Back when I first started my travel nurse staffing agency, TRS Healthcare, I was working every shift myself. I have a BSN from Northwestern State University in Louisiana and completed my state boards in 1982. I had bought a five-inch-thick directory of all the hospitals in the United States in a big blue phone book. The directory had all contact information, including the names of the officers’ in the hospitals. I started working my business plan. I selected Oklahoma and Arkansas hospitals outside of the Northwest Arkansas corridor, within a two-hour driving radius. I called every person in both states. As before, when staffing for Tritek (a staffing company I worked for before), finding the right person was the tricky part. It took me numerous calls to identify the decision maker for each hospital. I sat every day at the phone making hundreds of calls, setting up appointments, then traveling to take the decision maker to lunch, negotiating contracts, and signing up nurses.
After seven weeks, I still did not have any business. Not even one shift. Finally, on New Year’s Eve 1996, Eureka Springs Hospital requested the first shift. I was gone out delivering holiday marketing gifts of popcorn to local hospitals. (I had bought the popcorn half price after Christmas). By the time I returned to the office, Anthony (a man renting some office space from me) had staffed the Eureka Springs shift with an RN named Carrie. I was shocked and delighted! We were off and running!
On a typical day, I was up at 5:30 AM fixing breakfast, packing lunches for the whole family, then getting to the office by 8:00 AM. There I would market, call my hospitals for needs, do the accounting and payroll, insurance and risk management, then credential nurses for work in the hospitals. Because this was an overtime job, I had no time to staff the nurses during the normal work day of 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. I raced home to my husband and children, arriving home by 6:00 PM, after a 45-minute commute.
I cooked supper, washed laundry, and supervised the children’s homework. I settled in to staff the nurses and CNAs from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Everywhere I went I carried my cell phone (which was the size of a man’s shoe), a pager, and a large, metal, Rolodex box with all the nurses’ contact information. I took calls wherever I was. I was running the company from my car on the drive home. When I was at church, I returned calls from the vestibule. Every Thursday and Friday, the entire time I was watching the girls
On weekends, I was one of two youth leaders for our church’s very active youth group. I worked every Saturday for six years on projects with the youth, in an effort to give my girls a good religious foundation. On Sundays, we went to church in the morning, then I taught the youth religious study at night.
When I couldn’t find a nurse to work a particular shift, I put on my scrubs and worked the night shifts, usually a minimum of an hour from our home, but frequently two hours away. My easy-going competence won me many friends working in these short-staffed facilities. I went to work looking professional. I knew what I was doing because I am an excellent nurse with highly competent skills. The staff responded with favor towards me.
I recruited the nurses I worked with from the facilities, then sent them to other facilities. I then filled the positions they vacated with nurses I had recruited in the same manner. Every shift I worked created more and more opportunity. More nurses signed up to work with me primarily because they were treated poorly by their nurse manager, while I was kind and easy going, but, at the same time, professional and competent.
Every cent I made was ploughed right back into the company to make payroll because hospitals consistently delayed payment of invoices. I had to carry accounts receivables for months before any money came in, from shifts I had already paid the nurses for, at the time they worked. I had implemented a new policy of daily pay, thus making my staff even more eager to work for me, while increasing my cash flow crunch. The phones were ringing off the hook by this time. I was frantically running around trying to do everything I could to meet the demands of the facilities and nurses.
Just when I thought I couldn’t do another thing, the Columbia Hospital Group located in Tulsa, Oklahoma signed my contract for thirteen hospitals. In four months, I had signed contracts on fourteen hospitals and eleven nursing homes. My first assignment with Columbia was a travel contract working weekends in the Intensive Care Unit. I also had no one to fill the 13-week travel nurse assignment at Doctor’s Hospital, in Tulsa. So I staffed myself for 11-7 Friday night, 3P-7A Saturday and Sunday. I could not afford to lose this contract with Columbia. Basically, I gave up sleep for three months. I worked the contract myself.
I would work all week at the office then all weekend at the hospital. After working a sixteen-hour shift at the hospital, I would get off work at 7:15 Monday morning. Then I would drive an hour and forty-five minutes to the office in Springdale, Arkansas, with my suit and heels in the trunk of my car. I could get to the office by 9:00AM. I would work all day, cook supper (I still cooked all the meals at home) and packed lunches, visit with the family, staff nurses, and drop exhausted into bed at 10:00 PM, missing an entire night’s sleep.
At the hospital, my pager would silently vibrate, letting me know a facility needed staff or a nurse was calling off. I often wondered what my colleagues thought when I frequently took my large satchel into the bathroom during the night when I had to return calls and then book nurses to work. But no one ever complained because I was working harder than anyone else.
If you are interested in reading the rest of my story check out my books coming out this year, including a memoir on how I transitioned from full-time nurse to full-time business owner.
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