If you're free and able and have the chance to do some travel nursing during your career, you really should give it a try. The experiences will stay with you for the rest of your life, and your personal and professional growth will be rewarded beyond your imagination.
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That's what happened to me. In 1981, I was working in a New York City hospital that stressed every cell in my body. I was very unhappy where I was. I had a long list of things I didn't want: I didn't want to stay in critical care, but I didn't want to go back to my previous specialties of emergency department or operating room. I also didn't want to go into another specialty. I didn't want to work evenings or nights, but I didn't want to get up early in the morning either. I didn't want to work in a hospital in Manhattan, but I didn't want to commute to one of the other boroughs. What did I want? I just didn't know.
One night, while sitting on the couch eating ice cream (directly out of the carton; it's the only way to truly handle hospital stress), I noticed a nursing journal on my coffee table. Facing me was the back cover-an ad for a travel nursing company. I picked it up and read the ad, then called to get more information. That's all, just to get more information. Of course, once I had the information, I was hooked. I wanted to give my notice immediately and take just one assignment, which I thought would give me the time to clear my head, get a better perspective on nursing, and decide what I wanted to do. I was on the road for 4 years.
My first assignment was in Little Rock, Ark. Coming from New York City, with big-city university hospital experience in a surgical cardiovascular intensive care unit (ICU), I felt perfectly qualified for an assignment in another open-heart ICU. I was from New York City, after all. I thought I knew everything.
When I started working, however, I was in for a surprise. They did many things completely differently. Of course, I thought, they're just wrong. That isn't the way you do it. But after several weeks of doing things their way, I realized that their patients did just as well as mine had in New York. I slowly understood that the New York way was just one way to get things done, not the only way. It was an eye-opening and humbling revelation.
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My next assignment was in New Orleans. I arrived in January, and by Mardi Gras season, I was such a local that I found myself complaining about the tourists. What an amazing city. I went for 8 weeks and stayed for 5 months, until the Louisiana weather started conflicting with my heat intolerance.
After attending an incredible New Orleans jazz festival, I took an assignment in Montana, where I saw some of this country's most breathtaking beauty. On my days off, I'd wander through Glacier National Park, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone National Park, and many historic western sites. At work, I faced a new and different array of patients with injuries from rodeos and even covered-wagon races. I just never got much practice with those in Manhattan. One night, I had the privilege of talking to an elderly Arapaho woman who told me the story of her life. I'd never have had that experience staying in New York, and I still treasure the memory of that night.
My travel adventures continued, as my next assignment landed me in Florida, where I took care of surfing accidents and spring-break injuries related to drinking and using drugs while driving and swimming or surfing. Again, we don't have many surfing accidents in the East River. Next, in Georgia, I picked up my binoculars to watch the rare birds of St. Simons and Jekyl Island, then enjoyed touring Savannah and Charleston. In Texas, I learned how gruesome agricultural injuries can be and developed a deep respect for rural nurses caring for patients with farming wounds in small hospitals.
Every experience was an education in itself. The greatest perk, however, was meeting other nurses throughout the country. I saw my country, I saw my profession, I learned about myself. What could be better than that?
Edie Brous is a nurse-attorney currently practicing at Garson, Gerspach, DeCorato & Cohen, LLP, New York, N.Y.