Joe Lucas was a successful DC lobbyist who decided, at age 50, to chase his childhood dream: becoming a nurse. Built for adrenaline and swift on his feet, he jumped right into the profession and hasn’t looked back.
How did you get into travel nursing?
My first career was lobbying, primarily involving energy and the environment.
I was in the business for 20 years — and had a lot of success. It was never going to get any better and, in fact, there was only one way to go — and that was down.
I was single, I didn’t have any children to put through college, anything like that, so, financially I was in a position to do something I really wanted to do.
That gave me the opportunity to go back to that first love: this idea of being a nurse. So, shocking many people, giving up a very lucrative career as a lobbyist, I went back to school and became a nurse. I loved it from Day One.
How did those early years go for you?
I did med/surg telemetry nursing for my first year as a nurse, which I thought was a great way to get my feet wet. But, my primary love was always ER. I’m an adrenaline junkie.
When I relocated to Kansas City, I had the opportunity to get into emergency medicine.
A colleague and mentor said to me about this career change. “I think this is a great career for you because I know between now and the time you die, you’re going to live a hundred different places.”
What do you love about travel nursing?
It’s a mobile career. Travel nursing has afforded me the opportunity to experience the country. I’ve done both small, big, I’ve traveled in some of the most prestigious hospitals in America. I have a chance to see and do lots of different things.
Also, I have a chance to have a personal life. I can go out and hike, I can go out and go to the gym, something I really love. I can spend time with my family and my dog.
Those are things that are all very important to me. And working as a travel nurse, because of the income structure, it allows me to have that flexibility to only work three days a week and still have that personal time to myself.
What advice would you give a new travel nurse?
First off, I think that you have to be secure in your practice. I read a lot of travel nurse posts that say, “I want to try it but I only have six months experience. My company says I can — should I?” And my reply is: “Get a new company.”
Any travel nurse company that would let you travel with only six months experience is not a company I want to work for. It’s not safe for the nurse, it’s not safe for the company, it’s not safe for the hospital, and it’s not safe for the patient.
To be a travel nurse, you have to be rock solid in your experience. In many cases, you’re being called to come in and figure out everything, from where the bathroom is to where to get supplies, without much guidance.
Second, there’s a misconception that travel nurses are paid more than staff nurses. That’s not always the case. There’s a tax advantage associated with travel nursing — but not necessarily more money.
Travel nursing can be lucrative if for certain people if you know the tax laws. But I see a lot of people get tripped up because they think, “Oh, this is this wonderful thing. I make all this money,” but unless you are in a situation where you maintain a legal tax home, then you don’t qualify for the tax-free stipends.
Third, work for a company that you know is going to have your back.
There are a lot of travel nurse companies that are out there, and I see too many people who want somebody to tell them who to work for, and I never answer. You need to do your research — it’s a very personal decision.
I did my research for a year before I started traveling. I started reading blogs, I started understanding how it all worked. I understood the tax structure, and I researched companies. When I was ready to pull the trigger about six months before I traveled, I started talking with three companies I chose to work with.
Because of their responsiveness and personal touch, I ended up with TotalMed.
What do you like about working with TotalMed?
Here’s a story: when I called TotalMed, this guy named Logan Malueg answered the phone. Suddenly, it was like I was talking to my brother from another mother. And Logan and I have just been the best of friends — we’re like family.
They’re located in Appleton, Wisconsin. The closest I’ve come to their office, I was in Minnesota, a few hours away. Logan calls me and says, “Meet me for lunch. I want to drive down to meet you and to have lunch on your first day.”
And so it’s been wonderful, a wonderful experience. What I have always found in my almost four years of doing this, when I look at contracts in various areas where I’m interested in going, Total Med generally has some of the highest rates in those areas.
I’ve never once had a problem that came up that they didn’t fix. They go above and beyond.
Day or night I can pick up the phone and call my recruiter. I mean, I would never do this job unless I had a recruiter who allowed me to have their cell phone and who was willing to answer day or night if necessary.
And it’s the whole company — the people who do credentialing, the people who do the onboarding, the people who do the benefits. These are the folks who will answer your calls and will help you find your way through any problems, should those things come up. And they come up very rarely because everyone at TotalMed is very easy to work with.
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