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The pros and cons of life as an ICU travel nurse [Video interview]

In the first of a series of travel nurse video interviews, travel nurse Bob Goldnetz sits down with his good friend and fellow travel nurse Matt Voorhis to learn about his experiences as an ICU travel nurse.

READ FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Bob Goldnetz:

My name is Bob Goldnetz, and I’m a travel nurse who’s been with RNnetwork for a while. I’m joined by Matthew Voorhis, one of my long-time buddies but a reacquaintance from the last couple years in the travel nurse industry. I’ll give you the floor. Tell me a little bit about your experience and that kind of thing. 

Matthew Voorhis:

So, like you said, we met a long time ago. I did four years of pre-nursing school. I got my bachelor’s degree in biology, focused on immunology, did some grant research and stuff like that with Fort Detrick, and I hated it. It was boring. So, I decided to go back to nursing school, which was kind of an easy decision. My mom was a first assist, my aunt was a nurse, so they kind of showed me the ropes a little bit. So, I went back and got my ADN. Since I already had my bachelor’s, I kind of figured my BSN was a little pointless, and I wanted to get right into the ICU. I couldn’t find a job in Maryland where I went to school, so I actually took a job interview with the University of Missouri, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere. It was a phone interview; they told me they were interested. The next day I flew out, and the day after that they offered me the job, so I packed up my stuff and went to Missouri and spent almost six years there, two years on the step-down ICU, high-acuity ventilators, insulin drips, [inaudible], dopamine, [inaudible], pretty high-acuity step down. And then I spent the last three and half [years] in the cardiac ICU, also pretty high acuity, ECMO, LVADS, [inaudible] pumps, all that stuff. And that’s when kind of me and you rekindled because I got interested in travel nursing and you were doing travel nursing at the time already. I guess that’s pretty much – and then I’ve been traveling now for almost five years.

Bob Goldnetz:

That’s crazy. We came out and we’ve talked, we didn’t prep him for this little interview talk thing. I had no idea you couldn’t get a job in Maryland and then you end up in Missouri.

Matthew Voorhis:

I applied everywhere in Maryland, and I guess everyone in Maryland wanted experience. They basically were saying you needed to start in a nursing home, and I was like, no shot I’m doing that. To me, that’s just not where I wanted my career to go. Some people love that job, but for me I wanted to be ICU, high adrenaline. We’ve always been pretty high-adrenaline people, looking for the rush so I had to move halfway across the country to find a job that I knew would jumpstart my career in the direction I wanted it to go.

Bob Goldnetz:

I don’t know, man. It’s just crazy hearing you’re like – at this point right now hearing that, you’re like the guy I would look up to as like a starting nurse, as someone I would like seek out and I feel like you were that to a lot of people. You precepted and you kind of worked your way up in that unit, right?

Matthew Voorhis:

Oh yeah. I was charging every day, precepting. And you know, charge nurses at this time had patients. I had patients. I was precepting. I was teaching a lot of the hemodynamics class, the EKG classes. I was pretty well ingrained in that whole entire hospital system. I was on the shared governance and all of the things that you want to be on to grow your career. I actually really enjoyed my staff job. To this day, it’s probably one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had.

Bob Goldnetz:

So, I guess, to your own point, you seemed to have had a great experience, you had a great foundation and a lot of expertise, so what were the steps that led up to you leaving ultimately and pursuing the travel nursing gig?

Matthew Voorhis:

Well, a couple of things. I think the story is pretty typical with most people who decide to travel. It just became more responsibilities on more responsibilities with almost no compensation. They like to give you little pizza parties here and there to tell you you’re doing a good job and pat you on the back and give you all that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day, you can’t give me more responsibilities without more compensation. So, I started to get frustrated and all that and got burnt out working too much, and I think what really turned the lead for me was a couple of travel nurses came onto the unit and I became very good friends with them. They were my age, young couple, just married, and just having the time of their life. They were telling me how much they made at the hospital I was working at which was like two to three times more than I was making and they had way less responsibility. I was like, huh. That’s when I realized there was levels to this stuff, right? And that’s when I reached out to you and we kind of rekindled our friendship. Once you have that foot out the door and you kind of realize there is some greener grass on the other side, it’s pretty hard to go back.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah, I was the same way. We never had travelers and a couple travelers came in as people had left to go traveling. One thing leads to another and – it seems very nerve wracking because there are all these hurdles and loops you’ve got to go through and all this paperwork and how am I going to find a job and there’s all this tax stuff, but ultimately, I’m with you. I don’t know if I could go back now that I’ve made the jump.

