Kathleen Johnson has been a nurse specializing in trauma for more than 30 years, and she’s been a travel nurse periodically throughout her career. In 2014, though, her travel nursing became personal when her brother discovered he had Stage 4 cancer. She knew he needed treatment immediately, and she knew she had to be one of his nurses.
Getting to know patients
Kathleen treats all of her patients like family. When she started nursing in 1973, she joined the field because she loves people. She never really cared about making money. Since becoming a travel nurse, she has treated gunshot wounds in Chicago and other crime-related injuries in California. She said that she talked to those patients about their lives and how they can get out of crime.
“When people are sick, they have a certain open door, and we nurses can walk through it and we can actually heal,” says Kathleen. These connections are what keep her going as a travel nurse. In fact, these days, she’s often working 72-hour weeks without complaining.
Traveling where she wants
In 1993, Kathleen decided she needed a break from Chicago. She took a travel nursing job in Florida as a way to reset. When she took her first assignment, she was worried that she’d get all the difficult and unpleasant cases, but this wasn’t the case.
“It is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and I personally recommend every brand-new nurse to get out there and travel,” says Kathleen. “You will learn everything about your field as you go from state to state and place to place.”
After her first travel nursing assignment, she settled in Florida for about 15 years, working in Sarasota. Then, traveling called her again when she realized she wanted to be closer to her daughter and granddaughter, who lived in Virginia. She found a travel nursing assignment in Washington D.C. and then one in Fairfax, Virginia. She was about to renew the contract in Fairfax when she got a call from her dad.
Working with her brother
Kathleen’s dad called her while her brother was taking care of him in Florida. Her dad mentioned that her brother wasn’t feeling well. Her brother was in his 40s, and he had severe back pain. Kathleen said that her brother never complains, so her nursing alarm bells started to ring. She thought, “Something’s not right about this,” and decided not to renew her contract in Fairfax so she could go to Florida.
The second she saw her brother, she knew he needed to see a doctor immediately. That’s when he was diagnosed with Stage 4B mantle cell lymphoma blastoid variant, an extremely rare cancer. The doctor gave him a few months to live.
Kathleen decided she would find a job at Moffitt, the cancer hospital her brother would go to for a potentially life-saving stem cell transplant. She called all the travel nursing agencies she could. She told them they needed to find her a job at that hospital within the next week or two, so she could be by her brother’s side. Most of them said it couldn’t happen.
Two weeks later, one agency found her something at Moffitt, but the apartment they had for her wouldn’t work. She needed an apartment that would be safe for her brother, who was immunosuppressed. RNnetwork was able to find her the right apartment, which was right on the campus of the hospital, and the other agency graciously passed the assignment to RNnetwork so Kathleen could care for her brother. During her brother’s treatment, Kathleen, her two sisters and two brothers all stayed at the apartment for some part of her brother’s treatment.
Even when Kathleen wasn’t working with her brother, the staff at the hospital would always ask how she and her family were doing. Everyone at the hospital was upbeat, and they genuinely cared about their patients in a way Kathleen hadn’t seen anywhere else in her career. The staff even pooled their money to purchase 50 bikes for the children with cancer as a Christmas present. This kind of caring culture made the process of treating her brother much easier.
“My brother was 49 years old and we didn’t think he’d turn 50,” says Kathleen. “He’s now 55 years old and cancer free. And that’s all due to RNnetwork getting me that apartment.”