Getting to the heart of travel healthcare.

A podcast hosted by Sunny & Matt

Podcast Transcript


Long time RN Heather Suchocki joins Cardium podcast to talk about her career as a travel nurse and her love for taking assignments in small and rural communities.

A Travel Nurse’s Love for Rural Healthcare

April 15, 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 another episode of Cardium. If you are a subscriber, welcome back. Welcome back family, thank you for being part of the Cardium family. If you're a new listener, thanks for stopping by. We really hope you enjoy this podcast and our other podcasts and we'd love for you to subscribe so you can enjoy our future podcasts. With me, always, Sunny.

Sunny: Hello.

Matt: How are you today?

Sunny: I am great, thank you.

Matt: Good. It's a good day.

Sunny: Yeah, it is a great day.

Matt: Our topic today is really an interesting one. We've spoke with our guest today a couple of times about our topic and to me, it's almost not relatable. We're going to talk a little bit about practicing in a rural setting as a traveler.

Sunny: Yes. Not relatable maybe to you, a city boy.

Matt: To me it's not. I grew up in the city. I've never lived, I've never worked in a smaller town, I drove through them. But as far as experiencing a work setting where pretty much everybody knows your name, in the city, it's just not my thing. So I'm really excited to see and hear what our guest has to say. But you do have experience.

Sunny: Yeah, I do. I was a military brat. So, growing up in different situations where some are bigger, but then some are very rural where if you got in trouble, usually your parents knew before you got home. And so you're like, "Oh man," or a community that came together to help you when you were sick. People delivered a hot dish or everyone knew what was going on or they reported it in the area.

Sunny: Or I remember dialing up on the phone and you're like, "Hey, operator." And the operator knew you and you're like, "Can you get me to so and so?" Not those type of things. So it's just a little different environment. And so even as a military brat, sometimes you just lived in town and it's small. So it is a different situation. But that also impacted the type of care you received too. So I think this will be interesting for our listeners out there who may have worked in rural settings and can relate or who are considering taking travel assignments in rural settings.

Matt: And I think that's really an important thing to highlight too, is that there is a lot of good things that come out of practicing and having experience on a contract assignment in a rural setting. I mean there are so many benefits to it. Likewise in a larger city, there's great things there too. But rural settings have their own unique qualities-

Sunny: Yes, and gems.

Matt: ... and good things to know. And our guest is pretty much the resident expert on rural setting practice. So this will be fun.

Sunny: With no further ado, I'm going to say hi to our guest. Her name is Heather Suchocki. Hello Heather.

Heather: Good morning guys.

Sunny: Good morning.

Matt: Good morning.

Sunny: Well, Heather Suchocki began her nursing career in 2000 as an RN at a local facility in rural Wisconsin just a few years later, wanting to expand her knowledge and experience. She worked on contract and various large and small hospitals located in her immediate area. She took her first travel contract in 2008 and from there focused primarily on assignments in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa.

Sunny: Two years ago, she and her husband purchased a travel trailer so they could travel the country with her young son. While she varies her contracts between large level one teaching hospitals and small community hospitals, she holds a special affinity for facilities in rural settings.

Sunny: As a family, they enjoyed dirt track racing, fairs and festivals, and fully exploring the local area and that all each new assignment brings. Welcome.

Heather: Thank you.

Sunny: Thank you. Well, just to get started I'll just ask you, can you just highlight for our listeners out there the unique qualities of just what practicing in a rural setting brings?

Heather: It takes a different mindset to travel in a rural setting. You get to know people more personally and have to be open to learning new things about the area because you're going to get fully immersed in the area.

Sunny: That's true. You're going to have to get immersed in the area. And as a traveler, how do you get immersed in the area? I mean, what would you recommend?

Heather: Make friends with the staff, talk to them. What are your favorite things to do here in your hometown? What are some great things that happen? Some activities, whether it be churches that they're part of, or annual festivals or any of those things. Some great places to eat.

Sunny: And I know for rural towns there's definitely a lot of festivals that sometimes people are like, "What type of festivals are there? The Potato Festival? What is that?" But it's a lot of fun and a lot of great eats, right? And it can be a shell shock for someone who is used to seeing a lot of buildings and a lot of stores and a lot of... Because I know people will say, "Well, what do you do in a town like that?" So walk us through like your first... When you're talking to our listening audience, what that guide is or what they can expect walking into a rural assignment, what that would look like. Help them understand what that would be. Give them a step by step guide.

Heather: Absolutely. It's definitely going to be very different from a first day orientation at a big hospital. Typically, those places you have a large gathering of the new employees and travelers or sometimes if it's a large enough facility, you're going to be in an orientation with all travelers. That's going to be what it is.

