much sooner.
We often do not think of what we will and will not accept until we’re at the place and realize the location is in a noisy area, or it’s too small, or it doesn’t have a backyard. Ask questions about what’s available, what can be upgraded, etc. Make it clear where you stand and you will have a far better chance of finding housing that suits most – if not all – of your needs. I also find it incredibly helpful to continuously check in with the parties involved up until you begin your stay. Then, you can get a greater understanding of what to expect, get recommendations for nearby grocery stores, pharmacies, and so much more.
Set a budget
As soon as you get your next assignment, research the market, so you can create a budget plan! The cost of living in Arkansas is much different compared to the cost of living in New York City, so keeping that in mind as you plan your trip is important. When you set a budget, you make it less stressful for yourself to search for the right housing, because you already understand your financial limits. If you utilize a workforce housing-on-demand solution, giving them a budget can provide you with options that align with your budget and stipend in significantly less time than if you had no clear idea of your budget.
Explore all options – with help!
If you are handling your own booking, you do not have to do it alone. Consider contacting a company that specializes in securing short-term rentals. One of the biggest issues I’ve seen in my own experience is that too much time is spent on searching. Many of our own customers would share that before contacting us they had spent up to ten hours total searching for short-term housing that not only was comfortable, but affordable. Spending too much time searching or having too many options can cause decision paralysis, which can elevate levels of anxiety and stress. Places like Furnished Finder or other housing-on-demand companies can alleviate some of the stress and anxiety you may otherwise face.
Hybrid housing is also an option that many aren’t aware of. This option can be the answer for many who have to get to their next location asap, but can’t find suitable housing as quickly as needed. When that’s the case, book a hotel or let those who are booking for you know that you’re willing to stay elsewhere until reasonable housing can be found.
Working in the medical field is hard, especially when you throw a pandemic into the mix. Hospitals and healthcare clinics around the country are increasingly needing traveling nurses and other healthcare workers. This demand can make it more difficult for workers to find the perfect short-term housing. While the supply can seem limited, do not forget that it’s extremely important to have a comfortable place to stay while you work through challenging conditions for days at a time. By utilizing these tips, as well as considering using a third party to secure housing, you can lessen some of the burdens that come with being a traveling nurse with a stipend.
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