Hey blog readers!
In a week and a half I will have officially completed my first nursing contract in Bonnyville, Alberta! I have received a ton of questions about my contract and how it’s been going, etc. so I figured I would write a post about it to sum it all up! I can’t believe two months is almost over! It went by so quickly!
Let’s start with some motivation: The biggest advice I have for nurses and anyone really is… just do it. If there’s something you have been thinking of trying lately…Somewhere your heart is leaning you towards…or maybe you feel stuck where you are and need a change? JUST GO DO IT! It sounds like the words of a commercial but it’s actually so true. Get the courage you need, get over your fears and make the plunge. I was so stuck in my full time rotation, always feeling sick, always feeling down and depressed and I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. Now that I decided to start travel nursing I am a completely different person! My moods are way better, I’m making double the income I was making back home and I actually feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. I feel like I have the freedom that I have always wanted and I honestly have the best life now. I’ve had so many people talk to me about travel nursing and tell me that they’re jealous and they wish they could do what I’m doing. The answer I always have is… so freaking do it! You won’t regret it. And even if you do try it and don’t end up liking it, it’s better to fail at something than to regret not trying. This is not just for travel nursing, either…this applies for anything you’re going through. I can totally relate if you are going through the same thing. If you have any questions that I didn’t cover below or if you just want to chat about something, message me! 🙂
WHERE DO YOU LIVE WHILE YOU’RE ON CONTRACT?
So every contract is different, depending on the facility that you are working for. Some facilities will give you a housing allowance so that you can find your own housing then it’s up to you to find something within your budget. However, I am lucky that housing was provided for me while in Bonnyville! It was completely free, the only thing I had to pay for was my food. Sometimes you get housed in an apartment or an AirBNB or a hotel. I think I hit the jackpot here because I was housed in a huge 6 bedroom house. There was laundry on the main floor and satellite TV so I could watch hockey! I had my own huge room with my own sink and with a lock on the door…and orange shag carpet! (Are you jealous?) There were two showers for all of us to share, 3 bathrooms and one kitchen. At one point there was 6 girls and 1 guy living in the house which was a little rough when it came to fridge space. There definitely should be more than one fridge and more than just the small fridge-freezer for that many people. We did call multiple times and complain and they decided to order us a freezer so that ended up helping. I got creative and went out and bought myself a plug-in cooler at Canadian Tire and stored my food in there. This freed up fridge space for everyone else and me and Andrew will have the cooler for future road trips and camping! When it came to cleaning the house, everyone just pitches in and helps out where needed. It was my first time living with strangers and it turned out to be a great experience for me.
ARE YOU LONELY?
I thought as first that I would be lonely because when I first got here I had just finished driving 3500 km alone and travelling Banff and Jasper all by myself so I was already used to being alone. However when you are living in a huge house with at least 2 other people at a time, it’s hard to be lonely. Some girls liked to just stay in their room and would only come out to cook or go to work etc., but other girls (like me) would chill in the living room and kitchen and that’s how you made friends. I made really good friends with Phoenix, an ER nurse from Southern Ontario, and we really hit it off from day one! We started on the same day and she left a couple of weeks before me. It was really nice having a friend to hang out with on days off. We went to a Junior A hockey game, to see movies in Cold Lake, and shopping for groceries together. A couple of weeks later, Camille, Brea-Ann and Libbie showed up and a couple of them got the same gym membership as me so we had fun going to the gym and working out together! It was nice to have some motivation and accountability to get to the gym and work out. There honestly isn’t much else to do in Bonnyville, unfortunately. On Halloween, we had a fun girls night drinking wine and watching Halloween movies! We went out for dinner a few times, went to watch karaoke at the only bar in town several times and explored Cold Lake and Bonnyville together. Basically, I didn’t have time to be lonely! I also broke up my contract by going out of town on my days off a couple of times. At the end of October, my parents met me in Edmonton and we went to a hockey game and a concert, so that was nice to see familiar faces. A couple of weeks later I drove down to Banff for a few days and did some beautiful hikes which I will post in a separate blog post. You can read it here when I finish it! 🙂
DO YOU HAVE TO BE SINGLE TO BE A TRAVEL NURSE?
It would probably be easier (LOL) but no! I survived just fine leaving my boyfriend at home while I was away for work. It definitely wasn’t easy but Andrew and I both put a lot of effort into communicating and staying in touch while I was gone. We face timed a few times a week and talked on the phone pretty much every night, often more than once. Sometimes we would just sit there with our phones on speaker while we were cooking dinner or watching the hockey game and it was like we were beside each other. Being two hours behind him was a little weird though! Andrew has been working out of town quite a bit and long hours too so even if I was home we probably wouldn’t have seen each other very much! We definitely had a few rough days where we really missed each other and wanted to jump on a plane but seeing my pay checks every week made it worth the distance. He is flying to Edmonton to meet me on my last day here and we are driving back home together which is amazing! We also have a trip to the Dominican Republic booked for December 4th so we always had that as our goal for the end of my contract. I’m so excited to spend an entire week and a half with him and make up for all of the time we were apart! I can hear Andrew complaining about me hogging the blankets already. All in all, I do think we are stronger than before I left and I think we needed a little break to work on communication and independence. Andrew taught himself how to cook steak while I was gone!