Matthew Voorhis:

No. Plus that paperwork now is so standard for us and we’re so used to it, it seems so minimal. Just submit it, wait for a hear back, and then you’re good to go.

Bob Goldnetz:

I know. I feel like we have the opposite of the usual. When I was doing the mortgage paperwork for this new house, they were like, “How do you have six employers in the last year?” I’m like, I do this, that and the other. It was like the first time filling out that application, but as soon as you do one then you’ve done the others. I guess, looking back on the last several years, what have been some of the highlights? Has it met your expectations?

Matthew Voorhis:

Yeah, I would say if anything it has exceeded my expectations. Everybody who goes into travel nursing goes in for a different reason. Mine was strictly financial. I love making money and I love investing money, it’s one of the things that I’m good at. So, it was financial, but it was also for time freedom. You don’t really have a lot of time freedom when you’re in a staff job because the days you’re off you usually have meetings or shared governance or whatever. But with this you truly had the control of your time. You decided when you worked, when you had off in your contract, and then when your contract ended, you figured out where you – you could take as much time off as you wanted before you restarted your next one. But some people just like to travel to see the world, see the country. But it definitely exceeded my expectations. I’ve met friends all over the country. You know my bachelor party is coming up so there’s 14 guys in there and I think probably 75% of them are from travelers who I met in California and Arizona and Florida and Missouri, there’s some now in Texas, so that’s pretty cool. You really have a pretty neat network going on through the country now.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah, it’s amazing the relationships you have that have spanned so much time but then you can meet these other people and you have such amazing experiences with such a short amount of time, it’s really easy to make these almost lifelong friends that you may not see very frequently over the next however long the future is, but it’s kind of amazing how fast those friendships come and go. But then you’ve also – there’s another relationship that is pretty important that you discovered traveling as well, right?

Matthew Voorhis:

I did. I met my fiancé traveling so that was pretty awesome. The first day of my contract actually, and she was already there for a week. We met and became really good friends for a while, and then I finally convinced her to go on a date with me, which wasn’t very easy. And then we decided to take the contract down to San Diego, just to go down there for three months and see if it works out and it worked out great. We spent a year down there together and did some more traveling, and then we went to Costa Rica for a whole month because, why not? I proposed to her down there. Yeah, that’s probably the best companion I’d say I’ve met since traveling.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah man, that sounds like living the dream, man.

Matthew Voorhis:

It is. I love my life, man. Me and her travel around the country, we take nursing contracts, and we just bought our first house, which when you were talking about your mortgage it’s like, yeah, I totally understand. We had to submit W-2s for two years because we have so many different jobs. It’s like, explain your income to me? What’s this here, what’s that there? It’s a lot but it’s worth it.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah, and then how’s the Costa Rica trip and all of that, the flexibility I guess. What’s been your best trip in your travel nursing career that you’ve taken?

Matthew Voorhis:

I would say it’s got to be the Costa Rica trip.

Bob Goldnetz:

It’s hard to top popping the question and throwing out a big rock and beach sunsets in Costa.

Matthew Voorhis:

It is, and we did it right. We spent 30 days there, and we toured the whole countryside from the Caribbean to the Pacific. I mean, it was awesome. We’ve also done a lot of National Parks. We spent a week or two in Montana and did Glacier, so we’ve done a lot of cool things. The neat thing is, as you know, you put these dates in your contract – I need these two weeks off – and they give it to you, and then you have those guaranteed off, and you don’t need to barter for it later. You design your contract around life events and weddings. You have so much control of your time, it’s incredible.

Bob Goldnetz:

I know, especially with the whole COVID thing. I felt so bad for some staff because the hospital would be so short. I feel like I’d come in with my contractual obligated days off – I’m not going to be here, don’t plan on me being here – and then the staff would be told, you can’t take any vacations this summer because we need you, you’ve got to work every holiday because we don’t want to pay the travelers. Again, I feel like that three day a week schedule is built for a certain lifestyle, but then if you take that away.

