Getting to the heart of travel healthcare.

A podcast hosted by Sunny & Matt

Podcast Transcript


Melissa Nguyen, Clinical Nurse Manager, and sr. recruiter Richard Kousgaard talk about COVID-19, travel nursing, and how traveling healthcare professionals are responding in the face of this pandemic.

BONUS EPISODE: COVID-19 and Travel Healthcare

March 23, 2020


Voice Over: Welcome to Cardium from Aureus Medical, the podcast that gets to the heart of travel healthcare and asks, "What's your why?" With each episode, we explore the topics and issues that impact healthcare professionals in the fields of nursing and allied health. Now, here are your hosts, Sunny and Matt.

Matt: Welcome to a bonus episode of Cardium. If you're a subscriber, welcome back. Thank you for being a part of our Cardium family. If you're a new listener, thanks for stopping by. We hope you enjoy this bonus episode of our podcast. We would love you to subscribe so you can enjoy our future podcasts. Sunny is not with me today. She will not be joining me, but I am joined by a couple of guests.

Matt: We're talking about a subject and a topic that's pretty top-of-mind for most of America. I'm excited to talk about our guests just so we can get some information, really relevant and timely information about the corona or COVID-19 virus that is impacting our country, at least in a lot of hearts and minds of a lot of folks out there. Today our guests are Melissa Nguyen and Richard Kousgaard. Welcome to both of you guys.

Richard: Thank you.

Matt: I appreciate you being here. Melissa's been a registered nurse for 20 years. She holds a bachelor's degree in biology, a bachelor's degree in nursing, master's degree in public health and certification in infection control. She's worked as a transplant nurse, as an infection control nurse prior to her current position as the clinical nurse manager at Medical Solutions. Again, welcome Melissa.

Melissa: Thank you.

Matt: Richard Kousgaard has been a recruiter in the healthcare staffing industry for 14 years. As a senior account manager with Aureus Medical Group, he's established himself as one of the agency's most respected and beloved recruiters. His customer-centric approach, attention to finite details and passion for helping nurses navigate each step of their travel journeys have earned him respect amongst his colleagues and enduring relationships with the nurses he works with daily. Richard, thank you for joining us.

Richard: Thank you. It's an honor. I appreciate the invitation.

Matt: I really do appreciate you coming by and being able to talk on this timely topic in this special bonus of our podcast COVID-19. Currently the nation is pretty gripped with the news daily, almost hourly, whether it be on a local level, a state level or national level about what's going on. I'm excited to hear your perspective from both of you, what you're experiencing from the recruiter side of things and obviously, Melissa, with your expertise and the background that you have as a nurse, I think there's a lot of value that you will bring too. We'll get right to it I think if you guys are ready.

Matt: Melissa, what questions are you hearing from nurses that would be important to share with our audience? What would be helpful for them to know right now at this time?

Melissa: I think one of the biggest things that we're seeing now is the concern that guidelines are changing. There's a lot of reasons for guidelines changing throughout this process. The coronavirus, the COVID-19 is new. It's something that people are not immune to. It's a new virus. They are really still trying to figure it out. As far as protecting themselves and having masks and things like that, that's probably one of the biggest issues that the nurses are having right now because the initial guideline that we received on the frontline was that N95 masks or the filtered masks were the ones that we were supposed to be using when taking care of patients.

Melissa: Now as we got to learn a little bit more about it and the CDC has done more research with it, they've realized that this is really more of a droplet type of virus where it's going to be transmitted through droplets. That's kind of a big deal at this point because that changes what kind of mask we can use. Up until March 10th, we were told N95s, N95s, N95s. Now we're being told that surgical masks are appropriate because that's what's going to keep those droplets out. We've got nurses that are on assignment right now when things are changing so quickly that they're not being told that the guidelines have changed. Now they're feeling like they're not being protected because they're running out of these N95 masks. I think that's probably one of the biggest things we're hearing right now.

Matt: That's really interesting. If you think about a nurse and where they are at right now, they're on the front lines. There's probably not a lot of time to read updated CDC guidelines.

Melissa: No, not at all.

Matt: They are helping patients. A Lot of times and in probably many cases patients are scared. They're talking them through that situation. I think that's great information about the N95. Again, we hear so much information out there about how people should be wearing it, shouldn't be wearing it, "I can't find one." There's a lot of stress out there. I think that's great. I think that nurses with what they're doing, it's probably a very stressful time for them too. Reading about that is probably not their jam right now.

