Compassion and Strength: The PICU Nurse Experience

By Joan Fox Rose, MA, RN, contributor

While seated by his crib, a baby’s mother reached out and grabbed a nurse’s hand as if it were a life preserver.The nurse smiled and did her best to answer questions in an effort to allay the mother’s fears.PICU Nurse Kathy Bui

“It’s my job to care for infants and children with critical medical and cardiac conditions,” said Kathy Bui, RN, BSN, a pediatric cardiac ICU nurse and an American Mobile Healthcare traveler.  “Some children get well and go home while others may not survive a surgical intervention due to the severity of their illness. My job requires both personal strength and stamina to interact with caring compassion with children and their families both in good times and bad times.” 

The pediatric ICU nurse job description involves helping to medically manage patients through collaboration with physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and therapists. 

“We teach parents about their children’s health conditions and provide them with emotional support,” Bui said. “This might be anything from answering questions regarding equipment utilized, or explaining what we’re doing to the patient at the time; perhaps we many need to hold a child’s or parent’s hand.”

“Depending on how sick a patient is,” she continued, “as a PICU nurse, there’s an awareness and anticipation that a patient could make a bad turn at any moment, so we have to be alert and ready to quickly respond to those changes,” she said.

An extensive travel PICU nurse career

Bui has been a travel PICU nurse for nine out of the 14 years she’s been practicing, and has worked assignments with American Mobile, and AMN Healthcare company, since 2011.  “My home state is Virginia and I’ve worked in 12 states and more than 19 hospitals in my years as an RN,” she explained.

With American Mobile, she has worked in a number of children’s hospitals across the country that are well-known for their high standards of practice, and is presently assigned at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Washington. “I work with very specialized and competent groups of congenial and supportive staff and travel nurses who work well together to care for patients,” Bui pointed out. 

“Staff nurses are aware that travel nurses are knowledgeable and can be utilized very well within the unit,” she said.  “We work as a team, and there’s a special bond among travel nurses who help each other.  Travel nursing offers me a way to adapt more to my nursing practice and to gain new ways of doing things to advance my knowledge about my nursing speciality.”

Travel nurse location considerations

Bui enjoys living and working in cities that she’d never consider moving to permanently, because either the cost of living is high or the staff pay scale doesn’t meet her expectations. “If I like the location I’ll extend my assignment, if possible.  If I don’t like it, I remember it’s only for 13 weeks and then I’ll move on to my next location,” she said.

“I consider travel nursing a working vacation; how else can I live and work in New York City and enjoy what the city has to offer, or go to Seattle and leave my family on the East Coast for almost two years?  Travel gives me opportunities to meet new people and explore new places.”

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Four travel nursing tips for newbies

Interested in travel nursing? Bui’s listed four tips to get you started, based on lessons learned during her many years spent working as a travel nurse:

1. Gain experience in a nursing speciality before you begin your travel nurse career. Having a nursing specialty is beneficial when there’s a large market to fill positions. 

2. Approach a job interview with a positive attitude and be flexible and open-minded about your assignment location and schedule.   

3. Before signing up with a travel nursing agency, inquire about their exclusive contracts and benefits. “Certain travel nurse agencies are exclusive to certain facilities and small agencies have limited travel positions.” Bui said.  “Know what agencies require of you and be aware of benefits like housing and reimbursement issues.”  

4. If you hold a compact nursing license you can work in several states that are also compact states. Nursing licenses issued by member states are recognized by all members. There are currently 24 states that participate in the Nursing Licensure Compact; ask your recruiter for details.

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