Matthew Voorhis:

That’s actually why the nurses here are striking because two years ago they took their 12 hours away and made them go to five eights. I’ve never worked at a facility before where the nurses were doing eights.

Bob Goldnetz:

I’m sure there’s so many good arguments for and against. I just think back to my own childhood when my parents would take me to soccer games. It’s like, how do you take me to soccer games and do anything for yourself if you’ve got to get the oil changed on the car, if you’ve got to go fix anything else. I mean, I could spend four hours a day at Home Depot just doing house projects. And then you guys have been working super hard. You’ve met some pretty awesome financial goals this year with the new house, new car. What is the next couple months,or what does the future look like?

Matthew Voorhis:

Like I said earlier, I travel strictly for financial reasons. I’m a huge saver. I’ve invested in a lot of things to try to get passive income to get out of nursing eventually just because it’s a hard profession to be in. We’re getting married in October in Florida which will be cool.

Bob Goldnetz:

Oh, is it in Florida?

Matthew Voorhis:

It’s in Florida, yeah.

Bob Goldnetz:

Where in Florida?

Matthew Voorhis:

It’s in Destin.

Bob Goldnetz:

Ok, nice, nice.

Matthew Voorhis:

It’s going to be beautiful. We actually just went down there and visited for three weeks for her birthday and just kind of hung out at the beach. It’s great. And then after that we’re probably going to head back to the East Coast where we just bought our property – which is an Airbnb – and we’re going to try and acquire some more out there. I don’t know. We’re just trying to use this money and this time that we have while we have it while we’re young to start setting ourselves up for our future. It’s been a great year. We bought a new house, we just bought a new car, we have no debt, we’ve been able to save a ton of cash, we’re just looking forward to these next couple of years coming around because I think these high-paying contracts, unfortunately, are starting to dwindle, so we’re just taking advantage of them while we can. We’ve been in California now for three years, basically just take all this Cali money and get out.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah, man. Get it while it’s good. Which again, it’s needed. There’s obviously a huge flux of people in and out of the workforce – you’ve got all these nurses that are retiring, people leaving the bedside for other reasons. It’s funny, you meet all these new travelers and they’re like, I won’t accept anything less than X, Y, Z. I’m like, ok, half of X, Y, Z is normal pre-COVID so it will be interesting. You and I have talked a lot about investing and I think you’re pretty well versed and I feel like we’ll have to do a whole other conversation on it just because I think there’s so many things that you can do just from an early time standpoint that’s not super risky or really doesn’t take that much intuition, I guess. If you could give out one little piece of financial advice that’s not financial advice, what would you recommend to other people in our position?

Matthew Voorhis:

I would say, at the very least, definitely take advantage of your company retirement. At least take their match, if they’re matching 3%, 4%, at a bare minimum, do that because that’s just leaving free money on the table if you don’t. So, match with your employer in a low-fee index fund and if you do that for 40 years, you’ll be good. The second thing I’d say is buy some cryptocurrency. I’m a huge crypto advocate; I’ve been a crypto advocate since 2014. Once you really understand the tech, I think that it’s not going anywhere. But yeah, I’d say those are the two things: one, invest in your 401(k) match with your company and put it in a low-fee index fund like a Fidelity 500, and then two, open up some sort of crypto brokerage, I personally use Voyager, and put some reoccurring buys on a couple cryptocurrencies.

Bob Goldnetz:

Nice man. Again, we’ll have to go into a whole other talk on that. I guess just to wrap up, we kind of talked – again, this could be a whole other discussion as well about staying at the bedside and again the future, everyone talks about this burnout and this cyclic overturn of people leaving. I haven’t looked at the stats, but it’s probably 20-30% of the workforce left whether it’s retirement or not feeling like doing the whole COVID thing and not being worth the risk, or say they’re taking away your 12-hour shifts, or people are on to “better things” of CRNA or NP. Just a quick, where do you see your travel career or where do you see your bedside career?

