Behind everything we do there is a why that gets us out of bed in the morning and fuels our passions. This why gives us our destination, but it is our responsibility to create the path to get there. Many times, like in a coloring book maze, it is easier to start at the endpoint and work backward to until we reach the starting point. The why gives us our mission, but it does not name for us the tasks. It defines what we truly want (spending more time with family, traveling the world, etc.). It allows us to refocus on the things we do and ensure they align with the goals we set and, eventually, meet. Our why will change many times throughout our lives as we also grow and change. In our pursuit of achieving these things we have set out to do, it also might be beneficial to have sub-goals along the way so that we do not become discouraged by failure.
Imagine, for example, you and your friend want to run a marathon. On your first day of training, you decide to run 26 miles. On your friend’s first day of training, she decides to run 5 miles, then eventually move up to 10 miles, 15 miles, and so on. Who do you think will likely be more successful? It will likely be your friend because they set smaller, more realistic goals in order to reach their overall goal of running the 26 miles. There are countless models for success when training for marathons. Many of which people have created, tweaked and adapted to their personal preferences. Much like this, I saw a life in travel nursing as a model that I could use to my advantage.
For me, my overarching why is to be the very best form of myself possible. As a result, I identified areas of my life which are important and needed to be improved upon. Self-worth is the sense of value as a person. For me, my profession in nursing is how I contribute to society in terms of my job, but I am also very fortunate because I have the opportunity to impact others on more levels than just showing up and punching my time-card. I have a responsibility to do more than that. Maybe it’s this pressure that I place upon myself and one that no one else expects of me, but nonetheless, this pressure is still present because I feel if I have not made someone else’s situation better, then I have made it worse by not improving it. Therefore, my nursing practice was something that I wished to enhance. I also understand that you are your most important asset. Without your health, you have nothing. So, my personal health – physical, emotional, mental – became a focus for my betterment. In much the same way that I needed personal health, I knew that financial health is important to provide for myself and loved ones. Lastly, I wanted a broader appreciation for various cultures, climates, thoughts, people, and places in order to better understand others and their viewpoints. In all, these aspects of my life have funneled into my goal of being the best I can be and helped me make my decision to become a travel nurse.
I got my start in nursing as a pediatric home care nurse. Everything was 1:1, mostly neurological issues (i.e. cerebral palsy, seizure disorders), and I loved it. The pay wasn’t great, but the kids were. They made going into work enjoyable and that helped me fall in love with nursing. They were all full of life and it was my pleasure to help them thrive the best they could. I spent my first six months as a nurse in this setting, focusing on my nursing skills – medication administration, g-tube care, airway management, etc. After I got the hang of things, I felt it was time to move into a new space in order to challenge myself. I eventually landed in a telemetry unit of a community hospital.
On telemetry, I was faced with a new set of challenges. I now had to learn to manage multiple patients with a whole new set of diagnoses. I needed to hone in on facility protocols and procedures to provide more safety to my patients and uniformity throughout the hospital. I needed to learn how to work as a part of a team, the art of delegation, and to coordinate with physicians, therapists, dietitians, social workers, case managers, and discharge planners. Through this opportunity, I was excited to learn as much as I could. The more I could learn, the better. I attended classes related to caring for our patient population. I pursued national certifications as soon as I could in order to better my practice. However, after awhile, it felt as though I was stalling out in my progression. I loved the people I worked with and the patients I was taking care of, but, in a sense, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. Not to say that I was peaking or anything, but I knew that I was reaching the ceiling as far as possibilities were concerned unless I wanted to transfer. But, that also wasn’t what I wanted. It’s not that I wanted higher acuity patients or more of a management or quality-based role. I wanted patients of similar acuity with new and different problems. I knew that as painful as it was for me to do and leave my work family, I needed to leave the community hospital setting and branch out into new areas to acquire new experience. After speaking with multiple colleagues who had worked as travelers or were currently on assignment and doing hours and hours of research, I knew that the benefits would be worth the risk.
Now, as a traveler, I’m able to take my experience and apply it to new settings. I soon learned that nursing is nursing no matter where you go. Whether you’re floating to a new unit or it’s your first day in a new facility, your nursing care remains top-tier despite having different tools and systems at your disposal. I became even more confident in my skills and assessments. My clinical judgment became even more important, especially when I hadn’t quite committed protocol to memory or gotten the hang of a new charting system. I realized that ultimately you are your most significant asset and important tool. All of your new patient interactions build upon ones you’ve had previously. In a way, the patients you take care of today extend their thanks to those who allowed you to care for them yesterday as they’ve enabled you to care for them better. I, for one, am truly grateful for these experiences.
On day one of traveling, I found out that I would be caring for patients on telemetry, but on a neuro unit. To be honest, this startled me a bit as it was not something I was expecting. However, I knew that this new patient population would help improve my practice because I was expanding my knowledge base. On this unit, I took care of patients with hemorrhagic strokes, neurological and spinal surgeries, craniotomies, halos, and more. All of which I would have never really seen at my home community hospital. At other facilities, I’ve taken care of VATS patients, those with specific cancers, and some post-trauma. Again, had I not traveled, I may not have had the opportunity to care for these patients and increase my level of comfort.
A driving force of many things leads straight to the wallet or pocketbook. As many of you reading this, in order to fund my nursing school, I had to take out loans. (Granted, I probably didn’t have to accrue as much debt as I did by going to an out-of-state private university, but that’s another story for another day.) Of course, as a teenager with no credit, my family had to help as cosigners, but I was determined to tackle the balance on my own. With more than $120,000 in the hole after my college career, I knew my journey had just begun.
