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    Traveling cardiac care nurses & technologists remain in high demand


    Photo: Getty Images/Don Farrall
    The ancient Roman physician Galen is best remembered for attaching certain feelings to human organs. For example, he assigned passion to the liver and emotions to the heart. As a result, we have forever connected our hearts with our feelings. But as anyone in healthcare knows, this vital organ is responsible for so much more than mere emotions.

    Through the heart flow the basic necessities to sustaining life. However, if it falters or its work is impeded, the consequences can be extremely serious. Just look at the statistics: Heart disease leads national mortality rates, and has done so for years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 652,091 deaths in 2005 were attributed to this condition. The organization also reports that hospitals performed 7 million cardiovascular procedures that same year.

    With such figures, it's no wonder the demand for critical care nurses and technologists who are cardiac specialists remains high. According to a 2004 Department of Health and Human Services report, 500,000-plus nurses treat the critically ill in acute care settings. This accounts for slightly more than one-third of all hospital-based nurses, and the majority of these professionals practice in intensive care units (ICUs).

    Highly acute units are some of the most popular among mobile clinicians because administrators cannot afford to be understaffed. To meet the demands of care, hospitals mandate nurse-to-patient ratios of 1:1 to 1:4 in ICUs. While it has not conducted an official study, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses has stated that requests for temporary staff, including travelers, continue to climb nationwide.

    For cardiac care specialists, mobile opportunities are a chance to showcase their skills as well as amend them with new experiences. Here, three travelers share their tales from the road.

    Full-service mode

    Lori Moretti, RN, encounters a little bit of everything on the job. She has been a nurse for 13 years, dedicating the past 3 years to cardiac care. "Although I am comfortable in any ICU, I absolutely love working on open-heart cases," she explains. "It is where I want to stay.

    "Previously, I was a staff critical care float nurse," Lori continues, "but when my supervisors started placing me in non-critical care areas, I decided to take more control over my career. I could have gone to the next closest local hospital, but that entailed an hour commute from my home, and I did not want to add any extra time to a 12-hour shift. So, about a year and a half ago, I became a nurse traveler."

    To date, Lori has accepted two long-term assignments through Greenwood Village, Colorado-based HealthCare Staffing Network. "I spent the first 6 months in Las Vegas, Nevada," she notes. "My sister lives there, which is why I chose that location. Being close to her was like the icing on top of my traveling cake."

    What also made that experience extra special was the fact that Lori got married while on assignment. That momentous event certainly influenced how she chose her current assignment at the Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. "As a newlywed, I wanted to be within a few hours' drive from my husband, Tom, who works for the U.S. Postal Service and does not travel with me," she says. "This hospital is only about 6 hours away, so I can easily I drive home on my days off."

    Professionally, Lori has valued the chance to help get a brand-new cardiac unit up and running. The ESSA Heart and Vascular Institute had only recently opened its doors when she first arrived. "It is great for the region's residents who used to have to travel an hour or so to get to a physician or surgeon," explains Lori. "Before, if patients suffered a heart attack, they had to be transported to another facility. But not anymore. In the first year, the surgeon conducted more than 200 surgeries."

    On duty, Lori assumes patients' care immediately following their open-heart surgeries. "We make sure they are hemodynamically stable, and help manage their pain and blood pressures. If the BP is too high, there is a possibility of patients blowing a graph from their surgery. If it is too low, then we run the risk of kidney failure."

    As their status progresses, Lori instructs patients on how to aid in their own recoveries. "Because patients' respiratory behavior plays a very big part in their recuperation, we teach them about coughing and deep breathing," she states. "We watch their fluids closely and administer antibiotics. Also, because I work nights, I make sure patients are ready for the morning with their dressings changed, and they are encouraged to get out of bed and sit up in a chair."

    Of course, there is always the possibility of an emergency developing, which is when Lori kicks her skills into full-service mode. "My ultimate job is to get patients to the operating room (OR) to address a complication before their chests have to be opened bedside," she concludes. "The best part of my day, though, is seeing my patients—who have been very, very sick—go home."


    Anne Baye Ericksen
    Anne Baye Ericksen is a freelance writer based in Simi Valley, California.