When a Travel Nurse Needs a Doctor
By Aaron Moore, MSN, RN-BC, travel nurse expert
Believe it or not, you’re not invincible. You can get sick or injured. And when you’re moving every 13 weeks, it can be hard to establish a long-term relationship with your own primary care physician.
But travel nurses can’t take good health care for granted.
Sure, we are surrounded by health care professionals in our travel nursing jobs, but some nurses use this as an excuse to put off their own care.
When I started traveling I was a spry 22 year old; I had no medical problems and never saw a doctor unless he was writing orders or rounding on patients.
I knew the importance of health insurance, but had no desire to establish primary care (this was before the days of mandated coverage). Thoughts of getting sick, seeing a doctor, or taking prescription medications were the last things on my mind.
But, after a few years of traveling, I had endured my fair share of ER visits and I realized it was time to figure something out.
To make a long story short, I developed hypothyroidism at a young age. I had symptoms for over a year and just kept working, thinking I was tired from working nights or out of shape, etc. I needed a doctor. Luckily, I worked at a hospital and was able to get in for some tests at a critical time.
So what to do if you’re traveling and need health care? Below are a few tips I learned.
First, know your health coverage. When first contacting a recruiter, ask about their health insurance and other travel nurse benefits. Most companies will have a variety of health care plans and providers all over the U.S.
Make sure to get the provider name and some policy information before your travel assignment begins. That way you won’t be surprised with a huge “We are not covering it” bill from the ER when you bust up your knee attempting to ski for the first time.
If you are about to start traveling with an existing medical condition that requires med refills, lab tests, and periodic exams, talk to your current provider. Explain your situation to them. Hopefully they will be very flexible with how often they have to see you, and may even refer you to providers in your new destination. Then make those appointments early in your assignment so you don’t run out of time.
If your provider at home does require seeing you a few times a year, plan ahead so you can fly home between assignments, if possible. Some travel nurse agencies offer up to 30 days of health coverage between assignments, so this should give you plenty of time to do what you need to do, and even fit in a visit with family.
Prescriptions could be more difficult if you normally use a local pharmacy. You might want to choose a larger chain such as Walmart, CVS or Walgreens, which you can find in most major cities. Otherwise you can always check out online pharmacies. Or you could ask your provider for a written script of your meds, which could be filled in a travel emergency.
What about real emergencies? Check into your assignment hospital’s emergency room and see what you think – especially if it is in your network. Many hospitals give a little “friends and family” help to staff onsite, but it also helps to know someone there. Also, check your health insurer’s website or patient portal (prior to any injury or major illness), and find out which nearby hospital should be your first choice.
Health benefits are something we don’t often think about until we need them. But it’s very important to be proactive about your own health care—yes, even when you work in a health care institution.
Do you have a question about travel nursing?
Send your questions to Aaron. You can also find answers to travel nurse FAQs, or apply today to get started with one of TravelNursing.com’s staffing partners.