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Travel nursing can help you grow in life — and your career [Video interview]

In the third of a series of travel nurse video interviews, travel nurse Bob Goldnetz sits down for an interview with ICU travel nurse and good friend Stacey Jewell to learn about how she’s grown — both professionally and personally.

READ FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Bob:

I’m going to start recording you now if that’s alright. I guess we’ll just kind of hop right into it unless you have any questions or anything.

Stacy:

I’m good to go.

Bob:

I’m Bob Goldnetz. I’m with RNnetwork. I’m joined by Stacy Jewell, someone who I’ve known for a wee bit, I would say. Where are you joining us from?

Stacy:

I’m in Tacoma, Washington right now. I’m here on a travel assignment sort of, kind of a long-term travel gig that I’m doing here.

Bob:

Is it as pretty as your boy toy’s painting back there?

Stacy:

It is. That’s Mount Rainer; that’s the super-famous volcano out here that everyone loves. It’s actually sunny and beautiful right now, so you can see it. It’s been overcast for the past several months, so the sunlight is welcome.

Bob:

It’s like break-up season in Alaska. It’s starting to get nice, huh?

Stacy:

Yes, just as of yesterday. Before that everyone was like, it’s still 45 degrees and raining, when is it going to be spring?

Bob:

It’s like with Joe in Portland. A little quick background and feel free to add on. Yes, you and I kind of met in college through the environmental club, I think, I believe was the first initial meeting, and then we ended up living in the same apartment complex. You were a year behind me in nursing school, so I feel like we initially kind of reconnected when you came to Richmond through your job. I remember we met and had coffee right before your interview, and then kind of life gets busy and we ended up re-reconnecting and then go to New Zealand for a month together. And then I guess as we’ve both been travelers, just kind of been able to every now and then keep in touch.

Stacy:

Yeah, pretty much.

Bob:

You’re one of the few people who got a nice little card telling the world I was going to have a baby.

Stacy:

Aw, yeah. I was conveniently in Florida at the same time as you.

Bob:

Yeah, it’s crazy how you can go all over the world and still kind of reconnect in the same places. Alright, so tell me a little bit about why you became a nurse?

Stacy:

Why did I become a nurse? To be completely honest, when I was finishing up high school and applying to colleges — I had done pretty well in school, I was definitely strong in math and sciences — and applied to colleges, and I was told to pick a major, and I was like, I don’t know. At age 18, I really didn’t have a big dream of being a nurse, to be honest, at that time, but I had to pick a major, and my mom was a nurse, and I had an aunt that was a nurse, so it seemed like a good idea, and it kind of matched along with the math and science route. I got into college, continued to take math and science prerequisites my first two years, and to be honest, it just kind of aligned that way. I picked a major, and it worked out, and the further I got into it, the more I realized I really did enjoy it, and it was a great choice. Honestly, 18-year-old me made a good snap decision for this career choice.

Bob:

I’m sure not every 18-year-old can say the same. If you want to be realistic and tell the truth, you can say you just watched a bunch of Grey’s Anatomy and thought it was cool.

Stacy:

Honestly, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And looking back when I meet people who are picking a major in college, if you’re 18 and you really don’t know what to do – aside from the fact that of course I love nursing and I’m passionate about it now – when you’re 18 and you don’t know what to do, it’s a good solid choice to make as a major if you don’t know what else to do because you’re going to have a job and there’s so many paths you can take with it. I’m glad I kind of got lucky and just picked a good major, and it’s brought me here now.

Bob:

I feel the same. I feel very fortunate for where I am, and sometimes I look back and wonder what I would have done differently. It would have been nice to do like a trade and save some money and then settle into nursing, but I feel, like you said, the routes you can go and the flexibility are pretty stand alone. I guess as you move forward into school through college and taking the classes, did your mom play any deciding factor into your decision or again, you just kind of stumbled into it.

Stacy:

I would say stumbled into it. She definitely had a factor in it, and then as I was going through nursing school, my mom — as you know my mom and I are really close — and she was a big support person for me just going through school and the struggles of the clinicals and stuff. I kept in close contact with her just kind of talking my way through things. She’s been an ER nurse her entire life. She actually did work ICU a long time ago, 20 years ago, she’s been in the same ER for a long time, so she sees a little bit of everything. And every step of the way up until even now, my mom is just a really great person to bounce things off of and kind of relate to about the whole nursing world, so that’s been helpful.