Heather: Whereas in a small community, you're going to walk in and the majority of the time you're going to be doing some type of orientation with all new employees. So you're going to have dietary and regular stuff. Whether it be CNEs or anyone from the laboratory to yourself. If it's a small facility, you may be the only traveler starting at that time.

Sunny: Okay.

Heather: So just it kind of gives you a little bit of a, "Hey, I recognize that person from orientation," because you're going to see them a lot. It's a small place. You're going to see these people time and time again. So get to know a little bit about some of the people that are also starting at the same time as you are.

Sunny: Would you say it's also even more important for you to be vocal about raising your hand and getting to know your stuff? Like, hey, I need to understand what I need to know so make sure I'm raising my hand and getting my questions answered during that orientation?

Heather: Absolutely. Because they sometimes, smaller facilities... And that's not a bad thing and it's not their fault, but they sometimes forget that travelers don't necessarily need to know benefits and those kinds of things... But I do want to know where all of the places are located and what type of things are going to be expected of me as an employee because they're very... Smaller rural facilities hold very near and dear their mission statements and things like that. So really making sure that you know those and know where to find those. They hold them very close to their hearts.

Sunny: That's good to know.

Heather: Things like that.

Sunny: And when you say mission statement, can you dive into that a little bit?

Heather: Sure. All hospitals have a mission statement, and I find that a lot of rural facilities really hold those up to a high standard. They make sure all their employees, whether you're a regular employee or a traveler, really follow those mission statements.

Sunny: So like if you're a Christian organization or whether you're non-religious or religious, whatever that mission statement is, you need to be able to support that. Is that what you're saying?

Heather: Correct.

Sunny: Okay. That's interesting. That's good to know.

Matt: Yeah. As a traveler, I think that's really important to say. Not only are you expected to know it, Heather, like you're talking about, you're expected to execute on that mission statement. I mean, if the hospital has a mission statement that they hold near and dear as you're describing, you really have to go and practice that. That has to be something that you live while you're a guest at that hospital. Am I right in assuming that?

Heather: Absolutely. Because it's smaller number, so they're going to see that you're living that statement

Matt: What an exciting opportunity as a traveler to go in and really experience a hospital that embraces that? They expect you to know that as a guest in their hospital and they expect their staff to do that as well. So if everybody's really rowing the same direction when it comes to the mission statement of the hospital, what a great opportunity.

Matt: I'm curious Heather when you say that you might see some of these patients repeatedly. Is it safe to say that you might see some of these patients out at a diner or even some of your team at the grocery store in the community because it is a rural setting, you might be working side by side with them on a unit and then might see them buying bread at the grocery store. Has that happened to you?

Heather: Absolutely, it has. Absolutely. I work labor and delivery so I have run into people that are out getting... The next town over wherever the closest Walmart is with their babies. Or at the gas station filling up with gas. And you know, "Hi, how are you doing? How is it going?" Or, "Are you working tonight," or if it happens to be another employee of the hospital, small chit chat like that.

Matt: I love that. So it's not just even about the festivals, it's not even about when you're on the labor and delivery unit and you've got babies coming into the world, it's, it's seeing those babies out in the world that you really do get involved with the community. And I think as a traveling... whether you're a nurse or technologist or therapist, I think that there's a real sense of meaning when you're able to see that. You don't just see the babies go away, you might see them at church, you might see them at the festival, you might see them at the grocery store. So what a great experience.

Matt: So Heather, when we talk about the patients, and I know you're a labor and delivery nurse, is there a different type of patient population that you see in some of your trauma level hospitals or your teaching hospitals versus a rural setting? And can you describe that to someone who's exploring maybe getting into the rural contract travel?

Heather: Absolutely. There is a difference between the patient population in a big city hospital, you're going to get all kinds. We're in a rural hospital. A lot of those patients don't like to travel far for their care. They stay very close to home. So you're going to get whatever ethnicity or patient population is close to that area.

Heather: So if you're going to do a rural hospital that's close to an Indian reservation, you're going to get a lot of native American. Or if you're say the middle Northern part of Minnesota has a very high population of Somali people. You can expect that most of your patients are going to be of the Somali descent.

Heather: Same with in the South, you're going to get a lot of the lower income, maybe, If you're in a community that is traditionally known for lower income or having a blue collar, hardworking, but maybe the factories have left the area now. So those are the types of people that aren't going to venture to the big hospitals to get their care. They're going to stay at home and they're going to go to the hospital that they've known and trusted for many years.

