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Find work/life balance with travel nursing [Video interview]

In the second of a series of travel nurse video interviews, travel nurse Bob Goldnetz sits down with his good friend and fellow travel nurse Kyle Welling to learn about his newfound work/life balance as an ICU travel nurse.

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Bob:

Thanks again for hanging out with me this Sunday morning. I know now you’ve got some video games to be playing and some other plans and you’ve got to get back to night shifts, so I’ll get it started off. I’m joined with Kyle Welling, who’s also a travel nurse with RNnetwork. He’s decided to take his time to give me a quick little interview. Where are you joining us from this morning?

Kyle:

I’m in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, right now. I’m working at Southeast Hospital in CVICU combo.

Bob:

And you’re back on nights, huh?

Kyle:

My wife hates nights, and it doesn’t really matter to me, but it was a really good contract, and it was close to where I grew up. It’s about three and a half hours from where I grew up, so it’s given me the opportunity to see my dad a little bit. And then I’m a Cardinal fan and I’m back in Cardinal country, and I actually got to go to opening day. I took my dad to opening day this year, so it’s one of our first things we ever got to do together was go to opening day at Busch Stadium.

Bob:

Nice. That’s kind of like a once-in-a-lifetime cool thing to get to do. As I’ve become a new dad I’m like, how can I pay this back because I never realized what I got from my parents. How’s the flip back to nights been?

Kyle:

The work is not bad; it’s just the life outside of work, you know? Working nights, usually the first day I get up the normal time so that way when I have to work my shift, when I get off the next morning I’m dead tired, so I can go straight to bed because sleeping during the day is one of the hardest things for anybody to do. And then we block our schedule so we’re able to put all our nights together, so we actually do six straight, so we do two weeks of work in one six-day stretch. The biggest thing is then we don’t have to flip back and forth a lot and then also we get that eight-day stretch off. The first day we kind of recover and try to get back on the normal schedule and then we basically get a seven-day vacation. And then when that one is up we do it again for six straight nights, and then go from there.

Bob:

Yeah, man. That stretch is tough, but I guess if you get to take a vacation every other week it’s pretty good.

Kyle:

Yeah, you need to tell people how well you make it, and then when they find out you work six and then you’re off eight and basically work twelve days a month, they can’t believe how good it sounds. It sounds good on paper, but sometimes, like you said, doing that six-day run is very strenuous at times, especially working in the ICU which you’re familiar with.

Bob:

Yeah, I know. I was flip-flopping for a while. It’s hard enough just converting and working several straight in a row but I feel like the flip-flop going back between days and nights and then it takes like a day to recover. Yeah, man, so kind of like I mentioned to you before I wanted to interview you because you’ve got a great background, which I think is pretty different from a lot of people. You kind of came into nursing as a second or – I’m not really sure – maybe a third career and then kind of worked your way up and then now you’re traveling. If you don’t mind, give me a quick rundown of your background before nursing and then getting up to nursing.

Kyle:

Yeah. My story is kind of unique actually. When people hear about it they kind of are shocked. I graduated young, went into the military for a couple of years, ended up getting out and meeting my wife, and I built custom homes for 16 years in Illinois, actually. I had the opportunity to move to South Carolina – it’s where my wife is from – and so I ended up moving back down there, and it was in the middle of the housing crisis, and not only with the housing crisis, but South Carolina is very conservative with their methods and stuff, so I had to figure out something else to do. I decided to go into nursing. I actually went into it to be a nurse anesthetist. I got my two-year degree, graduated, got hired at a cardiac ICU, planned on going back to get my bachelor’s online while I was working because I wasn’t a spring chicken. In the process, I ended up getting put into management, so I figured why the heck do I need to spend more money to go back to school when I can just spend a little bit and go into management. And then we expanded our hospital, added a bunch of ICU beds, a bunch of progressive care beds, and brought in travelers, and then I realized what they were making with their sacrifice and what I was making with my sacrifice, and it didn’t quite seem right. I decided to leave the comfort of the home hospital and started traveling and haven’t looked back. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

Bob:

Yeah, I feel like a lot of people think about maybe that next step or getting into management, and people I’ve talked to, another buddy of mine, he was like, I had to do the schedule, I had to do charge, people would call me outside of work and I’d have to come in. Why do that when you can clock in and clock out. So, you literally made your way to the top of the nursing structure and you’re like, I’m not really reaping the benefits of this.

