The spirit of adventure is alive and well in Jill Cole, a traveling healthcare temporary worker. In just two years, the ICU nurse has crisscrossed the country several times, hopping from job to job as a short-term, contracted employee.
Cole is currently completing a 13-week assignment in Seattle, and previously worked in California, Connecticut, Arizona, Wisconsin and Oregon. She has also had two stints in her home state of Indiana. "This has been my big opportunity to see the US I had heard about but never experienced," Cole says. "Everywhere I've gone I've learned something new, both about healthcare and about the country."
Cole is one of thousands of healthcare "travelers" -- nurses, radiologic technologists, physicians, therapists and other professionals -- who are able to see the country while bringing in a paycheck. Travelers have been a fixture in the healthcare marketplace for years, but the need for them is cyclical and varies both geographically and by occupation. For example, the demand is currently high for experienced nurses with certain specialties, but low for physical and occupational therapists.
To become a traveler, Cole signed up with TravCorps, a staffing company for healthcare professionals. Cross Country TravCorps and other agencies (such as InteliStaf and American Mobile Healthcare) that place travelers usually locate and pay for housing. The agencies may also offer health insurance, retirement plans and other benefits.
"There aren't too many jobs where you can travel around to new places every few months and meet new people," says Jack Cooper, a radiologic and nuclear medicine technologist who signed up with TravCorps 18 months ago after holding down more traditional jobs for 30 years. Cooper is currently stationed in Lexington, Kentucky. "This has been a good assignment because I'm close to great hiking, kayaking and fishing," he says. There are on-the-job benefits to working as a traveler, too. Cooper says he enjoys working with new and different equipment and appreciates the fact that he's not dragged into hospital politics.
Travelers are generally well-received by hospital staff. "The only reason you're there is because they're short-staffed and need help," Cooper says. "Your presence relaxes everyone and can ease the tension level in the departments where you work." And in cases where staff is resistant, a traveler can earn respect by pulling his weight and going the extra mile to help coworkers, Cole explains. If all else fails, she falls back on a tried-and-true strategy for fitting in at new workplaces. "If I bring in a batch of homemade cookies or cinnamon rolls to share with the staff, I instantly go from being 'that travel nurse' to 'Jill, the cookie chick,'" she says. "It has worked every single place I've been."