Bob:

And with 20 – 30% of people leaving the past couple of years, she’s definitely a little bit of a bad ass, huh?

Stacy:

She is. She’s turning 65 this year, and she’s still a full-time charge nurse of her ER, and she’s like that Mama Bird nurse in her unit. Lots of people have moved on, she’s got a lot of young new grad nurses that she oversees but she’s still kicking.

Bob:

Tell me a little bit about your nursing career?

Stacy:

I went to nursing school, made a great choice, graduated in 2014, and another kind of lucky stumble that happened for me because my mom had been a nurse in Richmond for so long she had some connections, knew some people that were nurse managers, and kind of gave me a thumbs up for one of the places I applied to which was VCU. So, I got my first nursing job straight out of school at VCU in the surgical trauma ICU, and I worked there for my first three years as a nurse, and it was, to say the least, super challenging, super overwhelming as a new grad. I think any new grad there’s a lot of on-the-job learning that you have to do when you graduate, but especially in a level one trauma ICU, it was a lot. My first year, I definitely struggled a lot. Looking back, I think I did OK, but in the moment, it was really overwhelming, and I went home and cried and called my mom a lot because I felt in over my head. I had a really supportive team of coworkers who were helpful with my success there. I would say about a year, and then I finally felt like I kind of knew what I was doing, and I stayed there for a total of three years before I started travel nursing. That first three years was so valuable to me. Traveling has been awesome, but my first three years that I got as a foundation was super helpful just because I had seen a little bit of everything, lots of surgeries and traumas, so I felt like I was pretty well prepared when I started traveling. And then I’ve been traveling for five years now.

Bob:

That sounds pretty much like living the dream. I guess you kind of touched on it, but I guess looking back, I feel like I may have gotten a phone call or two from you saying, is this normal, is this how it’s supposed to be? I guess looking back, maybe that first year and even up to before you started traveling, what were your expectations, and do you think they were met or not met by the nursing industry or the ICU?

Stacy:

I can’t remember what I really expected walking in there, but like I said, I do think I had a particularly supportive environment, and since I’ve traveled, I think I’ve worked places that don’t quite have that environment for new grads. But VCU had the nurse residency program for new grads, which I think was helpful just kind of that additional time to kind of process what you’re going through. I would say, expectations, I don’t know. I don’t know if I really had expectations. I walked in there and was like, let’s see what happens. I can’t say enough about how much VCU was a supportive place to start as a new grad in the ICU. I guess I figured it was going to be difficult because I know not everywhere accepts new grads in ICUs, so I’m like, I guess I got lucky even getting in this spot. Here goes nothing.

Bob:

If it was such a good support system and you felt like you learned a lot, what made you ultimately, besides me and going to New Zealand and the once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip that it was, what ultimately made you decide to take the jump into traveling?

Stacy:

You and New Zealand was definitely a big part of it, but I’d heard about travel nursing while I was in school, thought it sounded cool, but I knew that you needed at least two years in your specialty before you started traveling. I was in the midst of a weird relationship when I hit my two years and so the thought had kind of taken the backburner. So I think I was three years in and had just gone through a break up when Bob Goldnetz happened to come into town to meet me for coffee after a night shift, and you told me about your New Zealand trip coming up. I was just down and upset over a breakup and just kind of feeling stuck. I still enjoyed my job, but I think I was looking for something different, and you were like, I’m going to New Zealand for a month and you should come and also you should quit your job and when you get back you should start traveling because it’s awesome. Total epiphany of a day for me. I left having coffee with you, and I was like, oh my gosh, I guess I figured my life was always going to be in Virginia, and after that I left and I called my mom and I was like, Bob just invited me to New Zealand, what a wild idea, right? She was like, that actually sounds awesome. That sounds like a great plan. And I should start travel nursing afterward, and she was like, yeah you should. That day my mind was blown even considering it because I’d never thought that it would really happen and that I would even really do anything cool with my life. I put in my notice at VCU and took the trip to New Zealand that was a once-in-a-lifetime thing that we did, and when I came back, I started talking to a recruiter and took the leap. I guess, in just kind of a conglomeration of events that happened, all at the right moments made it make sense for me, and I was ready to do something new.

