In the fifth of a series of travel nurse video interviews, travel nurse Bob Goldnetz sits down for an interview with travel nurse Gabriel Rios to learn about how he started travel nursing and how he’s seen the field change since the pandemic.
I’ll get right to it. Just a little intro, I’m Bob Goldnetz with RNnetwork, and I’m joined by Gabriel Rios, a traveler I recently had the pleasure of meeting and get to talk to and know a little bit over pretty much the last year. And you took a little break and restarted with us back in the hospital, so it’s been nice having some of the guys back. I guess, first off, I’ll give you the floor, just tell me a little bit about your nursing experience.
I graduated in nursing — I think it was in 2013 — and I was going into this profession with high hopes. You go in; you’re optimistic; you try to be good for the greater good, and maybe flourish and then continue and maybe advance. So, my plan was first to go to school, become a nurse, get some experience, and then I was fixed in going to CRNA school and becoming a nursing assistant. And then my backup plan was to be a nurse practitioner just in case. Knowing my background, I did play a little bit in real estate before with a couple of properties that I had and I tried to do everything myself and I failed and then when I failed, I went to school and became a nurse because I needed something. I needed a career that I could always go back and make some good money. That’s one of the reasons. I’ve got other reasons why I became a nurse. Obviously, the medical field is in my family: my uncle is a DR — they’re all doctors — my brother became a nurse as well. It was just something I grew up in and I was comfortable relating.
Started working in the hospital where I was working as a tech. I got hired in the emergency department with the ER. It just so happened that they needed people in the pediatric emergency, and they were kind of recruiting people and passing by the emergency department and said, “Hey, if any of you guys are interested in working peds, come join us.” Nobody wanted to go. I just said, “You know what? If nobody wants to do it, it must be a specialty, and if I put it in my resume, it will look good.” So, I went over to pediatric emergency, did about three and a half years in that. I had to leave; I couldn’t take it. I had to work with a patient population, of course, it’s not the best. I saw a lot of neglect to the point where I would say the last year I worked there I was frustrated and mad and my blood pressure would go high every time I would get up to go to work just because I didn’t want to deal with the neglect and stuff like that of people that shouldn’t be having kids having too many. So, from then on, I told management that I was going to look for a way out, and that’s when I went to step down, and from step down I ended up in surgical ICU, and then I did that for the remainder, mostly three years, before I decided to start traveling when this Covid craziness started.
Basically, the hospital left me no choice. I’ve always had two or three jobs, so I was a nurse working in the pediatric emergency; I had another job working in dialysis clinic. When I worked with the step-down unit, I worked with an agency at another hospital. When I worked in SICU, I also worked with another agency. And then when Covid came, that kind of threw a wrench in my plans. I was working hard dealing with Covid patients, and the hospital I worked at, at that time down in Miami, they wanted to do so-called emergency mode, and they told us we had to do mandatory overtime. It was just some things that they did that I don’t think it was going to work out, you know, to stay home on our days off, and if they needed us, they would call us in, and they weren’t going to pay us on call, and they were not going to pay us any extra money. And then of course everybody was leaving because everybody went to travel because they were getting paid great, and the hospital system just forgot about all the full-time staff. They weren’t paying them anything different. They were bringing all these travel nurses from other states and paying them some crazy amount of money.
When they put us in mandatory overtime, that was going to start eating up in my other job because I couldn’t go to my other job, and so that’s when I made the decision to apply for a travel job. I applied; I called the next day; that was on a Tuesday; and they basically said, “You got the job. You’ve got to be here by Thursday, Can you make it?” I just looked at my wife, and I’m like, “I’m going.” And that started my journey as a travel nurse. I wouldn’t say it’s been a great journey, not something that I think I’ll do forever. I think hopefully this year will be my last year so that will make it three years of traveling. Hopefully with the moves and investments that I made, I think maybe take a step back on nursing because it does burn you out. I’m not going to lie. I don’t have the love for nursing as I used to. I respect the job, and I like it. It feels good when we help others. It gives me joy when I see a patient walk out that you think was not going to make it. It gives me joy when the family members thank me and write me letters. But the hospital system has tarnished nursing so bad. The hospital systems — and I’m talking about the whole entire United States — they abuse nurses so bad that it’s left a bad taste. I no longer want to do it, so I’m looking for an exit strategy.
