“Meet The Travel Nurses” Series
By Conrad Lopez
“I was born in Monterey, Mexico to a teenaged mom,” Karla said. “I was
pretty much raised by my grandmother until the age of thirteen.” At thirteen she
joined her mother and stepfather in Dallas, Texas where they had moved,
She graduated from high school, and then received a college scholarship to
Southern Methodist University. Like a lot of first year college students
Karla just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) settle into the routine of college life and
eventually found herself sitting in front of a United States Navy recruiter
looking for a new direction to her young life.
Why the Navy?
“They offered me the biggest enlistment bonus!” she laughingly says now.
Karla laughs a lot and one suspects her sense of humor gets her through
the difficult times life sometimes presents. She’s quite outgoing and gets
along easily with the people around her. This trait surely serves her well in
nursing and especially in the sometimes difficult situations a travel nursing
assignment can present.
Getting back to the Navy recruiter, Karla left school, enlisted in the
Navy and was soon off to Florida resolved to survive Navy boot camp
in Orlando. When that initial training camp ended she had decided she
wanted to learn a trade and do something meaningful while serving her
enlistment. She did well on her testing and before she knew it she was
ticketed for post-boot camp training in Great Lakes, Illinois to become a
Navy Corpsman. The Navy used to use the recruiting motto “Join the Navy
and see the world!” and this young woman from Monterey, Mexico and
Dallas, Texas was already hopping around her adopted country getting the
taste of a life with bigger boundaries than the city limits. It was just the start
of a lifelong love of seeing new places and making new friends.
Six years in the Navy became a mosaic of these adventures and
travels. There was Florida, Texas, marriage, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to
Texas, divorce…….wait a minute! Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? She laughs
again. “Out of the six available women for the assignment, (no kids), I drew
the short straw.”
A few years later, back in her adopted home state, newly single and out
of the Navy, she applied for the nursing school at the University of Texas.
Three years later, her BSN degree firmly tucked under her arm, she landed
a job in NICU at a county hospital in San Antonio. “In those days I could
have gone oncology, I could have gone transplant. I could have done
dialysis or obstetrics. I chose NICU. It just touched my heart.”
The girl from Monterey, Mexico was now a full-fledged registered nurse
itching to get on with the rest of her life.
While working in San Antonio Karla began friendships with a group of
nurses who sometimes got together after work. One of them, a travel
nurse, would regale them with stories of his travel assignments.
“He was always saying he had gone to Hawaii. He’d gone to the
Caribbean. He’d gone to New York……and he loved it. And then there was
another guy that was an ER nurse and he traveled the NASCAR circuit.
Wherever the NASCAR circuit would have races, he would go. I told him
he was crazy but he loved it!” The travel nursing seed had been planted
and Karla began looking around.
She talked with some of her friend’s agencies but didn’t connect with them;
she ended up with a recruiter she liked and trusted at American Mobile
Nursing. “I did two assignments with them.”
The first assignment was in Sacramento, California working in a Neonatal
Intensive Care Unit (NICU). “It was Mercy Hospital on J Street. It was
springtime and it is beautiful in Sacramento in the Spring. I had a car
in Texas so I drove to California and the agency reimbursed my travel
I asked her to describe the first few days.
If you travel “you’re going to be the pro of orientations.” Each new
assignment will require you to take that particular hospital’s standard
orientation. “It pretty much eats up your first day.” The orientation includes
HR stuff, ethics, clocking in and out and unit specific proficiencies. After
the orientation you will likely go to your unit and shadow someone for a
few hours, maybe do that again the second day and then you are “on you
Were there lots of travel nurses at that facility?
“I was the only one in myfield but there were others at the hospital.” Commonly they will spread the
travel nurses amongst the various units working with the local nurses but
sometimes not. During one assignment at a major hospital “they put all
of the travelers in one rotation on one weekend and all the senior staff on
another weekend because the senior staff wanted to be together.”
How was the housing in that assignment?
American Mobile provided “a very nice apartment. I lived alone and it was
very conveniently located to my facility. It was a new, up and coming area
of North Sacramento.”
Was it lonely being out an assignment that far from home?
“The social life was great. I think my military background makes it easier
for me to fit into new situations. Some of the other travel nurses lived in the
same apartment complex. All in all this was a good assignment. I liked it.”
Karla’s adventures were just beginning. Through her five years of traveling
she took other assignments in such diverse places as San Jose, California,
Manhattan, Phoenix, Arizona, Los Angeles and Hana, Hawaii.
Hana was unique. It is an isolated area of Maui and was a four-month
assignment instead of the usual three. The social life was very quiet and
“one four-month stint was enough”. Los Angeles gave her more beach time.
She loved Manhattan and again it was Spring. That’s a great time to be
young and in Manhattan. There was a lot of social life there!
When pressed on her favorite assignment she mentions Hana
again. “Well, because I don’t think I’ll ever get that experience again. It was
beautiful. It was different.”
I asked her if she had any funny stories in her times out there.
She laughs that contagious laugh of hers. “Yeah, that first assignment
in Sacramento. I got there early so I decided to go to a coffee shop and
get a cup of coffee. While I was there this dude was leaning near the
doorway smoking a marijuana joint right out in public! I couldn’t believe
it. I said something to the manager and he told me it was OK because it
was medical marijuana. So I went over to the guy and asked him to move.
He was indignant and told me it was his MM( medical marijuana). Well I told him I
didn’t care, I was a nurse starting a new job and I didn’t want to go in on my first
Day smelling like pot, so move it!” Sometimes a girl has to do what a girl has
to do. [This sounds kind of awkward to me. How about, “I wasn’t about to
start my new assignment on that note!”
Prospective travel nurses always want to know about the housing.
“I was pretty much happy with all of the living accommodations . For the first three
assignments I accepted the offered housing but then after that I started
going on Craigslist and getting my own. The agencies gave me housing
stipends and I generally made out better.”
Eventually Karla got tired of all of the travel and decided to take a break.
She had found a city she liked, made friends there and wanted to settle
down for awhile. She’s still living and working there in San Jose, California.
It’s now been three years since her last travel nursing assignment. She
may do it again, but for now she really likes where she is. She’s clear on
one thing. “I’m very happy to be able to list “travel nursing” on my resume.
I believe it shows that I am flexible, that I am strong and efficient and
smart enough to learn something new swiftly. It gives you the initiative and
confidence that a lot of nurses don’t have.”
It seems pretty clear that the adventure story is not finished for that 13-
year-old girl from Monterey. It’s a big world out there, full of wonderful
places to see, fascinating people to meet and new experiences to enjoy!
(If you would like to learn more about travel nursing go HERE)