When operating room nurse Katina King started working as a travel nurse with RNnetwork in January 1999, she had no idea what to expect. Now, 19 years later, travel nursing has changed a lot, but Katina is still working with RNnetwork and shows no signs of stopping.
“When my hospital changed our retirement plans after I gave them 17 years, I was ready for a change,” Katina recalls. “I started researching travel companies and happened to find RNnetwork. They get me where I want to go and have done right by me as far as pay.”
Building a relationship that spans decades
Katina says one of the reasons she’s stuck with RNnetwork so long is her relationship with her recruiter, Michele Kluger, who’s worked with her for 17 years.
“Michele usually tells me if a place is travel-friendly or not when I suggest a place I want to go. She tells me if it’s going to be a nice assignment or not,” Katina says. “That’s important, because I’ve been working as a nurse for 37 years. Michele’s always been straightforward with me and has been there since the beginning.”
Seeing a different travel nursing landscape
Looking back on nearly 20 years of travel nursing, Katina has seen many changes since she started her career.
“Everybody is into travel nursing now, and hiring managers have to go through a lot more resumes,” she says. “Hospitals have become more travel-friendly, because they realize they need more help — especially in the winter in Florida, where I often work. It’s also gotten a lot easier to find housing because of Airbnb.”
It’s also important to be familiar with different electronic health records (EHRs), a skill that can make you more marketable, Katina says.
“Sometimes facilities change electronic health record systems, so they want travelers in there who know the EHR. They put you to work while they train their own staff,” Katina says. “It’s important to learn different systems and be flexible. Some people are open to suggestions, and some are not.”
Succeeding as a travel nurse
What’s the key to success as a travel nurse? Katina says it’s getting plenty of experience before you take your first assignment.
“Work at a trauma center at least two to three years before becoming a traveler. The hospital will expect you to be on your own by the third day, and a trauma center helps you learn to prioritize and be fast,” Katina says. “People see travel nursing as an adventure, but you really need to have some strengths. Otherwise, you’ll get overwhelmed.”
Katina also recommends working with your recruiter closely on nursing contracts to make sure you get time off when you need it.
“Mention your time off when you interview and work it into your contract,” Katina says. “Make sure the hiring manager knows early when you have a vacation.”
The worst part of travel nursing for Katina is packing. Fortunately, she says she’s learned what she really needs and what she can do without.
After nearly two decades, Katina has visited most of the United States and says travel nursing is a great way to see the country.
“I will work 13 weeks anywhere — although I don’t do snow,” Katina expresses. “I stop at a visitors’ center and get brochures and find things to do on every assignment. My best travel nurse experience was probably Alaska, but Hawaii was also great.”
Katina’s still got some places to cross off her bucket list, though.
“I want to go to San Diego, and I haven’t done the Northeast. I’ve been to Maine, but I’ve never worked there,” Katina says. “Once I get to Maine, I will have visited all four corners of the country.”
Continuing to learn as an experienced nurse
One of the most rewarding parts of working as a traveler is consistently improving your skills and gaining more knowledge at each place you work.
“You’re constantly learning new techniques and new equipment. Everybody’s got their own way of doing something, and hospitals are organized differently,” Katina says. “Travel nursing is always a learning process.”
During her last assignment, Katina even had a robot under her control — during surgery, that is.
“I learned to do bariatric robotic lung and colorectal surgeries,” Katina recalls. “Working with the robot was very beneficial for my career.”
Though Katina is looking forward to retirement, she isn’t hanging up her stethoscope yet.
“I still have a couple places I want to see,” she says. “You never know until the job runs out.”
For our 20th anniversary, we’re interviewing some of our tenured nurses. Click here to see them all!