By Christine Whitmarsh RN, BSN
Epstein LaRue, RN, BS, is a seasoned travel nurse and published bestselling author of several books on travel nursing. Her “Highway Hypodermics” series of books have been best-sellers on Amazon.com. I recently spoke with Epstein by phone about her experiences in travel nursing, her books and her advice for current and aspiring travel nurses.
TNS: How did you get into travel nursing – did you start there or was it a transition from regular permanent employment?
ELR: I’ve really come up through the ranks of nursing, starting as a nurse’s aide in 1990, and then becoming an LPN in 1992 and in RN in 1998. Prior to becoming a travel nurse I worked in psychiatric, rehab and ER nursing. I always wanted to be a travel nurse, but I didn’t think I could do it because I had a child. In 2003 my husband I decided to give it a try, and away we went. I did a bunch of research on the internet; applied to five different travel nursing companies and took what I thought was the best deal. My first assignment was working in the ER in a level one trauma center in Phoenix. That’s exactly what I wanted and had request for my first travel nurse assignment. They matched me pretty well. I’ve been on the road since 2003.
TNS: What kinds of strengths, personal traits and background would you recommend for someone considering a career as a travel nurse?
ELR: The number one trait is that you have to be flexible. But you also have to be able to stand up for yourself too. As a travel nurse you’re expected to hit the floor running. You need to have enough confidence to stand up on your own two feet and enough backbone to stand up against others.
You also need the ability to float. In most hospitals, the per diem people float first, travel floats next and then staff. Don’t allow them to float you to an area that you’re not competent in. That also needs to be put into your contract – which floors you will work, which floors you won’t work. Put the shorter list in your contract.
TNS: How would you recommend a new travel nurse prepare for their first assignment?
ELR: Number one, they need to do a lot of research. They can visit my website (see end of blog) for some good information.
While you’re still looking for a good agency, you need to make your list. A travel nurse needs to make a list of what their priorities are; what they are looking for in a travel company. Do they need benefits, a good 401K, good health insurance, are they traveling with pets, families, RV – all that can make a difference. Some nurses live in a bigger city and don’t have a car so you would want to know if there’s a rental car stipend or something to that effect.
Once you’re signed by the travel company, they submit your profile and resume to a hospital. If the hospital is interested, they’ll set up a phone call with you. When you do that interview with a hospital you need to have a form set up that will help you write everything down that that hospital tells you. I have free forms to download on my website, including a hospital questionnaire. Fill out this form for every hospital you get assigned to, so you know exactly what the nurse manager tells you. This is also so you can back up everything in writing in your contract. Verbal promises from the nurse manager are not going to stand up (ex. promised night shift and they assign you to days).
It’s also important to ask a hospital about the nurse to patient ratio. Studies show that for every patient you have above 5, you have a 17% chance of making a mistake.
Please see my next blog, for the conclusion of my interview with Epstein.
For more information about Epstein LaRue and “Highway Hypodermics”, visit: highwayhypodermics.com. The site also features additional information and a slew of resources, forms and checklists for travel nurses.
Christine Whitmarsh is a Registered Nurse with a BSN from the University of Rhode Island. She is a freelance health journalist and medical writer and a contributor to Travel Nurse Source and Allied Travel Careers.