Matt: I think that's a great point to make. When you're looking at your next assignment, rural setting, do you do a little bit of research about the area to maybe understand the type of patients that you would be working with? Is that some kind of research that you do personally?

Heather: I asked the questions when I'm doing an interview. That's probably the biggest thing that you can do. Number one thing you can do when you're trying to look at a rural setting and wondering if it's going to be a good fit for you. When you're doing that interview, ask the questions. What kind of patients does the hospital take care of? What level of care do you provide? And usually I find that the managers that I talk with at rural hospitals are very open to having conversations about that. They're not necessarily set on a time limit for doing an interview where some of the bigger hospitals you get five 10 minutes for your interview and that's it.

Matt: Right. Right.

Heather: Where a lot of the rural facilities I find I could spend an hour on the phone with a manager just talking about the culture on the unit or the culture in the area. And that is one very specific question that I ask a manager when I interview is what type of patient population do you care for so that I can get a better idea of what I might run into. And if it's not a patient population that I'm familiar with and I want to learn more about it, I can.

Matt: I think that's a great tip for our listeners out there that are considering a rural opportunity. Really ask the questions. If you have an opportunity where the interview can be a few more minutes than five or 10 really take that time and understand the patient population, understand the area, understand that some of the pressures that might be on the community so you can go in there and be the best clinician you can be. That's a great tip. I think if we get anything out of our conversation with you today, Heather, I think that's a really good one.

Sunny: Yeah, that is. Any other tips that you can give our travelers that are wanting to maybe pursue a travel assignment when they're going into the interview process that you can think of that they should ask?

Heather: Any questions that they have they need to ask. I specifically will ask unit size and make sure it's going to be a good fit for me. Or what kinds of things they do on the unit. If it's not something that I'm familiar with, then I either need to get familiar with it or especially let them know up front if it's not something that you're used to. It is helpful for both the manager and yourself to know upfront whether there're some things that you're going to learn and maybe don't know yet, but they may be willing to teach you.

Sunny: Many of the hospitals I know, when you're talking about bigger hospitals and moving into rural hospitals, you have different levels. Some are critical access hospitals obviously, but a lot of the rural hospitals, they don't have maybe the budget or the number of people that can fit as many roles. And so they may have to wear many different hats.

Sunny: And so your house supervisors diving in obviously to help out, you have nurses that are floating to many different areas. And so can you talk to that for someone who is considering going into an assignment in a rural hospital where your assignment might say you're doing this, but you might see that the people you're working with are doing many different roles.

Heather: Yes. And that would be, I guess another thing to make sure that you're asking about when you interview, because that may be an expectation of you also to be willing, not necessarily an expert in an area, but at least willing to go and help them in a different area. Like for myself, I know I've been asked, even though I'm labor and delivery, but in a very rural hospital where they only do maybe eight to 10 deliveries a month, when there's no patients, if they're busy in the ER, I've been asked to go down and start IVs or do things like that. Just kind of help them with their patients. Because for the most part, those ERs are very busy. They may not have the high acuity patients, but they do have a fairly decent flow of patients that come through because that's the closest care for some of these people.

Matt: And I think that's actually when you start talking about having to wear those multiple hats, it's almost expected. I don't imagine Heather, that in your interview you're asking, well how many hats am I going to have to wear while I'm on shift? And it really probably goes back to living the mission statement of the hospital and really having to see an opportunity where you just have to dive in. Am I right in assuming that?

Heather: Absolutely. There's many opportunities to learn different things in a rural hospital. You wouldn't think, but you'd be amazed at how many times you could just jump in and be able to help in the ER if you've never done that before. Or be able to pick up a shift recovering in an or working side by side with somebody from, like if you're an X-Ray tech, say you can be a part of maybe doing one of the other testing situations in the department. Things like that.

Heather: Where you have the opportunity to maybe learn some different things that you wouldn't think that you would. In a bigger setting, there's plenty of people to cover all of those things. So they don't need the extra hands necessarily. Everybody has their specific job in a big teaching facility and they stick to that. Where like you said, in a rural hospital, you have to do many different things with the hands that you have.

Matt: When Sunny and I were talking earlier today about our conversation with you, we really wanted to talk about some undiscovered gems. We are maybe specifically talking about what are some of the cool places you've seen? Because I'm all about the cool places, but maybe one of the undiscovered gems is really the fulfillment of the position that you get working in a rural setting. Being able to help with multiple different types of patients and not just in labor and delivery. Even if it's helping in the ER, maybe it's not directly helping, but you might be doing something for somebody else in the ER so they can attend to a patient. And I think that's some of maybe even the undiscovered gems that we didn't even really talk about.