Kyle:

Yeah, it didn’t quite seem like it. I worked with a good group of people, and I enjoyed what I did, but at the end of the day, I have to look out for myself and my family, and with all the stress and the headache that came along with being in management, and then with the compensation, it just wasn’t comparable to what a travel nurse was making. This was six years ago, so a lot of different time back then. Literally my first week of traveling I made in one week what it took me two weeks to make in management. And then I go in, I take care of my two patients and at the end of the day I go home. I don’t have any outside headache or anything to deal with.

Bob:

Do you think – so you’re wife, Effie, you mentioned was also a nurse, was she any part of your decision to go back to nursing school?

Kyle:

That was her second career also, so she was in finance and ended up after we had our second child, our last child, took some time off and when she went back to work she went into a little bit of a different sector. After a couple of years, she ended up losing her job to Costa Rica, so they offered [inaudible] to go back to school, and that’s when she chose nursing, which was shocking, she didn’t seem the nurse type when she decided to go back into school. She made the best of an opportunity and saw her thrive at it, and it kind of gave me the encouragement and the confidence to do it myself. I saw her take all those strides on and do that stuff and so yeah, I guess that kind of played a big role in me deciding to go back into nursing, and here we are.

Bob:

That’s cool. That’s like my mom, it’s just kind of cool. It was your partner. So, when the discussion came up to travel was one of you more influenced or influential than the other or was it kind of a mutual decision?

Kyle:

Our youngest at that time was actually a senior in high school and we both worked at the same hospital – we both worked ICU – so we both were talking to people, learning how their thing was, so we kind of conferred about it. And so I actually bit the bullet and went first to learn the ropes with the whole idea of when our son graduated from high school, he was going to go off to college and we were going to be able to travel together. Everything was just lining up perfectly, the stars were aligning and the whole plan just seemed to work out pretty good. My oldest son, he was a travel welder at the time, so he was on the road a lot and my youngest son was going to college so basically, we were going to be home just to be home by ourselves, so it just made sense to not only get to see the country but also get paid while we’re doing it.

Bob:

Yeah, I feel like stepping away from management, even with traveling – let’s say you took an assignment far away, you probably still had some decent flexibility and the opportunity to see them or have them visit a new place.

Kyle:

Right. Early on we would take assignments based on what we felt like doing, and then we would of course work around their schedule, so we would actually take some trips — we would do the same thing, six on and eight off and take trips. Our youngest son was going to USC in Beaufort, and we took a trip and went down and spent a couple days with him on one of our times off. We’d just go meet our other son sometimes just depending on where he was at. At the same time on our days off, we’d take trips and take advantage of where we were and just see the country where we ended up at.

Bob:

I think it’s great. I’m in my 30’s, just had my first, and I’m looking ahead to the future, thinking about what that would look like, and I feel like a lot of people in your position might be slowing down, and you guys just kind of ramped right back up and it’s like a whole new world of opportunity. I think that’s cool because I feel like a lot of people stay in their comfort zone, and you guys are like, now is the time. Like you said, everything was aligned, let’s go.

Kyle:

Yeah, I can say that my wife was probably more in her comfort zone than I was. We had both changed careers, not really to our own demise, but we were able to adapt and overcome. With nursing, every day you go to work you’re going to have to learn to work outside your comfort zone because you never know what you’re going to be faced with. Even though we have that tendency to kind of be where we want to be at, but at the same time in nursing you never know what’s going to happen. You think you’re going to have a good day and it ends up being a terrible day and vice versa. For me, it’s just another day at work, just a different building.

Bob:

Yeah, you never know what you’re going to walk into and it’s kind of to your point. Again, I felt like I got to know you guys pretty well, especially in the Covid trenches. It’s almost like you get to know these people pretty fast, and then you feel like this aspect of trust. I can go to Kyle and go to Effie and these people that I’ve gotten to know pretty well in these stressful situations.