If you’re single, some girls like to use dating apps when they are on contract to meet new people. I hear there are slim pickings here in Bonnyville but maybe in other towns you’ll have more luck!? I’m sure it is easier to be single in some ways while you are out travelling but I consider myself lucky that I have a strong foundation back at home holding down the fort and I do not take that lightly! Shout out to Andy ❤ .
DO YOU NEED A CAR?
I wasn’t going to bring my car but as soon as Andy bought his new truck, I decided right away that I was going to drive out here. The facility pays for all of your travel expenses to get to your location. They’ll book your flights for you or reimburse you for gas and hotels if you drive. I am SO happy that I ended up bringing my car. Not only was I able to do a solo trip through Banff and Jasper on the way here, but I had a ton of freedom. I can’t even imagine not being able to get in my car and drive to the grocery store or for a wine run whenever I wanted. The grocery store in Bonnyville was a bit expensive so once a week I would go to Cold Lake (half an hour away) to the Wal-Mart to get some better deals for the week! If you don’t have a car, it isn’t a big deal. Make friends with other people in your house that have cars and tag along with them when they go somewhere or just walk if you can. Maybe you’ll be lucky and have public transport where you are working. Bonnyville is too small for any transit system so I’m glad I had my own car. There is also the option to rent a car if you need to. My one roommate did this several times and had some extra freedom doing this. Depending on my next contract and where it is, I don’t know if I’ll bring my car with me or not…we’ll see!
HOW IS THE HOSPITAL IN ALBERTA DIFFERENT FROM THUNDER BAY?
So the hospital that I was placed in is a rural hospital which is much smaller than the Regional back home in Thunder Bay. I was expecting to be placed on a surgical floor like I am trained in TBay but the small surgical floor here also has Obstetrics and I am not trained in that (nor do I have ANY interest in catching babies from vaginas LOL). Instead I was placed on the second floor which was mostly medical, palliative, and long term care awaiting placement. I definitely miss surgical nursing and the fast paced environment because for the last two months I have been pretty bored. I didn’t really feel challenged on a daily basis besides encountering a couple of cardiac and pediatric patients along the way. I have discovered a few areas where I need to strengthen including cardiac. I signed up for an online cardiac course while I was here to help pass some of the time. It was hard though, because I’m so used to running around for my entire shift answering call bells, discharging people, receiving a post-op patient, doing dressing changes, charting about it all, and getting into all the acute surgical stuff we all love (well, most nurses I would assume). Instead, I gained experience being a charge nurse and I also learned how a rural hospital compares to a regional one. We did not have a MET team from the ICU to consult…if we had anyone too sick, they got flown to Edmonton. If there was a code, the EMS usually stay to help with it. We didn’t even have our own CT scan in the hospital! You definitely learn to appreciate resources like that when you don’t have them at your beckon call. We had Meditech (the same computer charting system we use in TBay) but it was ONLY used for entering orders and diets. All charting was paper charting which was also a learning curve for me at first. Trust me, after charting on four straight people, my hand was so sore from writing that I was missing my keyboard back home! Another thing that was different was that on night shifts we did team nursing…a super cool concept that I am going to miss. The entire patient load (max 19 patients) is shared by the 3 nurses working. We have a sheet that is organized by time and every hour we all chip in and pass out the meds or do vitals or brief changes and the work is all equally shared. In the morning we all share the charting and give bedside report on which ever hallway we pick. It’s so much less stressful and I am not late from trying to chart on my eight patients that are only mine. It was so interesting to experience another facility…I do feel that I was in a bubble from the Regional and now I know what to appreciate about working back home!
WHAT’S THE WAGE LIKE?
So I have actually been asked this so many times. I don’t want to share the exact amount that I have been making because it’s really no one’s business. I will say though, I have been making double here than what I make back home. I get paid weekly which is LOVELY. I paid my car off and booked some trips which are paid for already and made a big dent in some other things! On the agency social media pages they promote jobs for anywhere from $50 to $55 an hour. In Alberta, overtime is time and a half and anything over 44 hours a week is Double Time…plus our travel expenses and housing are paid for. Yeah!! It’s worth it.
DO YOU PAY INTO A PENSION OR GET BENEFITS?
We do not get any benefits as travel nurses. We do get a per diem, like a living allowance, paid out each check for every day we are on contract. We also get a percentage paid out in lieu of vacation days. We do not pay into a pension, so it is up to you to arrange that or pay into an RRSP or tax free savings account. If you are sick, you don’t get paid for not working. If you end up breaking your leg or something crazy, you are kind of screwed in that way so you need to make sure you have an emergency plan and all that adult stuff!