Sunny: Yeah, exactly. Because you're also like building on that skillset, but you're also learning a little bit about yourself and stretching yourself a lot of ways. I'm going to talk a little bit about this too, is not only do you have to be aware of the mission statement so many different ways and this is on off on a different tangent, you also have to kind of mind your Ps and Qs a little bit because the person next to you working next to you could be the CNE or the director of nursing working right next to you that's jumping in to help, right? And you may not know it because you may not have had the chance yet to meet on that person. And so, because everyone is diving in a rural setting and so you have to make sure that you are always putting your best foot forward even more so.

Sunny: And we would hope with our listeners out there as a traveler, that you are always putting your best foot forward. But even more so in a rural setting because it is such a tight community and one thing that I love being a patient in a rural setting in the past, is that it is such a tight community and they make the patients feel as though they're part of the family. But the team itself is a very family-esque team. And so am I wrong in saying that you always, you don't know who you're working next to. Is that correct Heather?

Heather: Absolutely, that is correct. The fact that when you are working in a smaller facility, you get to know your coworkers very well because there's not a lot. You're working with the same people on a very regular basis. There may only be one or two lab techs, or you may be the only person that's there on night shift to take an X-Ray or do an ultrasound.

Heather: The ER staff is maybe two or three nurses. So you work with the same people on a very regular basis. You get to know each other very well and you have to be prepared too to open up about yourself a little bit. They're a close group usually in these rural settings and when you come in as a traveler, they want to know about you. They want to know where you're from, what do you like? What do you have for family? They're not afraid to ask those questions because you're kind of coming into their home. They're accepting you as part of their family for 13-weeks, so they want to know.

Sunny: That's good to know.

Matt: So Heather, we spoke a lot about all the great things. And I think that there's so many things you could probably go on forever about all the great things. Someone out there, a clinician out there looking to travel, they're considering some rural assignments or talking to their recruiter about rural assignments. What are the some of the things to watch out for? I hate to say pitfalls, but some of the pitfalls and it can be really about anything, but what would you say, "Hey, if you're going to do this, ask great questions in interview, understand the types of patients you'll be working with." But if you had to say what are the pitfalls of a rural travel assignment, where would you go with that?

Heather: I would say the accessibility to things. Whether it be in the community, you may have to travel 45 minutes or an hour to get to the stores you're normally used to shopping at and accessibility to technology to a lot of the rural facilities don't necessarily have the latest and greatest of equipment. If you're used to working with those things that a bigger facility, that may be a little bit of a shock to some people. May seem a little bit old fashioned and some of the ways they do things too are not up to the latest and greatest of technology. So you have to be aware of those things. And if that's not something that you're prepared to deal with or learn about, rural settings are not probably the best option.

Matt: Yeah, I think that's great advice. Really great advice. And then in particular, folks looking to travel with their family. Because I know you're traveling with your family. As Sunny had mentioned and when she spoke about your bio, you're traveling with your husband and your son. What are some of the things there that you guys said, "Okay, we are never going to do that again when we go to our next rural travel assignment," or, "We're always going to do that. We're going to make sure we check this off the list before we go." What are some of the tips and advice you have for families?

Heather: Make sure that they're involved in the decision. I always make sure that my husband and son are involved in the decision as to where I go because some of the places are a little more isolated than others. I have to know that they're on board with going somewhere that may not have all of the fun activities to do on a regular basis. So we have to use our resources a little bit or do a little more research to find something fun to do.

Matt: Yeah, make your own fun. I love it. And so you do get them involved when you're talking with your recruiter about where you might be going. You guys are all researching together.

Heather: Absolutely.

Matt: That's great. That's great.

Sunny: I want to step back a little bit on the question that Matt posed about the pitfalls and also talk a little bit about earlier, you were talking about the different patient populations that you can encounter on a rural assignment, whether it's the Somali, Native American. And I want to dive a little bit about that. You gave excellent tips so far when interviewing, and travelers come from so many different areas and when we go into a rule assignment, we talk about culture differences.

Sunny: And so we really want to prepare our travelers out there. About how they need to be prepared and ask the right questions. Not to avoid a rural assignment, but basically how to prepare their mindset of what they need to do to be a stronger traveler, a professional traveler, but to do their service right. But also what they can prepare for because cultural biases are going to be out there and let's face it, discrimination can be faced. I'm going to say the words, but also, how as a service provider, we overcome, but also ask the right questions but also to handle it as a professional. And so you being a seasoned traveler, what's the recommendation or what have you seen and what can you speak to about that?

