I honestly didn’t even grow up wanting to be a nurse.
No one in my family is in healthcare, my parents never suggested it to me as a career, no one else I was close to had plans to be a nurse, nothing.
I made it all the way to my first semester of college before deciding to do nursing. I remember it clearly — but it wasn’t some major life-changing moment for me. I was enrolled in my university as an English/Psychology major (lol what), and realizing my career/financial outlook looked a little dim. I didn’t want to go back for my master’s, I wanted a bachelor’s degree I could immediately go out and earn a decent living with. I was sitting on the futon of my dorm room with my boyfriend at the time, scrolling through a list of majors my university offered, when I came across “Nursing“.
“Huh,” I thought. “Nursing. I could do that.”
And that was that. Here I am, with a life I never dreamed of, all because of an option on a scroll-down menu I looked through in 2009.
Of course, not all roads are that simple.
(If you’d just like to see where I’ve been while travel nursing, scroll on down to the bottom! If not, read on for my nurse life story.)
I had a rough time at the university I attended straight out of high school, to put things lightly. I went there for three semesters, and then realized I was miserable. I was home for Christmas break in the kitchen, and my mom innocently asked, “So, are you ready to go back to school?” And I answered her truthfully – no, I was not.
Despite going to a private, Catholic high school where 99.9% of graduating seniors went to a four-year college, and generally being of the economic middle-class where a bachelor’s degree is viewed as the minimum education to earn, my parents were supportive and helped move everything along so I could come home. I withdrew from my university and enrolled in community college to finish my nursing pre-requisites. I attended my local community college for three semesters before finally starting in OFFICIAL nursing school!
Nursing school was a whirlwind of two years, but worth every second. I didn’t have a super solid group of friends in nursing school who I hung out with every day, or a study group, or anything like that, but I still considered myself friends with all my classmates.
I worked during nursing school, as did many of my classmates. At first, I was just a waitress at a bar, but midway through my first year, I managed to get my foot in the door at a hospital. I was basically a receptionist in the blood bank, and only worked on weekends. This “foot in the door” was not what I was looking for. I hardly ever interacted with nurses on the floor, being stuck in the lab all day. I wasn’t out doing patient care to help prepare me for when I would graduate and become a nurse. It was helpful to put on my resume to show that I was able to balance the demands of nursing school with a job, but other than that, didn’t do much to further my career.
Eventually, I attended a job fair for another hospital system, and was hired on as a “Patient Care Associate” in the float pool. I worked in this capacity for my last year of nursing school. THIS was more what I had in mind when people said to work at a hospital to get my foot in the door. Being in the float pool was especially helpful because I got to “test drive” tons of different nursing units. As a PCA, I would either work as a “sitter” for patients who were confused or a safety risk, or on the floor as a tech, taking vitals and helping nurses with their various tasks.
I spent a lot of shifts down in the Emergency Department, and this was where my passion developed through nursing school. I just knew I was meant to be an ER nurse. I loved the environment, the quick turnaround of patients, the close working relationship nurses and doctors shared. I was lucky enough to do my senior “immersion” experience in the ER at my “home hospital”.
I wanted a job in the ER right out of school so badly. Most nurses hear this tired advice of “getting a year in medical-surgical nursing” — but most nurses also know that it’s bullshit. I knew I wouldn’t be happy working on a med-surg floor, even if it was just for a year. Luckily, doing my immersion in the ER basically proved to be a job interview. I was able to show my face and get my name out to the nurse director and manager in the ER, as well as the other staff nurses who worked there.
However, working in the Emergency Department wasn’t in the cards for me. Which, ultimately, worked out in my favor.
The ER director told me they were unable to hire any new grads at the time, and the best plan for me would to work on another unit in the same hospital system, then apply for a transfer in six months. I was working as a sitter on a surgical/trauma med-surg floor on one of my shifts, and went and spoke with the nursing director of that unit. I told her I was graduating nursing school, and would love to come work for her. I applied, had an interview, and it was all looking good for me to start my career on night shift on that unit. It wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but I was happy to have a job ready — right after I passed the NCLEX!