DO YOU GET ANY SAY IN WHERE YOUR CONTRACTS ARE?
Yes you do have a say in where your contracts are. Ultimately, it is up to me if I sign a contract for a certain location. I can tell my recruiter which provinces I’m interested in and what dates I’m available for. Then she works really hard for me and finds a facility that fits my criteria and dates available. I am not as particular as other travel nurses…I’m more of a “leave it up to the universe to decide where I’m going” kind of person. I feel like if I’m meant to go somewhere, it’ll happen. I am not picky on which provinces I will go to. Obviously it helps to be placed in the provinces you are licensed in because it’s a long and sometimes expensive process to go through. But I am all about the experiences and I am hoping to go to the east and/or west coast to see more of Canada while I’m making good money in the process!
WHAT DO YOU GET FOR ORIENTATION?
This is a good question because it’s not something I really considered before jumping into this travel nurse adventure. Let me be blunt. I got one 12 hour day and one 12 hour night to orientate and that was it. My third shift I was on my own and my fourth shift I was in charge. Facilities expect their contract nurses to know their $#!t and be able to jump right in and fill in the gaps of their schedule. It’s a lot of pressure but you just have to be chill and ask a TON of questions while you are working with experienced nurses. Everyone here in Bonnyville was super helpful and I do feel that I had a good orientation to the unit. I’m not sure what other hospitals offer but I’m pretty sure it’s similar to this situation from what I’ve heard. The only thing I didn’t enjoy very much was being charge so soon. Obviously they were confident enough in my skills to put me in this position, but I did feel a bit uneasy having to be in charge of the unit and approve overtime and such. It WAS a great learning experience and I will be that much more ready for my next assignment!
DO THE NURSES TREAT YOU DIFFERENTLY BEING A TRAVEL NURSE?
This is a frequent question I have seen come up and the answer is a mix of yes and no. Ok…where do I start? So ultimately the reason we travel nurses are in a facility is to save the permanent staff from burn out and excessive overtime. We are filling the gaps in the schedule that they have from lack of staff or vacation/holiday time. Because of this I feel that most nurses are genuinely appreciative of us being here to help. If it wasn’t for us, they would be really short staffed and that is no fun. On the other hand, there is a core group here and of course you are going to run into cliques wherever you work, especially in a female dominated environment. But the girls here were super nice and welcoming and I felt right at home from the beginning! I highly recommend doing a contract here if you have the chance. The only thing I would have to complain about is the lack of overtime I was able to work while here. I understand we are expensive for the hospital to hire but I do want to make bank while I’m on assignment. Permanent staff will get asked to pick up extra shifts and we are the LAST option for the unit to use for OT. It makes sense from a budget point of view but obviously I’m a little jaded because I just want to make money while I’m here!! I hear of some hospitals treating their contract nurses terribly and making them have the $#!tty patient loads and floating but I don’t find that being the case here. So to sum up this question I would say that fellow nurses did not treat me differently but I do think management does. If anyone acts like you know less because you’re “new”, I would remind them that you are confident in your skills but not the facility and ask as many questions as you can.
HOW IS BONNYVILLE?
Bonnyville is okay. It’s not a very exciting town but it is what you make of it. The thing I miss the most is the option of local restaurants and cafés over franchises, though we did find a couple of cute local places after hunting for them. I wanted to find a good breakfast place here in town to go get my favourite (eggs Benedict)…and #1 on TripAdvisor is A&W. That represents Bonnyville in a nutshell! It’s really pretty right on the lake and I enjoyed walking the trails before the snow came. The gym here is huge and hockey is a big deal in this town for most people. The world junior A championship is here in December so there are a ton of new hotels and restaurants. Another thing that is hilarious about this place is the excessive amount of liquor stores!! For a town of 6000 people I think there are 8 separate liquor stores. It’s safe to say that alcohol withdrawal is a common diagnosis here on the units, although I have no idea how they are withdrawing with all the booze available on every corner LOL! Cold Lake is only 25 minutes away and there is a lot more there for shopping and eating, plus the movie theatre is there. Edmonton is also only 2.5 hours away and there are so many things to do there!
WHERE DO I SIGN UP? WHAT’S THE APPLICATION PROCESS?
If you think travel nursing is for you, contact the agency and they will set you up! Tell them I referred you and I’ll get a referral bonus! 🙂 Basically they send you a checklist to fill out of all of your skills and you send them a resume and qualifications. Then they place you accordingly based on where you are interested in working. It’s seriously so easy.
I hope this gave you a good little glimpse on my time here in Bonnyville! I love Alberta and one day I would seriously consider moving to this province. Nurses make such good money here and get great shift differential premiums compared to Ontario. Plus they get bonuses twice a year and some reimbursement for their licensing! I am into that!
If you have ANY other questions or comments reply to this post, or go to my Instagram @thetalesof.hales and DM me! 🙂
Thanks for reading!!