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The Life of a Traveling WOCN by Mary Harris RN, BSN, CWOCN

Is there a market for a Travel Certified Wound & Ostomy Nurse? Yes!

I have always wanted to be a traveling nurse, dating back to my college graduation in 1983. I knew I needed a few years of experience first. Back then, I feared traveling by myself and didn’t have any colleagues interested in travel nursing either. I had no sense of direction, which was part of it, and this was long before the internet! I left that dream in the past and stayed in Buffalo, NY like the rest of my family and friends, until I met a guy in the army, whom I married. We moved around a lot, so this was travel nursing, right?

Fast forward to my husband’s retirement from the army in 2009. We are now permanent residents of Bangor, ME; we stayed put! Many people I’m sure think we now have a stable family life, but life needed some excitement. We hosted exchange students for 6 years, then our 2 kids went off to college and we were empty nesters. My husband and I took advantage of having free evenings and weekends. My husband then asked about that dream I had to be a travel nurse. He remembered from over 25 years ago. I told him I liked my job, the people I worked with, my home, garden, friends, and was “content and comfortable”. He asked me if, at the end of my life, would I regret not being a travel nurse, even for a short time? After some time to think on it, I said yes, I would regret it.

How easy was it to get started and tell my colleagues at work and my friends in Bangor that I was going to become a travel nurse? It wasn’t. Although everyone was supportive, I was scared and worried. My husband was still working, too young to retire from his second career. Could I do this on my own?

With the help of the internet, I was able to explore this possibility, from agencies to housing. I found a website that listed all the agencies available for travel nursing. Next, I had to break down who could find a job for a CWON. Well, you don’t put in the query: “CWON, WOCN, wound & ostomy”, but “wound”. That eliminated many agencies. I then explored those agencies’ websites to see how long they’ve been around and what other nurses said about them. I also found a Facebook page for travel nurses called “the gypsy nurse”. I discovered that recruiters from the agencies that had “wound” as a specialty didn’t really know what I did. I took the time to educate them about my specialty and sent them to the WOCN website for more information. I won’t bore you with any more details, but fast forward to…I’m so glad I did this!

My first assignment was is San Antonio, TX at Methodist Hospital. The interview wasn’t really an interview like we’ve all experienced, but more of, “WOW! This is great! You have so much experience! When can you start?” The hospital is a 1600+ bed hospital, level 2 trauma center, with 4 WON/CWOCNs. I was hired for 13 weeks to help when one nurse had surgery and would be out of work for 8-10 weeks, and another left the team. That team went from 4 CWOCNs to 2 overnight!

Methodist has 3 towers and a Children’s Hospital that the WOCNs cover, with many levels & varieties of ICU. We did all the woundVACs/NPWT on M-W-F. That was new to me, as I was used to doing them weekly and the floor/staff RNs changing them 2x/week. We worked Monday – Friday, no weekends, no call, no holidays (unless there were VACs to change). As most of you know, San Antonio is the home of KCI. There were 2 reps assigned to this hospital, and one was almost always in the OR.

Now the fun stuff about San Antonio (SA): The drive from Bangor to SA was wonderful, going from cold weather to 70 degrees in October! Through the Smoky Mountains to Waco, TX and stopping at Magnolia Table. Yes, I’m a fan of “Fixer Upper” with Chip & Joanna Gaines. I was enjoying authentic Tex-Mex foods: so many restaurants, so little time! I became an honorary member of the SA chapter of the WOCN and went to dinner in-services about every 2-3 weeks. I went to so many steakhouses! Yummy! I visited the Alamo and soaked in the history, the SA River Walk, outdoor shopping centers, King William Cultural Arts historic district within SA, Ft. Sam Houston Army Post, a Lebanese Festival, Fredericksburg, TX and Enchanted Rock State Park, saw a Roadrunner for the first time (yes, they’re real), visited the Institute of Texas Cultures, and was there for Veterans Day Parade, Texas style! I also visited the Buckhorn saloon & museum, Christmas craft shows, Japanese Tea Garden, Lukenback, TX (that’s real too, not just a song), LBJ State Park & Ranch, the State Capitol, bought my first pair of cowboy boots, and enjoyed Thanksgiving at a colleague’s home! I saw Phantom of the Opera at the historic Majestic Theatre downtown with all my work buddies, went on a Segway for the first time and toured downtown on it! I also got lost bike riding on trails behind the home that I lived in and had to learn how to use Uber!

After going home to Bangor for Christmas, I was off to Tucson, AZ for another 13-week assignment. This one was at Northwest Medical Center, and I didn’t even interview. I didn’t like that, because I had questions! But it all worked out in the end. The hospital I worked in was 450 beds, adults and acute rehab only. There were hospitals on the campus that included Mother/Baby, SNF, and rehab, but we didn’t cover them. I was filling a full-time position that hadn’t been filled yet. There were 2 part time CWONs, but one left to go back to the ICU. My assignment was for January through March, which is “snowbird season”. I met so many people from up North, along with many who came here and stayed. It is hard to find a true “Tucsonan”, but I did meet them! When it didn’t look like a full-time CWON was going to be found, I signed on for another 13 weeks. I was told that by Easter, it would slow/quiet down because the snowbirds would be gone. Well, anyone in healthcare knows you NEVER use the “s” or “q” word. It has yet to slow down. The team’s day is: 10-20+ new consults, 5-9 VACs, and 40-60 inpatient wound pts. We are non-stop busy. And, just like at Methodist, we change all the VACs 3x/week, and had no weekends, no call, no holidays (unless a VAC is due to be changed). My adventures are numerous in the Tucson area. I found another traveler who worked in outpatient chemo, and we were off and “running” every Saturday! Here’s a list: 4 th Ave historic shopping district, Old Tucson where many John Wayne movies were filmed, Little House on the Prairie, and Fr. Murphy, to name a few (to you Millennials, Google it ). Historic Hotel Congress for Dillinger Days reenactment the weekend of January 19. Mt Lemmon. San Xavier Mission. The annual Tucson Rodeo. Every year the first 2 weeks of February there is an Annual Rock, Mineral & Gem Show, and it’s very busy time here! A City of Tucson food tour, and micro-brewery tour. Sonora Desert Museum: an outdoor museum! Arizona Wine Tour. Zoo. Botanical Gardens. I became an honorary member of the Tucson WOCN and went to their spring conference.

I am hoping to continue traveling until retirement. I love the work of a wound & ostomy nurse, and I love to travel. As my husband has said to me: “work interferes with your vacation”. What a concept! Now, my hubby is retiring, and my girls are soon to be college graduates. Stay tuned to see where this travel nursing CWON goes next!

If you are interested in details on becoming a travel WOCN, feel free to email me with questions:

A few pictures from the desert in bloom:

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