Bob:

Heck yeah. I think it was pretty fair to say, I think you got a watch out of it, and it seems like you succeeded. Run me down the list. I mean, don’t like show off, where all have you been?

Stacy:

[Inaudible] Phoenix, Arizona and I loved it. I was 25, I guess. I moved there and had an absolute blast, and I worked at a Banner Hospital in Phoenix and extended my contract for six months. Then Reno, Nevada in Renown Hospital, which is a huge traveler-friendly hospital, like half of the hospital is travelers. Hartford, Connecticut, which was an odd one but good. I was actually traveling with a buddy at that point, and we went to Honolulu, and we stayed there for six months. That was also an amazing life moment where I was like, no way am I really moving to Honolulu, this is crazy. I had a great time there, and then came back to Washington, worked at Harvard View in Seattle. I’m getting too far into the details, but anyway, I worked at Harvard View in Seattle for six months, met my boyfriend while I was there. He and I started doing life together. He had to go to Florida for a job; I got a contract in Fort Lauderdale. Then we’ve since ended up back in Washington, so I’ve just been continuing to do contracts here in Tacoma right now [inaudible] back to Seattle for my next contract. That sums it up.

Bob:

That’s freaking awesome. There’s definitely a couple of places there – I was supposed to go to Hawaii and then they pulled the contract while I was in South America, but it looks freaking awesome. I’ll make it one day. What do you think your favorite assignment was? Obviously they all have their good things for different reasons but what do you think stands out as the number one?

Stacy:

Hawaii was definitely the most memorable just life situation wise, just to get to go somewhere like that is such a privilege that most people don’t get to do so that was cool. But my favorite hospital wise is probably Harvard View in Seattle [inaudible] because it’s really similar to VCU in Richmond and has a lot of similar characteristics like the level one trauma teaching hospital, you’d have residents, medical students, attendings, they do rounds every day, there’s just a lot to learn and it feels a lot more diverse than some of the smaller hospitals do. When I work there I feel like I’m part of a really good team, I feel like it’s cutting edge technology, [inaudible] doctors that are all about the latest research environment to work in.

Bob:

Nice. So, with all the positivity and all the good memories, how has — I will allude to or get to later, has your travel shoes going to be hung up and this adventure is coming to a close — how has the travel industry when looking back five years ago, everything you could have wanted or expected, what do you think looking back?

Stacy:

It has helped me grow as a nurse in a huge way. I can’t think of a more eloquent way to say that. If I had stayed at VCU and kept working there, I would have been really good at being a SCU nurse at VCU, but traveling opened up so much more room to grow for me. Just being out of my comfort zone, interacting with different types of people in different states, different hospital systems, just so many added challenges that I’ve had that I’ve gotten really good at now that I just think it made me that much better of a nurse. For example, just walking into a hospital on your first day, the average person starts a new job only a couple of times in their life probably and it’s a nerve wracking day when you’re walking into a place, you don’t know anyone, you’ve got your brand-new badge on and you’re like, what do I do. I’ve done that enough times now where I used to get nervous and the last few times I’m like, I don’t even think I’m nervous anymore. I have repeated this enough that you get comfortable with being uncomfortable and being surrounded by strangers and just going in there and doing your job and feeling confident that you can do your job regardless of who is around you or what state you’re in. That’s just been huge for me to be more confident in my nursing practice.

Bob:

Oh, my little girl grew up.

Stacy:

I know, it’s crazy. My first year as a nurse I was so nervous and so shy and my biggest struggle was I lacked confidence. Walking in there and talking to families in an ICU setting and now it really is kind of emotional. Looking back, I really have grown so much and almost nothing scares me anymore about nursing. I can do it all because I made myself uncomfortable and put myself in situations where I can do it now.