Matt: Richard, your relationship with your nurses, obviously you're close with many of them. You've worked with several over your 14 years in the business I should say. What's the feeling out there right now?

Richard: For the area that I'm particularly managing right now, it's a little bit different vibe. It's with West Virginia. It was the last state that just reported their first and second cases of confirmed coronavirus positivity. That whole thing is like, "Oh, wow. It really is going to come here too." That's kind of what's happening and what some of the responses have been. Having a clinical team to help guide you through this is so critical from a recruiter perspective. Having all of that information and trusting our corporate communications to bring that to us only ensures that we're delivering the right information to our nurses when they do raise up questions and they do raise up concerns.

Richard: Not just nurses. This is our sterile techs, our scrub techs, all of the allied side as well as involved. You've got respiratory therapists. It's impacting absolutely every nook and cranny that we have never seen and on a perspective. Right now from my heartbeat, it's all about who's on my desk and who's working for us as a company and making sure that they feel like they can trust us. If we don't know the answer right now as a recruiter to paint the picture of ever-changing information and make sure that as soon as we get that information, you're going to be notified and we're going to be there to make sure that you're informed first and foremost and you don't have to find it out secondhand. I think that right there is the huge piece. A lot more phone calls than just text messages right now.

Matt: Without a doubt.

Richard: That relationship piece is like, "Okay, a text is just not good enough. I need to hear your voice and your reassurance." I think we need to be there and be available for them.

Matt: Yeah, I think that's key. I think there was a nursing shortage anyway in this country. If there's ever a need for nurses, if you had to scale it, now more than ever. Again with COVID-19 hitting us, nurses are needed right now. Amongst other specialties, obviously the allied side, there's certain specialties there that are needed. Tell us a little bit about the role of a recruiter right now. I mean, what's your approach on what the nurses need as far as support? What our recruiters doing right now?

Richard: A lot of us are just on high alert basically. We want to be able to respond in a timely manner to the messages that are left, whether they're via text or email or whether it's a voicemail. Making sure that we are definitely staying in tune with our clinical teams. That way we feel informed, we feel confident. I can't give assurance if I'm not assured. That information is huge. The front lines of what we're feeling and sensing, I don't know that I have felt the full ripple effect compared to San Francisco for example or New York. In my situation and how we manage it's just definitely different because I'm more specifically honed in on a geographical area with my team that I'm a part of.

Richard: But with that being said, it's situational management right now. I don't want to say damage control. I think that's an exorbitant expression that does not have a place. I just think it's situation management. It's not just about the recruiting. Go with what's going on in your area and what you've got on your desk or your pipeline as far as managing those candidates, whether they're working for you or they're trying to start working for you. Make sure that you are feeling navigated and comfortable with the information that you're given so that you can actually speak assurance and let them hear and see and feel that trust on the other end of the phone because that's all they've got sometimes.

Matt: Yeah, without a doubt, without a doubt. I think that's the support that recruiters are lending, especially they would need to be that voice. When they pick up the phone, the nurses, they need the recruiter to answer. I think that's key. They need that lifeline on the other side for support for whatever it is. I hear what you're saying.

Matt: Melissa, I want to talk a little bit about what we're hearing about dedicated units within the hospital for COVID-19 for patients or those with potential exposure. Is it possible travel nurses may be staffing in areas where there has been exposure, there are patients that have contracted COVID-19? What are you hearing from on your side of things with specific units?

Melissa: This is kind of with anything that's in any kind of infectious diseases. If you're seeing a large cluster of those patients, you want them to be together in an area rather than smattered throughout the hospital where there could potentially be transmission from a healthy patient and a COVID-19 patient and going back and forth. That is something that it's common. It's something that we've done for other infectious diseases as well. This one's just a little scarier for people because they don't quite know a lot about it yet. Again, with the guidelines changing, it gets a little scary.

Melissa: With travelers, what they don't really see from the outside looking in is that they are the ones with the experience. With hospitals wanting and asking them to work on those dedicated units, it isn't because they're picking on them. It's actually because they know what they're doing.

Matt: Wow.

Melissa: You don't want a newer nurse that doesn't really know how to take their PPE off or put it on or know how to quickly do that in a safe manner. But our travelers they're very good at what they do. They're trained at what they do. They know what they're doing. They're really the best people that we can have there.

