Traveling to Expand Your Specialty Scope


By Melissa Wirkus, associate editor

Travel nursing is a great way to learn new skills and techniques while expanding clinical knowledge and expertise. In today’s economy, it is more important than ever that travel nurses are ready and willing to take on new skill sets and expand their current scope of expertise and practice.

For many experienced RNs, travel nursing provides the opportunity to work in multiple specialties at once or move from a general specialty to a position that requires a broad skill set—such as home health.

Branching Out

Sherry Keller, RN, used a solid foundation of clinical hospital experience to branch out to a career as a home health nurse. Keller, who is currently on assignment in Walnut Creek, California, with leading travel staffing company, American Mobile Healthcare, has embraced her career path as a home health nurse.

“I like home health, it’s a lot more flexible and the patients are a lot more relaxed,” Keller explained. “They are in their home setting so the patients open up to you a little more.”

A nurse for seven years, Keller worked in the operating room, cardiology and medical/surgical units and in hospice before transitioning to home health. She said her hospital experience helps her out immensely as a home health nurse.

“A lot of the patients I care for come from surgery. I worked in the OR, so I know what the patients just went through,” she said. “When patients come home I can explain to them what happened in the OR because I have the experience. My experience gives me a lot more insight into patients to provide the best care.”

Home health is a great career option for many nurses, because of the flexible schedule and the wide range of skill sets that this specialty requires, explained Jessica Densley, a senior recruiter for American Mobile Healthcare.

“As long as the nurse has some home health experience, we're open to traveling them on a home health assignment,” Densley said. “Over the last several months, I've asked almost every traveler I work with if they've done any home health. It's a little surprising at first, but I'd say at least 50 percent of nurses I ask tell me they have worked home health at some point.”

Densley also noted that travel nurses can pick up extra shifts in home health in between their full-time job as a way to supplement their income. “Many nurses have a full-time job in one specialty, but enjoy picking up extra shifts in home health. They can continue to expand their skills while working in a one-on-one environment with the patient they're visiting, and it's a nice way to make extra money.”

Working as a home health nurse requires attention to detail and superb clinical knowledge, as these nurses are the eyes and ears of the doctor who is not always with the patient.

“I enjoy the flexibility and the rapport I build with the patients. But you have to be on your toes,” Keller said. “You don’t have another doctor or nurse you can call in, you have to use your best judgment.”

Exploring Opportunities

Many nurses can take an assignment in a different specialty or unit then they are used to if they have the adequate experience.

“Travelers today must be nimble and open to all opportunities and possibilities,” Densley explained. “In every conversation I have with my travelers these days, I encourage them to be open to a different area of practice, such as a progressive care nurse working telemetry, or an ICU nurse working PACU, or even cath lab in some cases. Many times, my nurses tell me that they've floated to these units while working in a permanent position, so it's typically a smooth transition. My travelers appreciate that I'm thinking outside of the box for them, and know I'm looking out for their best interests and making sure we don't miss out on any opportunities.”

Katherine Goepel, RN, has been on assignment with Densley since 2005, and has had the opportunity to expand her specialty scope through travel nursing. Goepel started out her travel nurse career working on a general pediatric unit, then moved to a pediatric oncology unit and is currently on assignment in Philadelphia working on an emergency room holding unit.

“She's a prime example of what a nurse can accomplish while traveling,” Densley said. She's been able to broaden her scope of practice and add some very valuable experience to her résumé at the same time.”

Whether you want to gain experience in a particular specialty or expand your current set of skills and knowledge, travel nursing is a smart way to grow as a nurse. Being open to new assignments, facilities, units and locations will guarantee a successful career as a travel nurse.

“Nursing is nursing wherever you work, but when working in a new environment, travelers are able to see how another unit is run, learn different protocols and experience floating to other areas within the same specialty,” Densley added. “This can greatly enhance their overall clinical experience.”

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