Advice from a Travel Respiratory Therapist

Tips for new RT travelers & those still considering an assignment

When you’re thinking about taking a job as a travel respiratory therapist (RT), it’s always a good idea to check in with someone who has some experience in that arena. Especially if you’ve never taken a travel assignment before.

Consider listening to someone like Vanessa H., a respiratory therapist from Greensboro, North Carolina, who travels with AMN Healthcare. Vanessa has been an RT for about 30 years, and she’s been a traveling respiratory therapist since about 2007.

Advice for traveling respiratory therapists

Vanessa offers a few key pieces of advice for respiratory therapists who are embarking upon their first travel assignment, or are still learning the ropes:

  1. When you start your new job, listen more than you talk—especially at first. “I keep my ears open and listen, listen, listen, to what’s going on,” she said. “You get a sense of people’s vibe and how they are.”
  2. Have a good attitude so you can make the most of the opportunity. Showing a positive attitude can also make it easier for your new colleagues to feel comfortable with you, she noted. They’ll see that you’re there to help, which makes their lives easier--and you’ll benefit from that, too.
  3. Be ready to learn. You’re going into a new-to-you facility. You may or may not be familiar with the electronic charting system. They may do certain things differently than you usually do them. And you may only get two or three days of orientation. “You have to learn to grasp things a little bit quicker than everybody else.”
  4. It never hurts to bring a few comforts from home along with you. Vanessa likes to stay in an extended-stay hotel during most of her travel assignments, but experience has shown her that the kitchenette will only be stocked with the basics. So, she brings along her crockpot, her blender (for smoothies!), skillets, and a few other pieces of equipment so she can prepare the food that she likes to eat.
  5. Remember you’re there to care for patients. It can be a little overwhelming to walk into a busy new facility for the first time while you’re still trying to get the lay of the land, especially if you have to learn a new charting system. Vanessa’s advice: take care of your patients’ needs first. The paperwork, the charting, the electronic health record--that’s all important, but it can’t supersede the patient. “With the charting, you can always ask a coworker to help you with it,” she said.

RT travel logistics to consider

If you’re thinking about working as travel respiratory therapist, Vanessa suggests that you carefully consider the logistics of traveling, including your current living situation.

For example, consider your family situation. Some people travel alone, while others travel with spouses or friends. Some traveling RTs find assignments that let them work relatively close to home if they have young children, while others can choose jobs near their adult children who live in another part of the country.

She waited until her daughter graduated from high school to begin traveling full time, and it was definitely the right decision for her.  But she’s not alone. Her husband, who’s able to work remotely, typically travels with her now.

You’ll also need to choose between different housing options while you’re on assignment, such as whether to use the agency-arranged housing or take the housing stipend and make all the arrangements yourself. Plus you’ll need to figure out what to do about your current home while you’re on the road.

If you own your own home, can you ask someone to check on the house, or stay in it while you’re away? Or if you rent, should you give up your lease and put your belongings in storage while you travel? Plus, can you find someone to stay with during breaks between assignments? There are all questions you’ll need to answer.

Time to decide?

If you’re still thinking about whether you’re ready to dive into the traveler lifestyle, Vanessa suggests giving it a try. “At least one assignment,” she said. “You can try at least one assignment and see if it’s something you like.”

A typical assignment for a traveling respiratory therapist will last 13 weeks, so you can make a change at the end of that time, or perhaps extend your contract. It’s all up to you. And that’s the beauty of it.

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