Kyle:

Even with nursing, you’ve got a set of people that you kind of bounce your ideas off and thoughts off, and when traveling, you’re able to build relationships pretty quick to who you can ask questions and who you can kind of bounce ideas off and just run things by because it’s always nice to have that vote of confidence, especially in nursing to have that second opinion that kind of aligns with yours to make sure you’re doing what’s best for the patient.

Bob:

Overall, looking back, you guys have been traveling six years?

Kyle:

Yep, pretty much. I think my wife [inaudible] in there but pretty much six years.

Bob:

How has the industry or the travel nurse game, how has it met or not met your expectations?

Kyle:

Actually, I think it’s exceeded my expectations especially with Covid. That kind of changed the whole playing field but the whole idea was to be able to make more money, so we didn’t have to do it as long. The same benefits that you have at a home hospital you have with your travel agency – everything, insurance, retirement. But then with Covid, when it hit, it escalated everybody to a different playing field, you know, so I think for those that were there beforehand we really got to reap the most benefits from that thing. People just kind of hopped into it towards the tail end of it.

Bob:

And then, I guess not everybody else would know, but we talked about you living and traveling in the RV. How long have you been doing the RV thing?

Kyle:

It was probably right around my second contract we started looking into a travel trailer, a smaller-style RV, and it worked out pretty good. What we do is we do our six on and then we go home, we stay relatively close to – within three or four hours to the house – and then we actually took a contract up in Dartmouth, it was almost too cold to take the RV, so we would just rent up there, but basically we’ve been doing the RV thing. We’ve already upgraded twice, actually, we upgraded again last October. I have a brand new one, 43-foot, 5-slide RV, it’s like a house on wheels.

Bob:

You know there’s all these people that – you know, I kind of did a little bit of a condensed simple van life for a little bit on some assignments where I would just stay in my van between shifts and that kind of thing. Is the RV life glamorized or glorified or is it pretty simple once you get to learn the ropes and homey?

Kyle:

I mean, there’s a lot to learning with the setting up and breaking down, how to maintain, how to take care of your RV, but there’s a lot of YouTube people out there that pretty much have an answer to just about anything you can come across. To me that’s probably your best resource when it comes to RVing is those YouTube videos and YouTube people who all they do is just make videos about their RVs all day long to help ease the question. But then as far as RV life for us, like I said, we just upgraded again. I’m sitting in my living room, I’ve got two couches with two recliners and a fireplace in my living room. We’ve got a kitchen that’s behind me, it’s stainless steel, side-by-side refrigerator, stainless-steel stove. I don’t have a dishwasher though, that’s one drawback. We’ve got a powder room and a full bathroom; we’ve got a king size bed in our bedroom. It’s at the back end, and that’s where my wife is at right now, she’s actually resting.

Bob:

More couches and more TVs and a bigger bed in your RV than I have in my house.

Kyle:

You know, I mean, some people – if you’re going to do it, you might as well make it worthwhile. We want to be comfortable, and I think that’s what we’re doing right now is we’re comfortable.

Bob:

I won’t keep it to the RV. What’s your favorite trip that you’ve been able to take whether on or off assignment or just in between an assignment? What’s been the best trip looking back that you guys have had?

Kyle:

That’s a good one. Actually, several places we went we’ve actually enjoyed but for different reasons. When we went to Dartmouth up in New Hampshire, we lived in a log cabin on Lake Fairlee, and even though it was one of the coldest winters on record up there, it was something we’d never get. The country was beautiful; the lake froze over; and it actually turns into the longest skating trail in the world, which we had no idea until we went there. We spent some time in Houston. Houston was a great place to work and hang out. My wife caught her biggest bass ever; she caught a nine-pound bass down there in a manmade lake. She loves to fish, and she actually caught it just by chance. We spent nine months in Florida last year, and you can’t beat Florida weather. I think, unfortunately for me, my wife got a liking to the way Florida weather is, so I have a feeling we’re going to end up there sooner than I thought.

