A Vibra Travels Nurse’s Guide to LTAC Travel Nursing

The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Vibra Travels.

What is LTAC Travel Nursing? 

LTAC travel nursing is a specialty of travel nursing within long-term acute care hospitals. Also known as critical care hospitals, these hospitals are typically smaller in size and specialize in caring for patients who are experiencing an extended transition between levels of care. Although there are many variations of where patients are admitted from and discharged to, they are typically transferred from intensive care/acute care hospitals and discharged to skilled nursing facilities or home.

Just like travel nursing in other specialties, LTAC travel nurses can sign eight or 13+ week assignments with Vibra Travels.

Patient Population 

One of the most common questions travel nurses have prior to taking an LTAC assignment is, “What does the patient population look like?”

Patients being cared for in LTAC hospitals have a wide range of admitting diagnoses and acuities. Some LTAC hospitals further specialize into burn units, neuroscience units, and ventilator/trach weaning (respiratory) units. Others have generalized units and take a mix of each. Here are some examples:

Neuroscience units: These units care for patients recovering from severe brain damage, often resulting in ventilator dependence. Patients here may be recovering from anoxic brain injuries, drug overdose, CVAs, and spinal cord injuries.

Burn Units: Patients in an LTAC burn unit have suffered severe skin and inhalation burns, also often leading to ventilator or trach dependence for a time. Travel nurses here will work with wound care teams to care for the burns and with respiratory therapists for trach/vent management while the patients heal.

Generalized Units: Other examples of patient population include patients recovering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, severe cases of COVID-19, septic shock, post-surgical complications, non-healing or complex wounds, renal or heart failure, ventilator dependency, and severe malnutrition and deconditioning.

Nursing Skills 

Due to this wide variety of health issues, Vibra Travels nurses who are on LTAC assignments will be utilizing many nursing skills. These include telemetry monitoring, administering tube feedings, trach/ventilator management, lab draws and IV insertions, wound care, post-op monitoring, etc.

Medications will be administered in nearly every type of route, including oral, via PEG tube, intravenous, inhalation, intramuscular, topical, subcutaneous, and sublingual.

Vibra Travels nurses will collaborate with many members of the healthcare team including physicians, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, nursing aids, respiratory therapists, dieticians, wound care nurses, and management. They will also be in communication with family members and visitors, and give and receive reports when patients discharge/transfer.

What a 12-hour Shift Might Look Like 

Morning huddle: After clocking in, sip on a coffee while everyone gathers around for morning huddle. While they vary from facility to facility, this huddle usually consists of nurses, nursing aids, and respiratory therapists and is led by the house supervisor.

You’ll review staffing, assignments, code teams, and any changes or updates from the facility. Here is also where you may receive a phone or walkie-talkie for the day.

Handoff Report: After the huddle, you’ll head to your unit and receive a report on your patients. Nurse-to-patient ratios are dependent upon the acuity of the unit you are assigned to and can range from 1:7 on less acute units to 1:3 on more acute units.

After receiving a verbal report from the off-going nurses, you will check in on each of your patients, updating whiteboards and checking lines, wounds, vent settings, tube feeds, etc. Before your first medication pass, you’ll take time to review the patient charts and plan your shift.

First Med Pass and Assessments: During your first med pass, you can also take the time to assess your patients. If you’re working on a unit with a lot of trachs, many of your patients may receive their medications via PEG tube, so you’ll get a lot of experience crushing meds!

Patient Care: Aside from general patient care, patients in LTAC hospitals may also require additional wound care, trach care/suctioning, etc. It is not uncommon for patients here to be “total care” or totally dependent on nursing staff to assist with ADLs such as bathing, turning, peri-care, transferring, and eating. In order to prevent pressure injuries and provide quality nursing care, your shift will be kept busy with attending to your patients’ needs.

Rapid Response: Although never planned, your workflow may be interrupted with an unexpected rapid response! Seizures, falls, acute changes in patient condition, abnormal labs or vital signs, or even cardiac arrest may be the cause for initiating a rapid response. Once called overhead, a pre-designated team (and anyone available on the unit) will arrive to assist you in providing the appropriate interventions to stabilize your patient.

Giving Report: After a full shift of medication administration, patient care, charting, and multi-disciplinary collaborations, you are ready to give a report to the incoming nurses! With Vibra Travels, clocking out is as easy as clicking a button on their timekeeping app, so you’re able to head home for some well-earned rest.

To Note: Every hospital and specialty will have its own workflow and variations of what a “day in the life” may look like. This example is based on the experience of a Vibra Travels nurse who has worked at multiple LTAC hospitals. Based on your specialty and what hospital you sign with, you may see some differences in your work day. That is one of the beauties of travel nursing– variation!

The Unique Benefits of Working as an LTAC Nurse 

Although we can all agree nursing is a fulfilling career, LTAC travel nursing has a special kind of fulfillment that is unique to its specialty. Oftentimes, patients are in LTAC facilities for weeks at a time; the healing process for these admitting diagnoses can take some time. Throughout your assignment, you are able to build relationships with your patients and their family members that are very meaningful and special.

Compared to short-term acute care hospitals, the healing process can be much slower, and you may not see positive changes every day. However, when you do have days where you see your patients improve, you are filled with a wonderful sense of pride and happiness for your patients.

An example of these improvements may be weaning a patient off of a ventilator after months of dependency, to eventually seeing that patient be decannulated and finally breathing on their own without support. Another example would be seeing patients transition from PEG tube feedings to finally taking some bites/sips on their own or slowly but surely seeing wounds healed with your meticulous wound care efforts. Yet another example would be seeing a patient’s speaking or dexterity improve after suffering from brain damage.

Again, these changes don’t happen every day, so when you do see these improvements, they are very special. One of the most significant memories that I have while working an LTAC assignment with Vibra Travels was hearing a patient speak for the first time a couple of months after suffering a severe stroke. I was able to notify the doctor and family of the amazing news, and everyone was elated. Being able to see her progress even further after this was so special to be a part of.

How to Secure an Assignment at an LTAC Hospital 

Securing an assignment at an LTAC facility with Vibra Travels is as simple as reaching out to a recruiter! The team at Vibra Travels is wonderful when it comes to contacting facilities for contracts, assisting travelers in the onboarding process, navigating licensure and certifications, and helping through any issues that may come up along the way.

To learn more about what it is like to sign with Vibra Travels, as well as my experience with this agency, read my recent article, where I give a full, unfiltered review of Vibra Travels.

In my experience as a travel nurse, LTAC nursing can be one of the most rewarding specialties. This unique work experience, paired with a quality agency such as Vibra Travels, can pave the way for a lovely career. Reach out to a recruiter today to start the process of becoming an LTAC travel nurse and be prepared to set out on a fulfilling and lively adventure.

About the Author

Meleah Kandoll

Meleah Kandoll has been a travel nurse for two years. During that time, Meleah has taken two assignments with Vibra Travels in Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area. Meleah loves to travel in her free time, and since she began her travel nursing career in 2022, has visited nearly 20 countries between assignments. Meleah’s favorite patients to work with are post-surgical. She looks forward to continuing her travel nursing career and soon be joined by her younger sister who is currently in her last quarter of nursing school!

Meleah is the author of a blog dedicated to her adventures related to travel nursing at www.travelnursemeleah.com