I feel you. That’s kind of what started this whole discussion on my side was kind of how do we start somewhere with these hopes and dreams and possibly illusions of grandeur and the difference we could make on a big scale, but at least the differences we could make every day on some of these people that makes a big difference for them. At the end of the day, it kind of ends up being you get run over and feel like you got slapped in the face. I did all this; I tried my best; and somehow I’m winding up just depleted and really with nothing else to give. I feel like you’re definitely not the only one feeling the burnout, and the exit strategy seems to come with the territory. That’s definitely a great story, man. I like it.
Touching on that exact point of having to work – again, not to shine our shoes, but we’re at the forefront. We see that patient all day. What do you think would make that experience easier? Again, we’re talking about how difficult it is to come in and do this day in and day out, and it’s not like we’re in retail. You can’t have a bad day. You got to come in; you got to be on; you got to be able to take some crap; you got to be able to stand by what you’re doing and explain everything you’re doing; and that can be kind of tough. So, on those days, like you were saying on your old gig when your blood pressure gets high, what do you find that you do these days to kind of mellow out or decompress, or what kind of makes it so you can come back the next day?
In the old days, I used to get home and go straight to my gym. I’ll go workout either at the gym, or I have a gym in my garage, and that was my outlet; that was my stress relief. And then of course, after you get married, you’ve got kids. You have more responsibilities, and I started working more, so I started working out less, but the time when I would get home and just spending time with my daughter and spending time with my wife. And then came daughter number two, and that kind of forced me to cope with the stress. I’m not working out as much as I’d like to, so I’m trying to get back to that point. I’m actually in the process to starting to work out. I told you about a franchise that’s going to be a studio gym, so hopefully I can open it and flourish and I can work less as a nurse and work more regularly at the studio gym so I can get my health back and my time back so I can spend more time with my family.
The more and more you work in a hospital, the more you realize that the heartbeat of the hospital are the nurses. I’m not trying to take anything away from the doctors. The doctors know what they’re doing, but they show up and they spend one hour. The nurses are the ones that spend 12 – 13 hours a day with the patient, so they know the patients in and out. These hospitals, as the years go by, they throw more stuff to the nurses. You have nurses to now they don’t want to hire techs, so the nurses have to do tech work. Oh, we need to draw blood; the nurse has to draw blood. We need vital signs; the nurses have to get the vital signs. A patient call light is there and they start calling and there’s no techs or anybody to help you, so you have to answer the call lights, and then when you show up to the room, it’s just like, “Can I get a glass of water?” “Can I get a blanket?” They don’t realize that that’s taking away from our job.
Us, as nurses, our job is to make sure we stay on top of the patient’s health, but when you start adding all of this extra stuff that we didn’t do before and now have to do it. Before, when I worked in ICUs back in the day, they had an environmental lady in the ICU at all times, and they would go around and clean and then when somebody would discharge or transfer, then they’d clean the room. Now they don’t. The hospitals are having an environmental lady or male, and then have to split the time between two or three departments. So now the rooms are dirtier, and they want the nurses to be cleaning; they want the nurses to be answering the call lights; they want the nurses to be therapists; they want the nurses to be the nurses; and they want the nurses to be the behavioral health technician as well. When something goes down, they want us to take care of it. So, that makes it very stressful, and again, it’s putting a bad taste on a lot of nurses because I hear that from everybody.
Yeah, again, like you said, I don’t talk to anybody that’s planning on staying at the bedside for the next 30 years, which is a shame because it’s nice to think you could do a lot of good. What do you think — besides more pay — how could a hospital pay better attention to its employee? Like you were saying in Miami, you have all these people coming in; you’re not being compensated; you’re not even being fairly compensated, not to mention the extra effort compensation. What do you think the key is to keep people at the bedside or keep people happy or to feel fulfilled?