I graduated nursing school with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing in May 2014. Crazily enough, our final grades were submitted to the Board of Nursing weeks before we actually had our graduation ceremony. One of my classmates was already licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN) by the time we walked the stage!
I took a different route. I took a week-long Kaplan NCLEX prep class, did questions frequently, and eventually passed my NCLEX on the first try, with the minimum required questions in June 2014.
July 2014, I officially started my first job as a NURSE.
PLOT TWIST — my first job was in an Intensive Care Unit! I was not drawn to the ICU during my rotations in school, and could not see myself as an ICU nurse. I was so determined to be an ER nurse. After I interviewed and was hired on the med-surg floor, I got an email from the director. You see, she was also the director of the Surgical/Trauma ICU (STICU). And she just so happened to have an opening.
So I interviewed with the STICU team, and ended up calling the unit home for two years. I learned (and saw) a lot in my time, and had some amazing coworkers. I fell in love with critical care. I never did apply for that transfer to the ER. I knew the ICU was where I really belonged.
(Not to mention, it’s where I ended up meeting Aaron, my boyfriend.)
Around April or May 2016, I started to feel what all nurses are familiar with — burn-out. I know, I know — how can I be feeling burned-out when I hadn’t even been a nurse two full years yet? The answer was heavy patients, mandatory overtime, and the fact that it taken about a year to just keep my head above water as a new grad nurse. Add in a manager that was making me dread going to work and come home crying one morning, and I was over it.
I wasn’t sure where I needed to go, I just knew I couldn’t be at my job in the STICU for much longer. I thought about maybe finally transferring down to the ER. But I knew deep down, that after all these months, I was a full-fledged ICU nurse. I liked my patients intubated and sedated. I was already working at what most people consider the best hospital in town, so I didn’t want to transfer anywhere else.
So, I decided to go on a journey we like to call travel nursing.
For those who don’t know, “travel nurses” are basically contract workers/temps. We work with agencies that staff hospitals who are short staffed. Hospitals may be short staffed for a myriad of reasons — mass staff exodus, people on maternity leave, opening a new unit, converting to a new Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system, etc. Travel nurses take contracts all over the country, usually lasting for 13 weeks. We can pick where we go, we don’t just get randomly placed at a hospital or city. We work within our chosen specialty (mine is ICU). We usually only have one day of orientation, and then are expected to hit the ground running. We get paid. A LOT.
Travel nursing is the best option for making the most money as a bedside nurse. While it may seem like we’re all living our best lives, traveling around the country, going on amazing hikes, saving up and becoming debt free, buying expensive gadgets or plane tickets, it’s not all money in the bank and Instagram-worthy photos. We have to find our own housing, we run the risk of our contracts getting canceled at any time without warning, we may not get along with our new coworkers, we have to learn a completely new system every 3 months, most of the time we have no control of our schedule, we have to be far away from most of our loved ones and family, etc.
After travel nursing for a little over a year, my plan was to take a couple months off to attend family weddings, and go on vacation. I was going to return home and work a “local contract”, basically being a local traveler so I could avoid being a staff nurse again. Ultimately, it ended up being easier for me to just start working as a per diem agency nurse.
So that’s what I’m doing for now. I pick up shifts in various ICUs at one hospital system in my home city. The plan was to work here, and then in spring find another travel contract… but as I learned as a travel nurse, it’s important to stay flexible.
Here’s a list of places I have taken travel nurse contracts.
Presbyterian Rust Medical Center
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
– August 1, 2016 – October 29, 2016
St. David’s South Austin Medical Center
– November 14, 2016 – February 18, 2017
Johns Hopkins Hospital
– March 13, 2017 – September 16, 2017