If you got into nursing because you were passionate about providing healthcare to people who need it but find yourself struggling to feel like you’re making a difference in your big city or big hospital job. Rural nursing just might be the right direction for you to go. While many registered nurses choose to specialize in a specific population subset by disease, treatment, or age group, rural nurses go the other direction. They generalize. They broaden. They serve. They serve-communities. All ages and illnesses.
According to the American Hospital Association, there are over 2,000 rural hospitals nationwide. Rural hospitals have many challenges they face to stay viable. It is never that they are not needed. The American Hospital Association released its Rural Report for 2019, and in it, they go in-depth about the many challenges facing rural hospitals. Staffing shortages has been and remain a persistent one as well as low patient volume. Travel nurses who accept positions in rural healthcare settings can find great satisfaction in knowing that their work matters.
What’s it Like Working Travel Nursing Assignments in Rural Communities?
Make no mistake, despite the identification of low volume, is a persistent challenge, rural hospitals provide vital care to their communities. Often, they serve as the only medical provider for multiple rural towns. Rural nurses should really be their own specialty. Their patient population isn’t defined by disease, specific treatments, or age. Their patient population is the rural community and all who reside within it. Baby, child, teen, adult, veteran, and the elderly all require medical care at one time or another. Delivering babies, emergency medical responses, trauma, surgery, psychological evaluations, broken bones, vaccinations, and so much more encompass the weekly work of a rural nurse.
Characteristics that are important for nurses working in rural communities include:
- The ability or desire to work independently
- The desire for direct-practice work
- The interest in not specializing in a certain population or illness, but instead have an interest in becoming a generalist
- The ability to lead
- The desire for variety in your work
- The interest in working outside of a hospital setting; be it in your patients’ homes, in community centers, or other nonhospital facilities
Some rural communities have begun focusing on recruiting their own young people. The idea that people who come from rural backgrounds are more likely to want to stay or return to a rural community in their professional adult lives is the motivation of this recruitment effort.
It is important to note, that not all of these characteristics are prerequisites for being a rural working nurse, least of all, coming from a rural background. You can learn to be part of a rural community, even if you’ve never lived in one before. Some of those characteristics are skills that are learned over time as your experience in rural communities shapes your knowledge and decision-making abilities.
If you’re the kind of nurse who really values working independently, rural nursing and establishing your own practice could be your answer. As the physician shortage continues to be a problem for access to healthcare across the United States, the number of states allowing nurse practitioners (NPs) full practice authority is on the rise. Currently, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners has identified all the states of our nation in three separate categories as applies to full practice authority for NPs. I am happy to report that there are many states in the category of “full practice”. The two remaining categories are “reduced practice” and “restricted practice”.
Becoming a nurse practitioner with the ability to serve a community in any of the full practice authority states and establish your own medical practice could be a dream within your reach. Several nursing programs offer BSN to NP programs, even online! Programs are available for part-time, and full time as well.
Rural nurses do have an established nationwide organization, the Rural Nurse Organization, that serves to connect them to each other and their urban counterparts, that advocates for them in policy and continuing education opportunities, and that recognizes their valuable contribution to rural and frontier communities.
Advances in technology are also helping nurses in rural communities through the benefit of telehealth. Being a nurse in a rural community with the use of telehealth will help you consult with other disciplines and specialists that would otherwise be unavailable to your patient, or would require a long difficult trip for your patient. Being able to provide care locally, with the help of virtual consultations can reduce costs for rural hospitals or medical centers. The use of telehealth as a rural healthcare worker can help with your confidence in your care. Being able to consult on treatment plans, and be connected to urban practitioners can keep you up to date on best practice and give you reassurance. Consulting on cases that feel like they are teetering on the edge of your abilities can keep you learning and keep you working.
Specialist medical healthcare services that can be accessed virtually now include:
- Emergency consultations
- Monitoring of chronic diseases in the home
- ICU device monitoring
- Mental health therapy and counseling
- Interpreter services
Overall, nurses working in rural communities report satisfaction in the autonomy that they have, the variety they see in their work, and the connections they are able to forge with their patients and communities. Additionally, making strong ties to the rural community through friendships and local hobbies such as skiing, hiking, camping, fishing or anything else the locals like to do in their downtime can make your place in a community so much better.
If you don’t wish to settle into one rural community, because you want to travel the country, but still have an interest in or even prefer the rural setting, travel nursing is a great fit. Travel nursing in rural communities is a great way to combine your appreciation for rural communities and the connections you can make to the community, but still, accommodate that wanderer spirit you have that can’t stay in one place for too long.
Who knows, maybe over time that wanderer spirit will find itself ready to settle. After experiencing lots of communities across the nation, maybe you’ll go back and make one of them your home. Are you ready to explore travel nursing jobs in the United States? Take a look at our job search page today.