At AB Staffing, we love sharing stories from our providers in the field. From Physician’s Assistant Matt working in New York City during the height of COVID-19 to Travel Social Worker Jennifer working in remote areas of Montana, we want to hear your stories! This week we’re talking to Travel Nurse Michael about his experience working at an Indian Health Services (IHS) facility in the remote area of Supai, Arizona.
What is it like working in Supai, Arizona, especially during COVID-19?
Serving the Havasupai tribe in Supai, Arizona has been a unique experience, to say the least, and is also the favorite of my nursing career. The community is small and geographically isolated, currently closed to outsiders and normally accessible only by helicopter or an eight-mile hike. Tribal members are friendly and welcoming of medical staff in this unique, remote, and beautiful location.
What do you like most about this Indian Health Services assignment?
Because the community is small, I have come to know many of the tribal members. As a result, I’ve been able to participate in community projects and training for first responders. I was a paramedic before I became a nurse so what I learned has become especially useful here in this remote area. Much of the Havasupai Reservation is located within the Grand Canyon in an area outside of the National Park. Supai Village is one of the most unique, remote, and beautiful locations I’ve experienced to date.
What do you like least about this travel nurse assignment?
Travel restrictions into and out of Supai to limit the risk of COVID-19 have been in place since March; Supai is currently Covid-free with zero cases to date. Like the rest of the world “on top” and outside the canyon, the lockdown presents new challenges from day-to-day operation to keeping in touch with family and friends. As with other communities, we’ve learned to adapt.
What advice would you give someone thinking about taking a travel nurse position?
Get a strong base of nursing experience before traveling. The Supai Health Station is staffed by a physician and an RN. Any patients requiring emergency or higher-level care are flown out by helicopter. While our situation is definitely not the norm, having the knowledge and skills to function independently within your scope of practice as a nurse is extremely important. Teamwork is also essential, particularly when the team is only 2-3 people, as it is here.
What advice would you give someone thinking about working at an IHS Facility?
Be flexible and ready to adapt. Like the healthcare system as a whole, there is variation within Indian Health Services (IHS). Some hospitals are federally operated, others are managed by tribes. Each facility and service area are different.
How has your travel nurse role changed since COVID-19?
Reimagining what healthcare looks like for a remote community without roads or vehicle access. Developing contingency plans, training, and working with community health resources and responders. The pandemic is a crisis that is continually evolving, rapidly at times. As frontline healthcare professionals, we must be ready to do the same.
What kinds of activities do you do there outside of work?
Presently, I take advantage of the recreational opportunities available within Supai and the surrounding canyon as often as possible. Because of the remote location, the physician and nurse are on-call for emergencies during off-hours and our housing is nearby within the village.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your travel experience?
Supai is a great example of the out-of-the-ordinary opportunities available within the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii that are available to nurses willing to travel. Before coming to a place like this, I recommend, gaining experiences, consider what interests you (geographic location, clinic, or hospital, etc.), and research opportunities until you find one that’s a good fit.
Tell us about yourself and how you became a travel nurse.
I have been a nurse for 11 years. I completed my first bachelor’s degree and entered a non-healthcare field before becoming a paramedic. My passion for learning and new opportunities quickly led me to nursing.
My wife, who is also a nurse, and our two sighthounds, have been living in Arizona for 11 years. We have a definite wanderlust and have traveled within the U.S. and internationally. Working as a traveler is a natural fit.
We are thankful to have you on our team, Michael! Thank you for sharing your story.