Amanda Downer had always heard Chicago was the place to be in the summer. So off she flew to live in the Windy City, and she loved it. Then winter came, blowing the cold air off the lake and through the city streets. Suddenly she wanted a change of scene—someplace a little warmer. Someplace kind of deserty, like Phoenix. That sounded good, so she took off for Arizona, where the winter ambled through like a dusty tumbleweed. Tiring of cacti around April, her thoughts drifted back to Chicago, where spring was preparing to pop, and back she went.
Amanda the globetrotter lives a lifestyle many would envy: Moving to new environments every three months or so, free housing, a $300 allowance for every move, and even a month off with free health insurance between locales. Perfect for the young and unattached. As luxurious as it sounds, though, it is still a lot of work. But Downer doesn’t mind. She’s a nurse, the traveling kind, and she has enjoyed her year of changing venues.
Downer, 25, is among a growing cadre of traveling nurses who latch on with job-finding companies, such as Cross Country TravCorps or American Mobilecare, that specialize in placing nurses in hospitals across the country as the need demands. It’s called travel healthcare, and it got its start in the early 1970s. Amanda, who graduated from Xavier in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing science, heard about it two years later while she was working at Cincinnati’s Christ Hospital.
“I would rather be a staff nurse and not have to change jobs every 13 weeks, but I wanted to do this so I could get around the country and see how different hospitals run and what’s the best fit for me,” Downer says. “I pretty much just do cardiac care.”
She has considered other destinations, such as San Francisco, Seattle, New York City and Denver. But Phoenix and Chicago have kept her busy. Now a little older, Amanda is thinking it’s about time to leave the nomadic life and settle down, recently switching to a better-paying position at Chicago’s Loyola University Hospital doing heart telemetry. While the traveling program is attractive for its continuous promise of faraway places, it lacks the security of permanent employment.
“It’s a hard switch, because you don’t have that freedom that if you don’t like it in three months, you can just go,” she says. “But I think I’m getting to the point where if I find a hospital I really like, I’ll just end up staying there.”