Heather: I think the biggest thing is, like you said, asking the right questions and knowing the situation that you're getting into. Don't put yourself in a situation where you're going to be uncomfortable or it's not going to be a good fit. Because yes, there are small communities out there that are biased to certain things. Some very religious communities are biased to same sex relationships, but other communities are very welcoming to that. And you'd be surprised sometimes to find those communities.

Heather: So you just have to ask the right questions and make sure that whatever your beliefs and your culture is, that you're going to fit into that community. But also, it's a good learning tool to go to some of those communities if you have an open mind and you can learn about the different cultures and the different communities and the different ways that people do things. It's a great experience when you get to do that.

Sunny: You're absolutely correct. And it's also a great opportunity for you as a traveler to learn and share and teach as well. Because sometimes being a great representation of who you are through silence and role modeling is just enough. And number one, just asking the questions. And I think sometimes we're so afraid to ask the questions in the interview by just saying, "Hey, here's my thought, and here's my fear."

Sunny: And I've never met a manager who didn't want to set someone else up for success, because that's what they want. They want to make sure they have the right number for the team. So for all those travelers that are listening out there, ask the right questions and do it in a way that is not for defense, but you're just asking the question. Ask the right questions. I don't think we actually asked this question, but what draws you to a rural assignment?

Heather: It's where I started. I started in a rural community, so it's near and dear to my heart. There's a fantastic culture working in a small community. You get to know everybody so well and it's a different thought process that goes into nursing in a small community. You don't have the hustle bustle, you don't feel like a number. You feel like you're part of the fam.

Matt: I love that answer. I love that because family means so many different things to so many different people, but it's also very common. So when you say family, I think that that will resonate with a lot of people. And you get what you give, and it sounds like you guys give it your all when you go in there and you do on the patient care side and it sounds like as a family you give it all as well. So I love it.

Matt: I've had a really good time talking to you today, Heather. I think it's been really helpful and I think a lot of people will get a lot out of it. Before we get onto our last question, Sunny had mentioned that you guys decided to make the move to travel with an RV. And so not only are you traveling with your family, as we mentioned before, you guys are traveling in an RV. How has that changed? Because you started traveling back in 2008, but you picked up the RV a couple of years ago. What was the difference and is there a difference in the type of assignments that you take or where you take them and the time of year because of the RV? Is that a restriction? Is that a freeing thing? And how has that changed your decision making process for travel assignments?

Heather: Well, typically it's freed me from the Wisconsin winters, that's for sure.

Matt: I understand that.

Heather: But it can be restricting too because of the fact that I need to have a campground that is close or within a reasonable distance to the facility. But that can go for housing too. In a rural setting, you may not have the availability of a lot of housing options. So it doesn't just apply to the RV, it applies to apartments or Airbnbs or anything like that, when you're looking at a rural setting.

Heather: Again, you have to do research to the area and find is this going to be a good fit for me? Am I okay with traveling 45 minutes or an hour away from this facility each day in order to have housing? That's I think one of the bigger parts that has changed for me being in the RV versus staying in a hotel, which I used to do when I traveled close.

Sunny: We learned a lot during this whole podcast, and I just have to say thank you so much and just from everything that you have covered from everything regarding the draw, the cultures, everything that you've given us and all the things that you do. I can imagine from traveling your RV and in all the adjustments and enjoyment that you have with your family. So I want to say thank you again, Heather, for being with us. And what we do at the end of every show is we... and it's the heart of what we do here at Cardium. It is to talk about why we do what we do and the purpose. And so I'm going to ask you, what's your why?

Heather: My why is to continue learning. I travel to continue to learn. There's something to be learned at every place that I go. And they always say there's multiple ways to do things. Not necessarily a right or wrong way, especially in labor and delivery. There's essentially two ways to have a baby, but there's many different ways to get to the end results. And I love the fact that I always learn something new every place that I go. And as a nurse, that should be your goal is to continue to learn. If you get to the point where you think you know it all, then it's time to get out. And I love to continue to learn. I absolutely love my job.

Sunny: That's great.

Matt: That's a great why. Well again, Heather, thank you very much for joining us and good luck on your next adventure for you guys. We look forward to hearing from you of where the next stop will be. So, thank you again. Sunny, that's going to wrap up today's podcast. It was a good one.

Sunny: It was a great one.

Matt: Folks out there, we'd love to hear from you, so please drop us a review. Let us know your thoughts on today's topic or anything else you'd like to discuss and until we talk with you again, bye-bye everybody.

Sunny: Good bye.

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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