Bob:

You’re so right. It’s amazing. All the things you learn in nursing school just to prepare you to start learning as a nurse. You can’t prepare somebody to have their first-time end-of-life discussion. There’s certain things you can teach and certain things you just kind of have to learn and then some people may not have a knack for it. I think that’s a very eloquent way to put it. I guess, what’s the next step?

Stacy:

I just got into CRNA school and I’ll be starting fulltime in January. Thinking back on where I came from, I can’t believe I’m saying that either but that’s also just fallen into place. The past few years as a nurse – not to be all cocky and arrogant – but I have felt the change where I’m like, I can do all of this. The things that used to be scary aren’t scary anymore, and I felt myself kind of longing for a deeper role. Sometimes if something has gone wrong with my patient and the thing to do is page the doctor and I’m like, I wish I could just do something. I wish the response wasn’t just to page a doctor and ask him what to do. And so, I started thinking seriously about going back to school, and I have a super-supportive partner who kind of pushed me along and was like, dude, you can do anything, you’re smart, you’re capable, you could go back and be a doctor if you wanted. I don’t think I want to do that. I looked into furthering my education as a nurse, and definitely CRNA was the way to go for me. I shadowed several times in the OR. I shadowed one CRNA, and then I had a lot of trouble out here because the hospital I’m working at now doesn’t have CRNAs, so I had to shadow some anesthesiologists, and just in that environment I was like, absolutely that’s what I want to do. So, I started applying to schools — I think it’s been more than a full year at this point. [inaudible] January of 2020 when I started thinking this is what I need to do. I got my CCRN, started putting in apps last summer, I think. I applied to several schools, I got wait listed by a couple, interviewed for a few, and got into two schools. So, here I am. I got accepted and that’s the pathway.

Bob:

Nice. Congrats. I think it’s a big step for anybody and a great step for you. It’s just kind of amazing. I don’t really meet anybody who is like your mom or for that matter, my mom. Yeah, I want to be a nurse for the next 60 years or 40 years – I guess 60 years would be a lot, you’d have an 80-year-old nurse – but I guess I knew in the beginning it was a stepping stone for a lot of people, but I think it’s been exacerbated by Covid, the working conditions. I remember you talking about this one doctor on SCU that you would just get nervous as soon as she walked up because you knew she was going to belittle you, and I just think not everybody, like you said, has that nice foundation or has that supportive team. You said your mom is getting all these new nurses. I think it’s kind of scary when I see some of the things they get into. I get nervous as a traveler now when I walk in and I don’t have a badge and they’re like, you’re starting, and I’m like, what? I don’t know how to use this charging system. At the same time, I see these new grads getting out way too early. I was nervous when I had more than enough time in orientation. I guess, do you think there’s anything that would make you want to stay or you think it’s just you need a different challenge, you just need to step in a different direction.

Stacy:

Yeah, I think I knew for a while that I knew I wanted to do something more. There’s certain aspects of ICU nursing where I was like, I know I can’t do this forever. I know that eventually there’s going to be something else and some of those being – there are a lot of great things about nursing but there are some things I just didn’t see myself doing [inaudible] lifelong like being at the bedside, patients and family members. And also, just the backbreaking aspect of it. Turning heavy patients and your back hurts at the end of a long day. I’m not even 30 and my back hurts and there’s got to be something more that I can do.

Bob:

I guess, again, part of the things I like to touch on is the effects of Covid. You haven’t really said the same type of things as somebody with burnout but again, you are looking for a difference and know it’s not sustainable. What do you do to decompress and to go back the next day or the next week or the next assignment?

Stacy:

