When you think of medical professionals who take on travel assignments, nurses and physicians probably come to mind first. But did you know that surgical technologists can work as travelers too? Jordan Nemelka is an experienced surg tech who just started her first travel assignment. Find out how she got into the field, why traveling is helping her achieve her goals, and what advice she has for others interested in traveling as a surg tech.
From high school to traveling surgical technologist
As a senior in high school, Jordan attended an open house for a surgical technologist program at a nearby community college. She liked what she heard and enrolled. The remaining school year was busy. “I went to high school for half the day to do my required math classes, and the other half of the day I was basically a college student,” she says. “So that’s how I went through the surgical technology program.”
Since graduating from high school, Jordan has held two different full-time surg tech positions. First, for a plastic surgeon in a private practice, and second, at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the pediatrics and plastic reconstructive surgery divisions. Her job at the hospital helped her get through four years of college. It’s also where she met traveling physicians, nurses, and even surgical techs like herself.
“I only heard great things about it,” she says. “That’s when I started doing more research about what the lifestyle was like, what the pay was like, what the hours required were, and all that stuff.”
Today, Jordan’s in the middle of her first assignment at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington. “I love it up here in the Pacific Northwest,” she says. “Everyone’s been awesome. So far, it’s been a great experience.”
Good reasons for surg techs to travel
One of the big motivators for Jordan to start traveling was the additional pay. “I knew that if I had a chance to make double or triple what I was currently making, why not take it?” she says. The added income means she can save significantly more money than before.
Jordan’s career goal is to become a PA, and traveling will help her finish her PA program without incurring a mountain of debt to pay off. “If I continue to make the money that I’m currently making for another year or two, I could pay for more than half of PA school with cash. No one ever gets to do that,” she says.
She adds that the extra income has calmed a lot of nerves that many people have about pursing medical training, “where they have just hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.” As a traveling surg tech, she’s writing a different narrative for herself.
Why traveling as a surg tech might be easier than you think
Of course, moving to a new location can be stressful, but for Jordan the transition has actually been rather simple. She found a furnished apartment to rent without too much trouble. “It’s the bottom half of my landlord’s house that she completely redid a couple of years ago,” she says. “I’ve got a great view of the ocean, so I can’t complain.”
And getting to know people hasn’t been too difficult either. Perhaps that’s because most of the people at work are in the same situation she’s in — there are travel nurses, locums physicians, traveling surgical techs like herself, and more. “The majority of the staff at that hospital are travelers, at least at the OR,” she says. “And then I’m meeting people who work at other surrounding hospitals, like Seattle Children’s. Everyone has been so kind and helpful at showing me how they do things, and the doctors have all been great.”
In her free time, Jordan is preparing for the day she can start a PA program. “I’m actually retaking an online class,” she says, “as well as another prerequisite.” She’s also taking time to discover the area, which for her includes trying out new restaurants and finding new beaches to explore.
Advice from a traveling surg tech
One thing in particular Jordan likes about being a traveler is encountering new work situations. “You can’t really buy that kind of experience,” she says — experience that she believes is preparing her to become a more flexible and adaptable PA.
As it turns out, remembering to be flexible is probably her number one piece of advice to anyone thinking about becoming a traveling surg tech. “I think travelers who show up to assignments expecting things to be done the same way as other hospitals they’ve previously worked at ultimately set themselves up for failure,” she says.
It’s better to recognize from the start that everyone has their own approach, she adds. “Even though there’s only a couple of ways you can do a certain kind of surgery, doctors are different, the staff is different, the layout of a hospital is always different. You just need to be ready to be the new person again and be very teachable.”
To travel or not to travel: Just go for it!
Life as a traveler might not be right for everyone, but in Jordan’s experience, you don’t lose much by trying. “I’ve talked to a couple of people that are worried and they say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to leave my family for three months,’ which is totally valid. I understand that.”
“But if you’re wanting to make some good money quickly and still provide awesome patient care, meet tons of great people, and see how other healthcare teams do things, if that’s the kind of provider that you want to be, just go for it,” she says.
And of course, the decision doesn’t have to be a permanent one, though in Jordan’s case it just might be — until she becomes a PA, that is. “I haven’t heard a single person say that they seriously regret traveling,” she says. “Everyone I’ve talked to loves it.”