I mourned my father at his funeral on Sunday — then attempted to pull myself together for work on Monday.
I thought I had everything under control.
But, as a labor and delivery nurse, I had no idea how difficult it would be to care for others when I wasn’t given the time to take care of myself first. After my patient delivered a beautiful baby boy and then called her father to the bedside to welcome his first grandchild, my emotions overtook me. The painful realization that my dad would never see his grandchildren was too much to bear at the time.
My manager quickly pulled me aside and said, “I know you’re upset, but you need to pull it together. You’re making a scene.”
I stood there in shock at her response. I wiped my tears, apologized, and went back to work at the job I now resented.
I know what you’re thinking.
“You deserve time off after losing your father.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I would have QUIT?!”
Believe me, I had every single one of those thoughts too. But, despite the fact that I was burnt out, mistreated, and unappreciated — I had no way out. This job was necessary to make ends meet.
Later that day, I sat in the break room with a million emotions running through my head. I felt completely defeated. And, I honestly wondered how much longer I could last. All I could say to myself was, “I’m too tired to function. I hate my job. I just want to be with my family. I don’t even know if I want to be a nurse anymore.”
Then the phone rang. Serendipitously, it was a travel nurse recruiter I had spoken to in the past. Before he passed, my father and I had discussed travel nursing, but I never thought it was something that I would actually do. Every time this recruiter called, it was always the same conversation full of excuses and what-ifs.
“I don’t want to move to a new city by myself.”
“What if my contract gets canceled?”
“What if the next hospital is worse than here?”
“What if I don’t have enough experience?”
But that day, I was fed up. I had finally reached my tipping point.
All those fears suddenly vanished when I realized that my biggest fear was actually staying stuck. Staying stuck at a job that refused to give me time off to grieve my father. Staying stuck working in a hospital that enforced mandatory overtime, but didn’t enforce lunch breaks. Staying stuck with a manager that
told me to “pull it together and get back to work” without recognizing my agony after burying my father just hours before my shift started.
So, I made the decision that changed my life — becoming a travel nurse. By far, the best decision I’ve ever made. It gave me the opportunity to double my income, help support my newly widowed mother, move closer to my parent’s home, and take the time off I needed to deal with a life that no longer included my father.
But, I’m not going to pretend like I was brave enough to take the leap without feeling anxious about the unknown. Packing up, driving across the country, and moving to an unfamiliar city is terrifying. Adjusting to a new unit, meeting new people, and learning new things is intimidating. Flying solo after a few days of orientation is nothing short of challenging. Anyone who tells you differently is lying to you.
What I will tell you is that I was so busy worrying about all the things that could go wrong, I didn’t take time to think about how incredible my life would be if all of those things went right.
As a travel nurse, I’ve lived in other countries and learned a new language. I’ve spent a month traveling across Europe with my closest friends. I’ve played with penguins on the beach in the southern tip of Africa. I even managed to finish my master’s degree while living in paradise (Costa Rica!). But, all of those experiences are just the icing on the cake. The truth is, I became a travel nurse because I was desperate to leave a job I hated, overwhelmed with grief that turned to depression, and more financially stressed than I’d ever been before.
Travel nursing allowed me to escape all of those things. I’ve been able to travel the world, make more money, and choose when and where I want to work. And, most importantly, I found happiness.
Sarah Gaines, MSN, RNC-OB is a labor and delivery nurse, nurse mentor, and educator that has been a travel nurse for the last three years.
Passionate about travel nursing (14 contracts and counting!), she’s created the 6 Figure Travel Nurse Course to educate and empower nurses to maximize their income so they can work less and travel more.