Bob:

That’d be great because I’d love to see you guys sooner than later. When you say she accidentally caught a fish was this like she went to cast a rod and threw the rod in, and she had to go get the rod and then it came out with a fish on it?

Kyle:

No, she caught it a little bitty half-pound brim on her fishing line and as she was reeling it in this bass ate her brim on the fishing line.

Bob:

Two for one.

Kyle:

It’s like a cartoon.

Bob:

That’s great. I remember her showing me a picture of that.

Kyle:
I was going to say it’s funny that she caught the fish, and she didn’t have her phone or anything with her. Next thing I know I hear somebody running through the campground screaming my name, and I see her running towards me carrying this huge – it was probably close to 30 inches long – just running through the campground with this large fish smiling from ear to ear like a child in a candy store. It was unbelievably funny to watch her. Everybody was turning their heads because she was screaming, she was just so giddy about it. It was hilarious.

Bob:

I don’t know why, but I have this mental image of her in her PJs and like some bright yellow dish gloves and some big rubber boots just trying to runaround with this flapping fish trying to [inaudible].

Kyle:

She was in t-shirts and a sport top with flip flops just running through the campground. It was hilarious, jut one of those things that you couldn’t make it up on TV. It was just so funny how it happened.

Bob:

Well, do you think with everything in the books, you kind of mentioned originally thinking about nurse anesthesia school, what are your thoughts for the future? Do you think you’d stay at the bedside, continue traveling, do you ever think you’d go back to staff?

Kyle:

Nope. Stay traveling. There’s no way with the income that we’ve made the last two years. I made more than anesthesia made last year working three days a week.

Bob:

Probably a little less responsibility, I guess too.

Kyle:

Right. Bedside nursing is not easy by no means, but where we are we’re able to meet our goals, and I have a feeling that within four to five years we can pretty much write our ticket with how much we have to work, and that’s the ultimate goal is retiring early enough or being able to retire and enjoy our grandkids because we’ve got two of them. I personally think the track that we’re on right now is going to get us there faster than anything else. Maybe if I was younger I might have aspirations to go back because I’m kind of competitive too, so just being a notch on my belt would be something I’m proud of, but I think what I do, what Effie does, what you do, it’s very meaningful work and like I said it’s not for everybody. I hang my hat knowing that I’m able to make a difference in people’s lives every day at the bedside and at the same time we’re able to meet our goals in the process. This is where it’s at. Just traveling as Covid relaxes, hopefully we’ll be able to do more trips like we used to before Covid. Who can beat six on/eight off? If you think about a week vacation 26 times a year.

Bob:

No, man. Again, you get to go to places that people only get to go for a couple days on their vacation, and you get to live there.

Kyle:

Right, and that’s actually part of the thing. We get paid to live here, and we’re in our RV, so we don’t have to worry about being in somebody else’s space or anything like that, the Airbnbs or staying in a hotel or renting a house for three months, we don’t have to worry about those kind of commitments. We roll in an RV; we set ourself up. We have a dog; she goes with us everywhere we go. She’s been trying to get me off the phone here for the last 15 minutes; she finally sat down. This is our life. The only thing we wish is have our grandkids more often because they’re just unbelievably awesome, but other than that, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Bob:

Yeah, and then once you upgrade to the next RV, you can just move them into the former one next door.

Kyle:

Trust me, our 4-year-old granddaughter she keeps us on our toes with ideas and plans. If it were up to her, she’d live with us half the time and with her mom half the time.

Bob:

Yeah, I bet. We’ve been so fortunate to have Ang’s, my lady’s, parents so close, and they’re such a help and a breath of fresh air and their eyes just light up whenever they see our little guy and vice versa. I really like the one thing you said about making a difference because ultimately – it sounds so cliche – but I think most people, we kind of got into this industry because we do want to help, and in those very intense, almost-catastrophic times in people’s lives we’re kind of there. You and I kind of talked about the difficulty of Covid and maintaining those relationships and the changes. Do you have any tips on one, reduce burnout, but two, how do you go in everyday with a fresh mindset to make that difference?

