“Travel nurses don’t get sick time, and if you don’t work you don’t get paid — you don’t get your housing or meal money either, so being in quarantine for two weeks if you get sick could bankrupt you… I have had people accuse me of spreading COVID if they see me in scrubs before work running into the grocery store to get dinner to take with me. I just try to remember the kind people and ignore the mean ones.”
*Name has been changed
Kolyn Clusterwood completed nursing school in Philadelphia and ended up immediately getting a job at a local hospital following graduation. After a couple years of nursing, she began to become involved in medical missions, and considering the industry of “travel nursing” as a full-time profession since she loves to travel.
During 2018-2019 she was traveling out of the country almost every other month either for a mission or for a vacation. “I really just enjoy going to non-touristy places, and learning about new cultures and the true experience of a destination.” She shared.
Kolyn has continued working as a travel nurse throughout the pandemic, and describes the challenges she’s been facing in this profession which include a lack of sick time/vacation time, a lack of benefits (such as health coverage, if she becomes infected with COVID) and the lack of human contact she has been facing in addition to not being able to see her family due to travel restrictions.
Read more about Kolyn’s story as a traveling nurse in the midst of the pandemic, in her COVID Chronicle, below:
Can you tell us a bit about how this pandemic has impacted you so far?
“I didn’t realize how much it has impacted me until I was on my current assignment. They have plenty of PPE here, and have masks just laying out to use to change your mask. Myself and the other travel nurses starting with me were shocked, we caught ourselves diving into the trash to save masks nicknaming ourselves trash pandas.
We are all coming from hospitals where we got one surgical mask at the start of your shift for the whole 12 hours. In the beginning of the pandemic we got one for a whole week, keeping it in a brown paper lunch bag with our name on it in the nurses break room. I never throw a mask away now unless it’s broken. I’m so aware of saving every supply, because who knows if the next place I go will give me supplies. It’s always something I ask now in interviews before I’ll accept a contract: ‘Will I be given proper protective equipment? What happens if I get sick?’
Travel nurses don’t get sick time, and if you don’t work you don’t get paid — you don’t get your housing or meal money either, so being in quarantine for two weeks if you get sick could bankrupt you…
Also, most travel nurse companies only offer you insurance while ‘on contract’ and it’s very expensive. A lot of nurses I know don’t even have health insurance, or you have to work 30 days before it starts. Currently, I’m on a four week assignment — so I have no insurance because the company only offers it after 30 days.”
What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis?
“I try to stay active, go to the beach or hiking — things I can do alone and remove myself of ‘COVID talk.’ It also helps to be places without a mask, or with people who just to feel a little normal.
I also went through the ‘Banana Bread’ phase, painted by numbers, puzzles, tie dying — everything! Having other travel nurses who are also away from their families and understanding what you’re going through was the thing that helped me stay sane. I have made friends for a lifetime.”
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced during the COVID crisis?
“The lack of PPE. You feel like you’re disposable here taking care of these really sick people. Oh — and all the stuff we were told you that we needed before this and don’t need it now… I would use maybe 50 masks a shift going in and out of patients’ rooms.
Now, we get one per shift. I didn’t see my family for six months. That was the hardest — being far away, and worried something would happen to me or my family and that I wouldn’t ever see them again.”
Is there anything you feel that you’ve learned about yourself or the world from this experience, that you’d like to share?
“I’m a hugger, and I didn’t realize how important human contact is. I took hugging and social interaction for granted seeing my family whenever I wanted. Also the amount of people who have thanked me during this time has been so heart warming.
I also have had people accuse me of spreading COVID if they see me in scrubs before work running into the grocery store to get dinner to take with me. I just try to remember the kind people and ignore the mean ones.”
Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any other especially important future plans you had laid out?
“In March, I originally had six weeks off between my contract ending and a new one beginning. My best friend was getting married in Morocco and I was flying there for the wedding then doing solo backpacking to Spain, Portugal, Bali, and the Philippines, meeting friends here and there along the way. My whole trip was canceled.
My friend also got stuck in Morocco for six weeks even though she’s a American citizen. She and her new husband had to each pay $1,500 to get on a flight out after trying to get a hold of the embassy for weeks, then she had to quarantine for two weeks when she got back. She also works at a hospital, and was unpaid the whole time, since she ran out of sick time.
Me and three other nurses also had a travel contract job canceled via text message ten days before we were suppose to start. They said the pediatric unit was not busy — so they no longer needed us. Two of my friends couldn’t find jobs for months.
I got lucky, and found an adult med surg job because I had adult experience, which they didn’t. It’s crazy to think that during a pandemic nurses are also unemployed, being laid off, or having contracts canceled.”
Has this experience in any way changed the way that you order your personal priorities in life?
“Absolutely. I will never take for granted every hug or moment spent with my family and friends. When I can finally travel abroad, I’m gonna soak in every bite of airplane food, every screaming baby, and long lines at immigration.”
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