Melissa: When you change the mindset there and they take a step back and they see what they're doing, it really does make sense that way. You want to have people that know what they're doing, but you want to have the same people as well because you get to the point where you have to use certain protective equipment, but it can't go to everybody or we'll have a shortage of it. There's times that you do need those N95 masks for those aerosolizing procedures. You can't give them to everybody. There's just not enough of that. This is really just a way to make sure that it's effective and we're using the best people that we can.

Matt: Isn't it interesting that travel nurses, there's been a need for travel nurses for years. But now more than ever, travel nurses, the value there and getting all hands out here, we need folks out here. Their travel value out there to help out in this crisis has been upped. That's such an interesting perspective, especially from a nurse about the value of those travelers out there that have decided to make this their career.

Matt: I think a lot of times when you start talking about travelers, they're people. They've left behind families, possibly traveled thousands of miles. Richard, can you talk to us a little bit about how they're feeling emotionally? They're coming off the unit, they're talking to you as their recruiter. What's the general sense right now emotionally in how they're dealing with that, especially being away from their family and friends? They're out helping out and it's during a pandemic.

Richard: There again lies another piece that we get to contribute to. If we're all ruffled and unsure and unknowledgeable and come off like we don't care, I think that's going to only elevate and escalate an emotional situation in a sense of insecurity with our travelers that sometimes, depending on who their recruiter is, could be justified. It's only going to create more panic actually and more concern because they don't feel like they're taken care of. They don't feel like they're actually working for somebody that supports them. There again lies that emotional support and that emotional link and being real to the point that I don't do what you do, but my God, I can't imagine being and having that sense of compassion and loyalty to them, not just seeking their loyalty to you and your company, but your loyalty to them. That through this we're going to get together. We're going to get through this together.

Richard: I know you're from New York and you're working down here in Georgia. This is a tough situation right now, but hang with me. We're going to walk through this side by side. That we've got a team backing us up that understands the environment that you're in. My message to you is this and being able to assure them that we are following this as closely as possible and providing you with the best information as possible. We hear your concerns. Keep in mind that would you really be dealing with this any differently if you were back home other than being in a place where maybe, yeah, you've got your family. But maybe right now, and this is one conversation that's happened this week already with me. She goes, "I'm kind of glad I'm not home. I don't want to expose my family. Back home I know what kind of hell I would actually be thrown into."

Matt: I want to know Richard, is that the mindset of the nurse right now? From a recruiter position, I love the support, but you are close with your nurses. What are they telling you? I mean, what is their emotional state? Because my vision, this is what these folks have trained for. I mean, this is their time. I mean, the job is hard, absolutely. But this is what they went to school for. This is what they dedicated their life for. This is what they spent years preparing for. If they've ever been needed, it's now. What are your nurses telling you?

Richard: I've got both sides going. There are a couple of those that are Army war vets. This is the moment that they live for, "Take me to battle. I'm going to be a part of the team that brings this down." Then you've got the flip side where it is three young kids at home. It is two elderly parents that are still alive. If I am home, I'm not sure if it is wise is that I am home versus just being here and being on my mission.

Richard: In the military there's the TDY expression, temporary duty yonder. That's what happens when our servicemen and women gets shipped across the country or overseas and whatnot. There are both sides of this nursing and allied side right now that we're seeing where it's not about that. It's all about my family and/or it is about both. But I'm called to duty and so I've got to go serve.

Matt: Love it. I could not agree more. The conversations that I've heard that I've been part of, I think that this is it. This is the time right now.

Matt: Melissa, I want to jump back to you. I want to talk about patient care. There's a lot of nurses that have never faced anything like this before in their career. Let's say that there is a situation where they would just refuse to give care. What is the position of the healthcare community with a nurse who's genuinely scared? They might be scared for all the right reasons. They're scared for their family. They're scared for their friends, themselves. What is the position of the healthcare community for someone like that?

Melissa: It's actually a really good segue into what you just said because this is where we start to take a step back and say, we all go into nursing school because we want to help people. I have yet to find one nurse that didn't go into nursing school because they want to make a difference. It's when you're in a crisis like this that you really do see. Are you here for the right reasons?

Richard: Amen.

Melissa: Are you just scared? It's tough. It's very tough. What we like to do and would talk into our nurses that are in this situation that are, "I'm not going to take care of ... I don't want to catch it. I don't want to bring it home. I don't want to be a," what we call it vector. I mean, I've heard everything. I've heard it all. What we need to do is step back for just a hot minute and think about, "That's your mom. That's your dad. What would you do if all these nurses refused to take care of them? This is what we signed up for." Sometimes when I say that it, it makes a difference. Sometimes they just, they're out, they just don't care.