Kyle

I think for me it’s compartmentalizing. When I go to work, I leave nonwork stuff away from work. I go in and I just keep an open mind. Whatever my patient case load is that’s what it is, and I do everything I can that day to help my patients. And then when I leave, I leave work at work. You know, especially the last two years, some of the stuff that we’ve seen on a daily basis, especially with Covid, you can’t carry that with you otherwise you would never come back. When you’re off, you need to unwind, you need to let your hair down and let yourself free from all the exposure and [inaudible]. You’ve got to recharge yourself whether it’s fishing like my wife loves to fish, whether it’s playing video games or exercising or going on trips, you’ve got to recharge so that way your next six days that you’re at the hospital, for me specifically, but you’re able to give it everything you’ve got while you’re there. And then, you know, just remember that at the end of the day you’re doing everything you can for those patients or those patient’s families, whichever the case may be. I basically attack my patients just like if it was me in that bed how I would want to be treated, and that’s all I do. There’s no secret to it, but for me that’s what I do. I compartmentalize everything, and I don’t let things build up inside. I talk it out, vent it out, whatever you’ve got to do, don’t let things boil over because that’s not healthy for anybody.

Bob:

Right. And everybody is different. For some people it might just be walking the dog or playing video games. I guess sometimes I feel like it’s probably pretty tough to find somebody, but I guess you’ve got Effie who’s probably in the right mind to kind of bounce some stuff off of and be able to find that neutral spot.

Kyle:

Yeah, and you know, at work there’s people you can confide in at work, and you’re able to vent and talk about things. Every assignment you meet somebody different, and you build relationships the entire time, so from one job to the other you have a whole different type of person that you’re able to communicate with, and like you said, just bounce ideas off of and just actually vent, whether it’s good bad or indifferent, just to be able to get it off your chest and have somebody’s feedback and insight at the same time that’s going through something similar that you’re going through.

Bob:

On a happier note, as someone who, again, has a lot of life experience as a parent, a grandparent, and used to build houses from the ground up and worked their way through management, is there any, a couple of quick tips or any general good life advice, maybe just more centered around a good tip or advice for anybody, any industry or travel in general?

Kyle:

I’ve always told my kids that it doesn’t matter what you do, if you like what you do, you’ll never go to work a day in your life. So, really for me that’s the best tidbit I can give anybody. If you don’t like what you do, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re going to make, you’re not going to enjoy it. So, at the end of the day, if you don’t like helping people and taking care of people, it doesn’t matter what kind of assignment you get or how much money they’re going to pay you, it’s not going to be for you. I’m sure everybody has got people they’ve went to school with and within a year or two people who graduated with it no longer nurse because they got into it for the wrong reasons. Bedside nursing is not an easy task. Whether it’s building houses or whether it’s taking care of patients, if you can’t find the light of what you’re doing, and you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’re not going to enjoy it at all. For me, that’s the one thing I can tell anybody is find something you like to do, no matter what it is, and everything else falls in place. Whether staying at your home hospital or traveling the world as you get paid to work, you’ve got to like what you’re doing. No matter how hard it is, if you like it, you’re going to make something good out of it.

Bob:

Do what you love and everything, like you said, falls into place, and hopefully the money will come.

Kyle:

Yeah. The bad thing is I actually don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, so right now I’m enjoying what I’m doing and enjoy taking care of people, but one of these days when I grow up, I’ll figure out what I want to do.

Bob:

I’ve heard the same thing and it’s so refreshing coming from you, and then I talked to my 90-year-old patient the other day and the same thing, “I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I’ve still got so many things I want to do.”

Kyle:

Right. And that’s the bad thing, you know. You find a lot of things that you enjoy, and the bad thing is there’s just not enough time in the day to enjoy everything that you like, so as long as you are doing something that you enjoy for your work and make the most of your time off, who could ask for something better.

Bob:

Awesome, man. I really appreciate your time. It’s been awesome talking to you and catching up, and I wish you nothing but the best. If you guys end up, whether it’s just catching a big fish or you end up back down here in Florida, make sure you stay in touch.

Kyle:

Most definitely, thanks for having me on, Bob.

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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