Definitely not think about work at all when I’m not there. Honestly, my best way of dealing with rough days at work is to talk, so to be honest, when I come home, I either talk to Robert or my mom. They are my two people that I unload things on because Robert is really understanding and my mom really understands and she can relate to my experiences. Usually just talk about things and then on my days off I just focus on my own health and wellness and having fun. Early on, that’s one of the great things about traveling, every day off I felt like I was on vacation. Anytime I wasn’t at the hospital, especially in Hawaii, every time I wasn’t at the hospital, I was like, what tourist activity are we doing today? Let’s go snorkeling, let’s go scuba diving, let’s go get in a submarine. I wanted to try every beach, try every restaurant, so I definitely had a blast early on just being young and single and just enjoying myself and doing whatever and immersing myself in the culture of wherever I happen to be. I used to go to concerts by myself like in Arizona and make friends. Definitely just all about relaxing and having fun and enjoying the location that I’m in. Now that I’ve kind of settled down, in a long-term relationship, still traveling but not big-time traveling, still just a lot of outdoor activities. In Washington there’s a little bit of everything. As you know, it’s kind of an awesome place to live. I ski in the winter, I do a lot of road biking, I sort of mountain bike but not really. I have a dog that keeps me entertained as well. And just focusing on my own health and fitness, like I prioritize sleep and exercise and good diet when I’m off because those things make me feel better when I’m coming back to work.

Bob:

I think the sleep things is crazy. I don’t think anybody gets enough sleep. I don’t think anybody realizes how much sleep they should probably get. I guess lastly, what would you say to some of your mom’s new grads. Looking back, what’s a couple words of wisdom or pieces of advice you would give to a new nurse or a new traveler?

Stacy:

I don’t know how good I am at this kind of thing. I definitely, like I said before, I really think that choosing nursing as a career is a great step one in your life for anyone, so congrats on choosing nursing because the world is your oyster as a nurse. That field and you try and if it doesn’t work out, there’s always a totally different type of nursing you could do with way different job responsibilities that you could enjoy. I would advise people to give it a thorough shot. Don’t give up on one type of nursing to soon because just from my experience as an ICU nurse, if I had gone home and cried the first time and been like, I quit, then I would have really been selling myself short because it was just a really steep learning curve and it took some time. Just know that it’s going to take time to really feel like you have any idea what’s going on and that’s normal. I don’t know if that’s very professional advice, but I think that’s really helpful for people to know that we all go through that, those moments at the beginning. I think it’s helpful to have coworkers that are maybe in the same boat as you because definitely when I was new at VCU, I had a couple of other friends that were new grads with me on the same unit, and it was really helpful to talk with them and realize that I wasn’t alone, we were all kind of going through the same thing. And for a new traveler, kind of the same thing, it’s going to be terrifying at first when you walk into a hospital and you don’t know anyone but you’re going to figure it out, you’re going to be better in the end. And I would say one other thing, in my experience of five years traveling in a lot of places, the whole stigma about travel nurses or people eating their young or people hating on travel nurses, I really never had that experience. Everywhere I’ve been – I mean, there are places where they’re more accepting than others, but I’ve never worked anywhere where anyone was like trying to ruin my day or being discriminatory towards me. I guess my biggest piece of advice to any nurse is that you can always ask your coworkers for help. It’s totally normal to ask for help, and even if you don’t know anyone – that’s what I’ve gotten really good at, I don’t know any of these people here, but I need to double check something with someone so I’m going to walk up to this girl and be like, “What’s up, I’m Stacy, I’m the new traveler, just wondering your opinion on this?” That’s a big thing to me that gives me comfort is to be able to discuss things with coworkers and know that we all – I mean, there are constant things to learn in nursing so as cheesy as it sounds, there’s no stupid question, and you should always feel comfortable asking people for help and just kind of let your ego go. So, what if they think I’m dumb, I’m going to still ask. That’s how I’ve been successful is just never being too proud to ask for help.

Bob:

I think that’s one really easy way to meet people and double checking something on the best thing for your patient which could be, like we always say, someone’s mom or dad. That about wraps us up for now. Thank you for your time. I hope you have some sunny days coming up. Maybe I can get you on here again at some point before you start the next endeavor.

Stacy:

Sounds good.

Bob:

Alright. Tell that dog thanks for giving us a little peace and quiet. Tell Roberto I said hey and I’ll talk to you soon.

Stacy:

Sounds good. Thanks for having me.

About the author

Jen Hunter

Jen Hunter has been a marketing writer for over 20 years. She enjoys telling the stories of healthcare providers and sharing new, relevant, and the most up-to-date information on the healthcare front. Jen lives in Salt Lake City, UT, with her husband, two kids, and their geriatric black Lab. She enjoys all things outdoors-y, but most of all she loves rock climbing in the Wasatch mountains.

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