Melissa: The majority of them, they do care. We just need to give them a little bit of confidence I think that they know how to take care of this. They know what they need to do to protect themselves. They know what they're doing. But at this point, if you've got a patient assignment and then you decide you don't want to take care of them anymore, there are consequences to that. I mean, there are things like patient abandonment that comes in. There's a slippery slope that can happen with that. But at this point, I think we just need to educate our nurses. You know what you're doing. This is what we're here for. If it was my mom or my dad, I'd want somebody to take care of them just like I would take care of their mom or dad.

Richard: God, that's so excellent to hear. Let me tell you, us as recruiters just need to be reminded of that as well so that we know how to speak to that stuff. Thank you for sharing that.

Melissa: Yeah.

Matt: Yeah, that's huge. People are scared. They want to know that their folks, their family, friends, loved ones are in the best hands possible. Richard and I have said, we're not the experts. To steal Richard's words, that's not my calling. People that it is their calling, you got to trust them. You got to trust that they're going to do their job and this is their time. That's beautiful.

Matt: Richard, I know that you're in tune with a lot of recruiters out there, a lot of the folks that you work with. What's the spirit across the nursing community right now in this, especially during this time? Is it generally what you guys are hearing? I mean, our people are getting there? Are people rising up or what's the situation?

Richard: Honestly, there's both extremes to what we just talked about. I think there's a generational piece to a certain point that makes a very big difference. The tenured nurses that have a little more experience came out of old school-style nursing, OR nurses that learned to scrub first and then they became an OR nurse. I think our President's impression is he's approaching this as a time of war. Whether you agree with him or not, there is a certain mentality that it's kind of going on like that right now in nursing. It's just, you're the first responder and now it's your time to be called to duty. I think that piece of the oath gets forgotten.

Matt: Yeah. Without a doubt, I think you're seeing folks that have not seen that before, but I can tell you, Richard, I think the other side of that coin are the nurses that are stepping up, man.

Richard: Absolutely.

Matt: I think what we're seeing now is nurses that wouldn't consider it before that are, they're even considering travel now that they didn't even want to consider travel before because they know that they can go to a spot and they can help out and they're needed. I think that's the other side of that coin that is, it's forgotten because they're not publicizing that on social media. They're getting out there.

Richard: I had two phone calls today, Matt, or not today, this week I should say, that were nurses that used to travel, but kind of settled down. Now they're back in that phase of life where, "You know what? This has piqued my interest. I can do this." The conversation I had with this ICU nurse on Monday and again today was all about "I'm in a float pool. I got this. I've dealt with this particular situation in my hospital. I have worked in a containment unit." I mean, she wants to go to war. It's like that's the nurse I want right there.

Matt: I think we need more stories like that. Unfortunately, I think there's more stories out there like that and nurses need to be telling those stories. Recruiters need to be telling those stories because I think there's heroes in every darn hospital. You know why they're not telling the story? Because they're helping patients. That's the best part of this is they don't have time to be keyboard heroes because they're helping loved ones.

Matt: I know you guys are busy and again, I really appreciate your time today. Before I let you go, Melissa, I want to ask you one last question because I think it's important from a nurse's point of view and perspective of your 20 years. Is travel healthcare safe right now? What guidance would you give as in your role today, but also as a nurse for someone who's considering going back to traveling, as Richard has had spoke about, or that nurse that's been in the field for four or five, six years they want to consider traveling? They were considering it three weeks ago. What advice would you give to those out there?

Melissa: Gosh, I haven't been in bedside nursing for 10 years and I want to go. I'm like, "Sign me up."

Matt: There you go. There you go.

Melissa: I need a recorder. No, I'm just kidding. I'm thinking my boss would not like me very much if I did that. But in general, healthcare right now we're in the largest pandemic. I mean we have a pandemic of epic proportions right now. Is it safe? They're on the front lines. It depends on how safe you are going to make it. You need to educate yourself. You need to know exactly what you're doing when you go into that situation. You need to be confident in what you're doing. You also need to know what your boundaries are. You got to stay within your scope of practice. I mean, it's a scary time right now. There's a need for us, but we still need to be smart about the kind of care that we're providing to patients.