As stated previously, I started in home care and worked as much as I could. Many times working multiple shifts, six to seven days per week. No matter how much I worked, it didn’t seem to help bring that massive number down. I continued to live like a poor college student and budget meticulously. As I earned more money, I dumped it all into my loans.
When I got the hospital position, I continued to work both jobs as much as possible. The increased pay rate at the hospital helped, but I knew there was still room to grow. Luckily, the facility had a way to increase your pay rate through national certifications and clinical ladder progression. I saw this as a way to increase my pay, improve care for my patients, and elevate the organization. It was a win-win-win. However, after speaking with a few travelers at my facility and doing some research, I knew that travel nursing would be that extra boost needed to jumpstart my future.
Travel nursing has many financial benefits, including high pay rates and tax advantages. Of course, “high pay” is relative to the area and the level of need for the facility, but if you can live economically and budget, you will typically come out ahead. High pay paired with the tax-free stipends for housing and meals, leads you to keep more of the money you make. (I will go into this further on future blogs). As a personal example, after my first year traveling, close to 50% more money hit my bank account after taxes while working close to half the amount that I had been per week while taking off nearly a month entirely. Of course, there are additional expenses required when traveling, but if you maintain your tax-free eligibility and do your research into the area, you almost always come out ahead.
Too much of something, even if it’s good, is typically not so good. Just think of peanut butter. There’s that fine line between “OMG this is amazing” and “My stomach is killing me, I’ve had too much.” As mentioned earlier, I had been working a lot. I believe 27 days in a row and 70-80 hour weeks was when I realized that I needed a change. I was 25 years old and was burning myself out. I was a machine. Wake up, workout, go to work, try to have a social life, sleep, repeat. It got to the point where even in my dreams, I was at work. The more I worked, the more money I made, but it ultimately didn’t seem worth it. I was drained all the time, struggled to be with friends and family, and when payday came, more and more money was coming out of my checks for taxes. There was a positive correlation between work put in and money out, sure. But overall, it just didn’t seem worth it. It was also obvious that I was ignoring my health. I couldn’t cut corners at work so I would cut corners at home. I stopped working out as much, stopped preparing food to bring to work and instead grabbed something from the cafeteria or fast food place.
When I started traveling, I stopped working as much. My first contract was for 36 hours a week, and the facility didn’t really like to pay for overtime, so that was it. No more, no less. At first, I didn’t know what to do with all my free time, but I soon learned how to use my time productively in other ways rather than working. I got back to the gym, meal prepping, playing basketball. Hell, it was southern California in the summer – there was plenty to do. I noticed my stress levels drastically decreasing and was able to think much more clearly when I wasn’t constantly on the clock. As an added bonus, in California, the mandatory ratios for patients to nurses was significantly lower than what I was accustomed to in New Jersey. I now had 3 to 4 patient at a time whereas I used to have up to 7. There are also scheduled breaks which I could have only dreamed of. When drafting a contract, you can put your required time off so you can go on that vacation you scheduled, and if you’re feeling a little lazy, you can take a break between assignments. This all just made work more pleasant which definitely impacted my life in a positive way. With the combination of working less often and more desirable work conditions, I was able to make some much-needed tweaks to my work-life balance and get my health back in order.
Everyone back home is just like me. If I had to guess, I’d say 98% of my town is at least one of the following: Irish, Italian, Roman Catholic, white, or Republican. And, I might be lowballing that number too. I value people’s differences. When everyone and everything is the same, it’s boring. I love to learn about people and new places. I got my first real taste of differences in people when I went away to college. Again, much of the physical make-up was the same having gone to school in the North East, but at least people were from different places. I found myself fascinated with everyone’s hometowns, what crazy words or phrases they’d say, or their accents. Like seriously, who calls a water fountain a “bubbler”? Also listening to a kid from Boston go on and on about how Tom Brady is one of the most important people to ever walk the planet followed quickly by a New Yorker who thinks otherwise was quite entertaining. Although this was all great, I knew I wanted more exposure to the world and to explore away from my comfortable little corner of it.
I’ve spent the last year working in Los Angeles, and it was a shock from the start – I still can’t tell if I’m impatient or everyone is just slow. In all seriousness, being immersed in this city, which is basically a bunch of mini-cities that grew in together, has been wonderful. I’ve gotten to learn about many cultures, enjoy their food, and stare blankly and nod when they speak to me in their language. Korean BBQ – they supply the food and skillet, and you cook it. Taco trucks on the street with everything in Spanish. My barber is an Armenian guy who speaks some English but not enough to have a real conversation and I know absolutely no Armenian. We don’t really speak except for exchanging hellos and me saying “number two on the sides, trim the top,” followed by our good-byes. However, I value these conversations because as I sit in the barbershop and get my hair cut, I’m able to absorb a little of their culture even though I don’t understand what they’re saying. I’ve also been able to practice some of my Spanish, which is something I’ve always wanted to do for myself but also for the comfort of my patients. I still follow my little script, “Hola. Me llamo Tomás. Soy enfermero. Yo hablo español un pequito,” but I’m able to actually communicate a bit more which is always nice.
- Travel nursing allows me to improve my nursing practice, world exposure, and financial and personal health.
- You can expand your nursing experience in different settings using previously acquired skills.
- Less money out in taxes means more money for you thanks to tax-free housing and meal stipends for those that qualify.
- Take that vacation without having to worry if your PTO will be approved.
- Explore new places and be immersed in their culture while on assignment.