Matthew Voorhis:

So, bedside for me is not something that I’m going to do in the long term. I’m doing everything in my power now to try and get away from the bedside. It’s funny because I would say almost every traveler that I’ve met has had that same goal. They wanted to step away from staff to make some money to then pursue their passions because they realized nursing is just a tough place to work. It’s become an interesting field because we keep getting overburdened with responsibilities and more work and the pay is just not that great. I don’t see myself being at bedside for that much longer – maybe for another couple of years max – which is sad because I loved nursing when I first got into it. I was passionate about it. I wanted to learn everything I could. I wrote a cardiac ICU book that I got published – I was super passionate about it – teaching, and all these things. Now, it’s tough because once you’re in the system and you realize we’re not really helping fix the problem, we’re just putting band-aids on things and sending them home, and we’re not addressing the underlying issues. To me, the whole system is broken, and I just can’t get behind the way it works anymore.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah, man. I could definitely say I’ve seen aspects of that on a daily. It’s kind of hard to help people help themselves sometimes, and some days you leave just scratching your head thinking, huh, what did I just do? On a lighter note, what are a couple things you do that you’ve been working these four or five days a week which people don’t seem to think four days a week – I’m like, I’m working four days a week, and they’re like, everyone works four or five days a week, bro. What are some things, as you’ve taken these extra days a week and you’re working these long shifts, what are some things you do to kind of decompress or come home and stay sane?

Matthew Voorhis:

For me it’s the gym, biking. I’m a huge fitness nerd, nutrition nerd. Especially in California, it’s easy for me to do this. My days off I’m outside, I’m riding my bike, I’m going to the gym, and I’m sitting by the pool reading a book. It helps traveling with my fiancé too, so we have each other to kind of decompress and destress for the day. For me it’s about getting outside, just experiencing new things, going out and finding stuff in the city, new restaurants, we go hiking a lot. I would say as a traveler, the best thing is just to meet all the other travelers and do cool stuff with them because once you get into that circle with all the travelers in your area, every traveler in the area likes to do different things. Some like to hike, some like to go to shows, some like to go to restaurants, so it’s like you make this traveler group and you get exposed to all of these different cultures in your area because everybody has different interests, and everybody just invites everybody to those interests, which is pretty cool.

Bob Goldnetz:

That’s so true. One guy, I had been there a week and he’s like, you should come spear fishing with us. I was like, in Utah? Where are we going? That’s a great point because you never know who you’re going to meet, and everyone has their niche, and everyone has something they’re good at. It’s kind of like traveling abroad, you meet a couple people, and you never know where you’re going to end up or who you’re going to meet.

Matthew Voorhis:

Exactly. You just got to let yourself be open to things. Travelers to me is just like you go with the flow. You’re in the hospital, you do what you’re told, and you just go with the flow. Outside, go with the flow. You can try to control things as much as you want, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to go with the flow.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah, man. Well cool, I definitely appreciate your time. It’s awesome to see you. I think that kind of wraps up our little intro, and I definitely think we’ll be revisiting some topics, and I think we’ve got a lot to talk about. Hopefully people will come back in, and if not, it was just great seeing you and great talking to you, and I know we’ll be in touch and see each other soon.

Matthew Voorhis:

Definitely. I’ll definitely be seeing you for my bachelor party.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah, I got to get that sorted out because I’m the guy that you’re like, this may be bullshit. I’ve got to convince [inaudible] to go.

Matthew Voorhis:

It’s funny. Everybody that’s called me was like, I got the greenlight from my wife. I’m just like, man, we’re getting old.

Bob Goldnetz:

I know. I don’t know. Everyone you think makes parenting look so easy and I’m like, I don’t know if I can leave her for three or four days alone with him. It’s crazy because one moment – even just now, I was putting him down, he fell asleep on my shoulder, then he woke up, he looked me straight in the eye, and he grabbed my face like this, and gave me a kiss on the nose, which I don’t think he knows what he’s doing, and then he just started screaming in my ears and my ears were ringing for like 30 minutes and it’s like, I can’t wait to put you down. It’s so cliché. Everybody we meet is like, enjoy these young times, the days are long, but the years are short. He’s already one, and I feel like I was just there the other day plugging in the incense and the diffuser and the pictures as he was crowning. You can tell I had my priorities, right?

Matthew Voorhis:

Oh yeah. That’s probably what Angela would have wanted though.

