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Do You Work with a Healthcare Traveler?
By Sara Freiberg

Operating room nurses, surgical technologists, sterile processing technicians, and physician assistants are just a few professionals who work as healthcare travelers. In the medical world, a healthcare traveler refers to anyone who temporarily fulfills the duties of another person for a defined period of time. Historically, hospitals incorporate healthcare travelers to fill short-term staffing shortages, provide coverage for those on maternity leave, fill unexpected turnovers, or bring in additional support during a busy season. 

The pros to healthcare travel include the ability to visit various areas of the country, whether it is a desire to work for a facility on the Florida coast, hike the snow-capped mountains of Colorado, explore the natural wonders of California, or view the fall colors of New England. Healthcare travel provides an opportunity for workers to see different areas of the country and experience different cultures, all while performing their job and enhancing their résumé. Pay is one of the top reasons many healthcare professionals begin travel, and each agency will have its own perks and various benefits: paying great wages, offering free housing, and completion bonuses following each contract in good standing.

Travelers fill a department gap
Every profession brings along various pros and cons, and the traveler is no exception. With each new assignment, there is an adjustment period for both the traveler and the department. The traveler must acclimate to each new state and her surroundings: new housing, road navigations, and more importantly, an adjustment to each new hospital, department, and staff members.

My first travel assignment was when I was in my early twenties and working full time at a 10-OR hospital in my hometown. I enjoyed my job and eventually became part of the neuro team. I liked the surgeons and my coworkers, but I wanted to see the country. I was reading a lot about the opportunity of traveling and figured if I wanted to gain additional surgical experience and see different areas of the country, I should do so prior to starting a family. I continued to increase my skills and after close to two years at the facility, I said goodbye to those I had respected and admired and who helped guide me to become more knowledgeable in the surgical arena.  

I contacted a nursing agency and through a few lengthy conversations, my first choice assignment was set to take place at a level one, 24-OR facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan. With a little sadness, I submitted my two weeks’ notice and the facility I dearly loved sent me off with great references and I began my first travel journey across the nation.

Changing jobs and moving are quite stressful on their own, and to do both at the same time may prove difficult for some, especially those who are creatures of habit and may not particularly thrive under constant change. After all, traveling for a vacation is entirely different than traveling for a work assignment. The uncertainty of that first travel assignment is definitely present in the traveler’s mind.

I packed my things and after almost 18 hours of driving, I settled into my temporary housing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. All weekend I was nervous to begin my first travel assignment in a new facility. I recall that Monday morning so vividly. I arrived at the facility at 7:00 a.m. and took the elevator up to the OR department.

I introduced myself to the charge nurse sitting at her desk. She replied, “Welcome, can you scrub in on a crani?” I smiled and said, “Yes.” She said, “Great, the crani is with Dr. X in Room 18 at 8:00 a.m.” As she turned to speak to one of her co-workers, I walked away asking myself if that was my orientation? This prompted me to wander around searching for OR 18, introduce myself to staff, and ask for their assistance regarding where I could review the surgeon’s preference card and gather supplies prior to the case. As nervous as I was, I was hopeful. 

Once in the OR, I introduced myself to the circulator who appeared a bit surprised that I was scrubbing in on the case since it was the first time meeting me. I proceeded to follow her lead in opening sterile supplies, scrubbing in well in advance, and completing the necessary count to preparation for the procedure.

When the surgeon and residents arrived, I introduced myself. The surgeon replied, “Hello, I haven’t seen you before. When did you start?” I responded, “Today is my first day.” I remained quiet while assisting on the procedure. I knew all eyes were on me, the new person, the outlier, the temp. I observed the atmosphere, workflow, staff members, and more importantly the surgeon and his routine. I watched the sterile field, ensuring counts were performed and correct, and the instruments and supplies were prepared in advance to assist the surgeon. Throughout the procedure I took meticulous notes and deep breaths, hoping everything would run smoothly.

Following the procedure, the surgeon walked over to me and said, “For someone who just walked into the facility this morning, you did a great job on my case and I hope you stay for a while. Welcome to our hospital.” I breathed a sigh of relief and replied, “Thank you very much. I am happy to be here.” He also graciously shared his feedback to the OR manager, who in turn shared the feedback with the travel nursing agency. Those words meant the world to me and it taught me a lot about the surgeon’s and hospital’s perspective with travelers. While it would have been nice if the facility provided an orientation that day, we should never expect the hospital to do this. The traveler must gain the surgeon’s and the staff’s trust and prove she can merge with the territory and work alongside an existing team.

Becoming acclimated to a new position, facility, surgeons, and co-workers can be somewhat intimidating at first but after a few assignments it becomes an easier transition. Travelers often report high marks to facilities that show friendliness, provide orientation, value patient safety, and display an atmosphere of teamwork. Although the traveler is considered short term, she would greatly benefit and appreciate the support of the facility to help orient and get her up to full speed quickly.

How can facilities partner with healthcare travelers?
Welcome them! It only takes a moment to say hello and introduce yourself. A simple gesture and a cheerful disposition from a permanent staff member can play a significant role in the travelers’ experience and lets them know they are welcome.

Other things to consider:

  • Conduct a short tour of the hospital and department. A map of the hospital is valuable and ensures the traveler knows her way around.

  • Will the traveler need a badge or an access code to enter the department or areas such as supply rooms or locker rooms? Setting this up prior to her arrival is beneficial and allows an effective transition for everyone involved.

  • Could the traveler work a half day of orientation alongside a preceptor? This allows her to become acclimated and foster a mentoring relationship with a permanent employee.

  • Provide the traveler with a guide pertaining to the department. This can include a list of important contacts, on-call information, names of surgeons and their specialties, where items are located, loaner tray protocols, etc.

  • Consider helping a traveler with any tips regarding your home state and facility. Maybe there is a quicker route to work each morning, a great place to eat, or some helpful tips you would like to share regarding your department processes. Being a resource is greatly appreciated.

  • Communication is key as travelers are not usually included in the facility or department email; therefore, communicating any changes to policies or sharing new updates is important information for their success.

When I look back on those five years as a healthcare traveler, they were some of the best years of my career. I gained valuable experiences and had the opportunity to work alongside amazing people who remain lifelong friends. The next time you see a healthcare traveler in your department, remember she wants to be part of your team and values your guidance and support. After all, we all work as a team toward positive patient outcomes, whether we are temporary staff or permanent.







Sara Freiberg, CST, CBSPDT, CER, has more than 15 years experience working as a certified surgical technologist, with five of those years spent traveling to various operating rooms across the U.S. Following Sara’s time in the clinical arena, she worked as a surgical technology didactic and lab instructor at Rasmussen College. Sara holds bachelor degrees in science and business and marketing, which led to her work with various medical device companies as a clinical specialist, product manager, and clinical training manager. She has experience working on quality and regulatory teams, monitoring patient-adverse events, and postmarket surveillance activities.

Sara currently works for Northfield Medical as a clinical education manager where she provides education which is based on current manufacturer and regulatory guidelines regarding various healthcare topics for SPD, OR, and GI staff. Training entails the care and handling of medical devices to ensure patient safety, as well as targeted education addressing departmental cost concerns. Her passion is working with SPD, OR, and GI departments; providing assessments; and sharing best practices with respect to patient and staff safety, surgical instruments, and medical devices. Sara is a voting member of the AAMI ST/WG84, ST91 flexible endoscope committee, and she has developed several CEU presentations approved through CBSPD, CBRN, NCCT, and IAHCSMM. Sara also authors a biweekly healthcare article for Ultra Clean Systems.

Sara is currently studying for the Certification Infection Control (CIC) exam through APIC.

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