After having worked for the past month on many different units and at many different hospitals here in Perth, I can honestly say that I have yet to come across anything harder than my old unit in Calgary, and I've only worked on one unit (a heavy medical teaching ward) that seemed equally challenging.
The job I'm doing as an agency nurse is pretty fun. I basically work casually at different hospitals on nearly every unit in each hospital. I can work at the same hospital three shifts in a row, but I might be in oncology one day, theater recovery the next day and burns & plastics the next,depending what unit needs me. They are so short of nurses that the staff don't seem to mind that I ask them all a million questions, they're just glad to have an extra set of hands.
I am getting a good idea of the different specialties available to me as a nurse, and I already have a much better idea of what I like and what I never want to do again. And if I really hate it somewhere, I just ring the agency and ask them not to place me there again. The agency seems so anxious to make me happy that they bend over backwards trying to get me the schedule I want. They know if they don't keep me happy, I could go to another agency. It's pretty luxurious, really. I can wake up in the morning and decide whether or not I want to work that afternoon, and the agency will either find me a shift or cancel my existing one.
It's too bad some people don't have good experiences travel nursing to the USA, especially after all the work that is involved in going there (writing the RN exam, getting a visa, etc). I suppose it depends what you're after. I really like the agency work here for example, but I could see how some people might hate it because there's no continuity and every day is like your first day on the job. To get over that though, some of the nurses here work for an agency a few days a week and at a regular job the rest of the week. That way they seem to get the best of both worlds.
To answer some of the questions I've been asked: yes I do get breaks, (if I don't, I get paid extra) and no, union membership isn't mandatory. Nurses have the option of joining a union if they want... some do, some don't. They get paid based on how many years they've been working, and they take turns taking holidays. The nice thing about a country that's warm all year round is that they take their holidays all year round, and they aren't all competing to get time off in the same two months like in Canada.
Everyone I've talked to seems shocked that Canadians are required to join the union. Just about everyone here is curious to hear the differences between nursing in Canada vs Australia, and the fact that we have to join the union, going by seniority for holidays and job opportunities, and the fact that we work set schedules seems to them to be a big deterrent for nurses here (or anywhere) from wanting to work in Canada.
Schedules are made up a few weeks at a time, and they tell the coordinator what shifts they want and are accommodated as best as they can be. In Canada, staff nurses are given their set rotating schedule and that's that. Canadian nurses pretty much have to work weekends or nights or days or any shifts that don't appeal to them because it's fair and that's how the schedule is. Here in Australia though, there is a big enough shift differential on nights and weekends that a lot of nurses don't mind working those shifts. As a result, most of the nurses here seem to work when they want. No weekends next month? No problem. All weekends next month? Also no problem. It seems to me that if they made the differential worthwhile in Canada, more people would want to work weekends and nights and there would be less sick calls and therefore less overtime paid, so it would actually end up costing the system less. Also, nurses would probably be happier with their jobs and maybe stay longer and get less burnt out.
This seems to me to be a topic worthy of studying in further detail.