Bob Goldnetz:

It was so funny. We got there, and she was like nine centimeters, and I’m literally setting up the sound machine and trying to get the pictures done and the salt lamp. You have this image of this vibe and what it was going to be and this expectation and then it just all goes out the window.

Matthew Voorhis:

Controlled chaos.

Bob Goldnetz:

Oh, dude, you’ll like this. I’m lazy, so I went to get my oil changed the other day, and I walked into pick up the car, and this guy is annoyed, and he’s on the phone and he’s like, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you when to come in, it’s first come first served. I don’t know if Tuesday at 12 is a good time. Just bring it in at 7:30 when we open. He gets off the phone and he’s like, ‘I don’t understand. People think I have some magic ball of when to come in.’ I’m like, you’ve got a magic ball back there; let me get at that. He’s like, Oh, yeah. I’m like, just tell me that my wife is going to have a rich, happy husband. He laughed and was like, ‘you’ve got a wife?’ I’m like, pretty much. He’s like, ‘you’ve got a kid?’ I was like, yeah. He was like, ‘you’re already rich.’ I was like, whoa, that was like off the cuff deep from the guy who was changing my oil who I’d never met.

Matthew Voorhis:

It’s true though, man. I think people confound rich these days with a wrong view of what it is. Give me a home that it’s paid for and enough money to do the things I want to do with my family and my wife and shit and I’m chilling. These people strive for sometimes these unrealistic expectations set by social media. I think that’s why we have such high rates of anxiety and depression these days. That’s very true. It puts things into perspective, right?

Bob Goldnetz:

A 100%. I could definitely do a much better job at feeling more grateful with what I’ve got.

Matthew Voorhis:

A lot of people can. It’s hard.

Bob Goldnetz:

What do your next couple of days look like?

Matthew Voorhis:

I work the next three days, and then I think I’m off for three, and then that strike starts up.

Bob Goldnetz:

Nice. Let’s try and just hop on a quick call on Friday or something. Nothing crazy, nothing big, I’ll just kind of see what I get back from them and kind of make a schedule and move forward and find out what to do.

Matthew Voorhis:

Sounds good. And make sure this audio sounds good since I’m using my phone.

Bob Goldnetz:

I’ll have to transcribe the entire thing and just go word for word. I will definitely talk to Ang and play pros and cons because I think a bachelor party sounds awesome. Just in terms of being outside with a bunch of dudes sounds fun.

Matthew Voorhis:

It will be real low key. All my boys are pretty health conscious, we’re not big partiers, we don’t do crazy shit, it’s going to be like chilling at this sweet ass lake house, eating some good food, and drinking a little bit, and playing some beer pong, and just hanging out. It’s going to be pretty low key stuff. Maybe get a boat one day and hang out on the water.

Bob Goldnetz:

I will definitely bring my water skis then.

Matthew Voorhis:

It’s going to be a pontoon boat, so I don’t know, can a pontoon boat pull skis?

Bob Goldnetz:

Bro, I grew up skiing on a pontoon boat.

Matthew Voorhis:

[Inaudible] where the motor is.

Bob Goldnetz:

You got to be willing to like — just because the motor is not that powerful, you’ve got to be willing to just chug water for five or six seconds while the boat is pulling you up. That’s why I had so much water weight coming into college, just years of water skiing.

Matthew Voorhis:

Just soaking into your cells.

Bob Goldnetz:

Yeah just soaking it up. I was overhydrated. Well, much love. I definitely appreciate you, and we’ll figure something out for the future, and let’s talk Friday.

Matthew Voorhis:

Alright. That sounds good to me.

Bob Goldnetz:

Alright, man. Talk to you soon.

Matthew Voorhis:

See ya later, bud.

Interested in learning more about travel nursing! Call us information at 800.866.0407 or view today’s job openings.

About the author

Jen Hunter

Jen Hunter has been a marketing writer for over 20 years. She enjoys telling the stories of healthcare providers and sharing new, relevant, and the most up-to-date information on the healthcare front. Jen lives in Salt Lake City, UT, with her husband, two kids, and their geriatric black Lab. She enjoys all things outdoors-y, but most of all she loves rock climbing in the Wasatch mountains.

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