I can tell you this: A lot of the hospitals have to certainly emphasize more on education for the nurses. They definitely have to pay them more, but if you want to get paid more, you definitely have to earn your pay, right? I was talking to — I’m not sure if it was Cameron at work — we were talking about you have all these hospitals that start hiring new grads and right away they pay them $28 an hour. Oh, you’re a new nurse, we’re going to pay you $28 an hour. We’re going to put you through an internship. And you’re going to go to class for three months or whatever it is, a couple of weeks, and then we’re going to partner you up. You’re going to shadow a nurse for a couple of weeks as well or a month or two, and then we’re going to see if you can make it or not in the ICU department or the step-down unit or the floor. People are going to hate me for this, but I was saying, maybe you should hire new grads, pay them less, because their argument is we’re paying so much in training that when they leave and they go to another hospital, we lose the money. I was just throwing ideas out there and said, “Why don’t you hire a nurse, pay them less, but put them through the rigors, make them take the course, put him or her through a training where they actually learn a lot, so when they’re done, where it’s six months afterward or a year, they’re actually good nurses and then you give them a raise?”
I don’t want to hold you too much longer, but I guess, if you had any advice for either people thinking about traveling or nurses in general, anything that comes to mind, to the masses.
Unfortunately, traveling as a nurse is not the same anymore. Now, a lot of these hospitals are not paying enough. I understand why they’re doing it, and I also don’t understand. They’re trying to pay less so then a lot of these people come back to the workforce and start working full-time again instead of traveling, but they’re not taking into consideration that you’re leaving your city, your state, to go somewhere else to help them out and yet you’re not paying them enough and remember, you got to pay rent, food, your laundry, and all that stuff in a different state or different city. So, it’s not the same, but I still do recommend it. You just have to learn how to play the system. There’s a couple of people that go out there, and they buy a small RV, and they camp out, which is good. You’re not just throwing money away on a hotel or an apartment like I am right now. You’re throwing money into your RV, and you can pay that off. It’s just a choice you have to make. You have to sit down, do the numbers — sit down with your family and see if it’s worth it. It was worth it last year because of all the craziness, not so much this year and I think going forward. A lot of nurses are saying even though it’s not paying like it used to, they’re never going back to a full-time job, and I respect that.
It’s like my full time. I did over two years as staff, and I’ve been traveling for the last six or seven, so this is kind of my full-time staff job.
It kind of alleviates you from that pressure of, oh, here comes the manager, here comes the supervisor, when you have a full-time job and you’re committed to that institution. When you’re a travel nurse, you’re like, “Hey, I’m here to help you guys out.” As soon as I became a traveler, that stress went away. I like it. It looks like now because of the pay shortage, I might end up getting a per-diem job or something like that close to my house. It’s making more sense for me to do that and be home than having to travel.
I guess at the end of the day, you just got to be flexible and take the opportunities when you can and when they are available, and at times there might be a lull, but don’t be, kind of like you were saying earlier, don’t be scared to do what’s best for you. I knew it was for me and like a lot of people, the initial jump and worry getting into traveling, if this is going to work out or if this is going to work out, and how am I going to figure all of this out. And then you kind of get into it and it does work out and there’s a lot of things that maybe it couldn’t have worked out but you made it work out. So, I think that flexibility and being able to kind of adapt, which I think is kind of the main attribute of a traveler, is kind of maybe not as specialized as places might like, but you can kind of throw us everywhere, and we’ll figure it out. I still think that’s good advice because even if it’s a little bit of a pay cut, doing something for a little bit because it’s the best option — and especially get to be home — and still make decent is a pretty good way to spend some time three or four days a week. I really appreciate your time; I appreciate your phenomenal story. I think it’s awesome where you’re at. I think it’s awesome what you’re doing. Just your words can inspire a lot of people and give them something to look up to and something to strive for. I really appreciate your time, and thank you for sharing, and I guess I’ll see you at work in a couple of days.