Melissa: Travel nursing at this point, a lot of people and a lot of nurses, a lot of new nurses, they look up to travel nurses right now. We need travel nurses right now because they're so knowledgeable. They've been to so many different places. They've got the knowledge that a lot of people don't have because they've stayed in one place for 20 years. Travel nursing is huge right now because they bring this wealth of knowledge. To not do that because you're scared. I just think you just need to educate yourself and really look inside and be like, "Is this something I can do?" I can tell you, I know so many nurses that could that are just scared of it. If they could just get past that and find a recruiter that they really gel with. That's huge. Yeah, I mean I think that at this point, if that's your calling, do it.

Matt: I love it.

Richard: Melissa, would it be fair to say that with our younger nurses this is a time for them to challenge some of that book knowledge that they haven't had a chance to put into motion compared to what they do on a day-to-day basis that just might be que sera, sera?

Melissa: Yeah, I think it is. I think they need to go into it for the right reasons. Like you said before, this is not about the money. This is not about, "Look at me. Look at all the good stuff that I've done." This is their time to step up. If they've got that in them and they really want to do it, and you can tell as a recruiter if somebody is in this for the right reasons.

Richard: Amen.

Melissa: Travel nurses, they're imperative right now in fighting this. I really, really believe that. Hospitals in New York and in California, they need people so badly because it's so bad there right now. Without travel nurses, where would we be? We'd be in a world of hurt more than we are right now.

Matt: That's a great perspective. I think it's a call out there. If you're in the audience and you're listening and you want to travel or you know somebody who wants to travel or who would be great at helping out right now, someone who loves somebody else, call a recruiter. Call someone like Richard. Get out there and help out.

Matt: I know you're both busy. I know you've got a lot to deal with. Richard, I know you're dealing with a lot of nurses that are looking for assignment during this pandemic. Melissa, I know you're dealing with a lot of folks that have questions so I won't keep you guys any longer. But before I let you go, we ask all of our folks that join us here on the podcast one really important question. I think today it's relevant, extremely relevant because it really does get to the core of who you are. Melissa, why are you doing or why do you do what you do right now?

Melissa: Oh, my gosh. Just like you said before, this is what I've been working for. I've got three degrees. I've got a master's degree in public health. I never thought I would use it by the way, ever. Would we ever think that there'd be a pandemic like this that has put everybody into quarantine, right? I am made for this right now. I mean, I've been waiting for this moment so that I can help other people. I think there's so many other people that should feel that way because they've got so much that they can teach other people that we just need to be confident and we need to teach people what we know and we'll all get through it.

Matt: Love it. Thank you. Richard, what is your why right now?

Richard: Well, it's a challenge to try to fathom what they're possibly dealing with on the front lines. When you think about your clients and what your hospitals and hospital systems are dealing with and going through, and then you think about the needs that they're asking for and the turnaround times that they're expecting, there's that level of customer service from a nursing perspective or the candidate's side, I should say. How can I help you? I can't even fathom doing what you do, but stepping up to the plate to be the best resource that you can be to be the best level of assurance. I can't fathom doing what the front lines are doing. It's not my niche. That's not my heartbeat at all. But this piece, this level of customer service, this bridge-building of trust and assurance with both the hospital and the client side and both the nurses and the techs that work for you is huge.

Richard: This is why I do this. At this level, this is a whole new experience as far as the pandemic and stuff that we're dealing with right now. I think, and we've seen this on social media as well, it's just made it very real to really understand the business that you're in. It is a very direct and indirect level of patient care. It's like there's a piece of me now that I'd love to go help. [But, nope. 00:29:05] But at the same time, being able to do the best that you can do to support the people that are working for you and the clients that you're trying to serve and understanding their needs and meeting their needs on both sides of the fence has been a challenge. It's a lot of situational management on both sides of the fence.

Matt: The reasons are there. I really do appreciate both of you coming in today, talking about it. Pandemic is very real and it's on the top of many people's minds. Hopefully this episode helps folks out that had questions about it from both the travel side and from an RN side. Again, I thank you both for your time today.

Matt: That's going to wrap up today's podcast folks. We would love to hear from you. Please drop us a review, let us know your thoughts on our topic of COVID-19 today or anything else you'd like to discuss. With that, farewell, everybody.

Voice Over: You've been listening to Cardium from Aureus Medical with your host, Sunny and Matt. We're the podcast that gets to the heart of travel healthcare. To subscribe, access show notes or to learn more visit, C-A-R-D-I-U-M, Or wherever you're listening, be sure to rate us, review and subscribe. Thanks for tuning in. Until next time.

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