When I started my travel nursing journey in 2014, I never thought that a shy guy like me would actually leave my home state to travel to a remote island 5,974 miles off the coast of California. Four years into my travel nursing career I was presented with the unique opportunity to take an assignment on the 125km beach island known as Guam. My first reaction was, “Where’s Guam and can I work as a nurse in a foreign country?”
Little did I know, Guam is actually a United States territory and as healthcare professionals we are allowed to travel and work on these highly desired (mostly tropical) locations to fill short term staffing needs. So how do you become a traveler in one of these amazing locations? Here are 6 steps when picking out your next U.S. territory destination.
Step 1: What is a United States territory and what are my options?
The United States territories are a group of geographical areas in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. These territories fall under the jurisdiction of the United States federal government, but do not hold the same status as the 50 states that comprise the U.S. The United States territories that we can take assignments at are American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands and other minor outlying islands (Bajo Nuevo Bank, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll).
Step 2: Do your research.
This might be the most important step. Before I went to Guam, I researched the island, and everything it had to offer. I looked up the culture, the local language, the history of how it became a U.S. territory, gyms (personal preference), cell phone service, housing options/price, car rentals (accessibility), the beaches, the hospitals, and it’s geographic location. These islands aren’t for everyone, so make sure you do your research before accepting your new assignment. Priming your brain about the local culture and history helps to understand the perspectives, people, and experiences you will encounter.
Step 3: Find a recruiting company that staffs the territories
From personal experience, the hardest part about getting an assignment is finding an agency to get you there. Unlike more popular destinations for travel assignments, few agencies are contracted with the hospitals to provide these opportunities for travelers. Here are some agencies that staff some of the U.S. territories: NuWest, WorldWide Staffing , MSS , HCEN, Professional Nurse, and VeroRN. Another option is to log into a marketplace comparison site like Wanderly or the Vivian App and set your destination to any U.S. territory to see what the current needs are.
Step 4: Sign the contract
The format and content of these contracts should be the same as any other contract you would receive on the mainland. Make sure that flights are included - a one way flight to Guam can be upwards of $2,000. If you need help dissecting these contracts, NurseRX can be a great resource (Go to our Traveler Resource Tab for an exclusive MedVenture discount on all NurseRX concierge services).
Step 5: Obtain a license
You need to obtain a license for the territory you are going to. They are considered a state without congressional rights and the process is very similar to the license by endorsement you go through for a state on the mainland. In Guam, you had to have your contract signed as proof of employment before they would grant you a nursing license. The turnaround time to obtaining a license in Guam was very efficient and fast. Even though I put this step as # 5, please verify with your agency before heeding this advice.
Step 6: Say hello to paradise.
This step is the most exciting, nerve-racking, and exhilarating part of the experience. You are going to a tropical place full of uncertainty and wonder, but don't worry, there are several ways you can meet other healthcare travelers before you even arrive. There is a Facebook group called “Travel Nurse Island Life: USA Territories, USVI, Guam, Saipan” that is very active. MedVenture App is also represented in every U.S. territory! We suggest you log on, set your location to any territory and start connecting with some amazing traveling healthcare professionals. Most travelers are very responsive and helpful, it's good to learn from one another’s experiences.
If you have even entertained the idea of traveling to the U.S. Territories, trust me, just pull the trigger! Guam restored my faith in humanity and reminded me of why I got into nursing in the first place. Every patient was respectful (they all called me sir), we call the patients Ma or Pa (like we’re all family), and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve given a controlled substance. If you have any questions or want more info on my travel assignment on Guam, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Ryan Cogdill, BSN, RN