In Case You Missed It: Grounded Tips for Travel Nursing

“Grounded Tips for Travel Nursing” is the fifty-sixth episode of The College Handoff. This episode features Ashley Dyer and Kapri Bues, BYU nursing alumni who live together in Boston and work as travel nurses. Ashley, who previously worked as a neuroscience nurse for Johns Hopkins Hospital and is pursuing a graduate degree at Johns Hopkins University, works as a psychiatric nurse. Kapri works in labor and delivery and has no intentions of leaving the field.

Ashley (left) and Kapri (right)

Neuroscience nursing is not a well-known branch of nursing. Ashley, however, has been familiar with it since her childhood. “I have epilepsy. I was diagnosed when I was twelve years old, but I started having seizures when I was ten, so I spent a lot of time in the hospital. I ended up going to epilepsy monitoring units at the Mayo Clinic and Primary Children’s, so I spent a lot of time in actual neuroscience epilepsy monitoring units. That’s where I kind of got exposed to doctors and nurses. I thought doctors were so cool, but I realized while I was a patient that nurses got to do all the fun stuff, so that kind of drew me to nursing more than being an MD,” she explains. “So when we graduated in December, it’s kind of an awkward time because people weren’t looking for a lot of new grad nurses. I had a tough time finding a job in Utah, so I started applying to jobs outside of the state. There was a job at an epilepsy monitoring unit in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which has always been known as a great hospital. So I applied and ended up flying out for an interview and got the job. So I worked at a neuroscience and epilepsy monitoring unit. It was all in one big thing. We had five beds for epilepsy monitoring, and the other twenty-seven were for neurology and neurosurgery patients. We got a good wide spectrum of different types of patients, whether they were surgical or neurological.”

On the other side of the spectrum, labor and delivery are among the most well-known and sought-out nursing positions. “The reason I chose to go into labor and delivery wasn’t anything crazy exciting. The reason I choose to stay and why I love it is something that’s grown while I’ve worked in it,” Kapri says. “I think one of my favorite things about labor and delivery–and I saw this as I grew up watching my siblings raise their kids–I am just in awe at how difficult and how all-encompassing it is to be a mother. I’m in awe of these women who choose to have a baby because I see that it’s like giving up so much of their life to have a baby: their body, their mind, their everything. I love being a part of helping women have this beautiful experience of having a baby and connecting. And then also trying to help get the dad more involved, connect more in this situation, and support because many women don’t get a lot of support from their significant other. I love the opportunity to try to create an environment in the labor and delivery room that is supportive and just celebrate how amazing this woman is to do this and how helpful this man can be to help her. It’s a wonderful moment when they get to connect with the baby.”

While Ashley and Kapri work in different units, they have something in common: travel nurses. “Travel nursing has been going on since far before COVID, but I think it’s picked up steam during COVID. Travel nurses are nurses that usually sign three-month contracts at different hospitals that are short-staffed, and they’re able to pick up for the short staffing and help out for short periods,” Ashley describes. “After three months, sometimes they will be asked to extend their contract, which we have been. And other times, you can just go somewhere different. There are traveling nursing contracts in all 50 states, like our friend just went to Hawaii. You can go to Alaska. You can go anywhere in all 50 states.”

Ashley works as a psychiatric travel nurse. While neuroscience and psych are very different, there are similarities in the two fields that connect them. “It doesn’t matter what kind of nurse you are; you’re going to get psych patients. Mental health and mental illness are very prevalent. You can be in labor and delivery and get a psych patient. ED will see a ton of psych patients,” she states. “So when I was a neuroscience nurse, we got a lot of people that needed psychiatric consults. Part of that may have been due to neurological conditions that cause hallucinations and stuff like that, but other parts were just this person has anxiety or depression. Also, in the epilepsy monitoring unit, we had people who were not having neurological seizures, but we were having psychogenic seizures, where it’s all psychological. There’s no abnormal brain activity, no EEG changes, but they’re having all the symptoms of the seizure, so I got to see a lot of that too.”

Kapri has continued to work as a labor and delivery nurse in Boston. As she has worked in Salt Lake City and Boston, two places with incredibly different cultures, she’s noticed some similarities and differences in the delivery room. “When I was at LDS hospital, we had a board–most hospitals for labor and delivery have a board–and it has the patients, how old they are, how many kids they’ve had, etc. In Salt Lake City, a twenty-three-year-old woman had their first child, or a twenty-six-year-old had their second or third child. And when I got to Boston, I saw the board the first day, and no one was under the age of thirty-four. It was like a thirty-five-year-old having their first child, a forty-three-year-old having their first child, a thirty-nine-year-old having a second child. Nobody had a third child. I think it was for my first three weeks that I didn’t see anyone have a third child,” she explains. “I just thought it was fascinating that we have different dynamics in family sizes and other things, but I feel like the excitement and focus around having a child and nervousness and all that is similar wherever you go. There are different practices of how people approach it. There have been a lot of people I’ve worked with here from different cultures. In Salt Lake, I work with many Hispanic people in the hospital. There are some different approaches due to your culture, but overall, people are just really excited and looking forward to having a kid. For many people, it’s something that didn’t pan out the way they wanted, whether it was because they could not get pregnant or haven’t been able to until they’re older. So I think in a lot of ways it’s similar, like the excitement, but different in the number of kids.”

Ashley (left) and Kapri (right)

While Ashley and Kapri adore travel nursing, they admit that struggles make the position hard. Ashley highlighted the different regulations surrounding COVID-19 at various hospitals as one of the hardest things about travel nursing. Kapri spoke about something more internal: humility and the ability to adapt. “You work as a nurse, and you start at the bottom of the totem pole in a way. You build your way up. You build relationships. You gain more knowledge. You gain more skills. You start to become more competent in what you’re doing. Then after a year, after two years, you feel like, ‘okay, I think I think I’ve got a lot of this down. I’m feeling like a pretty competent nurse.’ And then you start traveling nursing, and it’s like your whole world flips upside down. All these things that you knew either don’t apply to this hospital or are a little bit different.”

Kapri continues. “It’s humbling to have to ask a lot of questions all over again, and to have to think that something’s one way and then someone tells you, ‘oh, that’s not how you do it’ and you’re like, ‘wait, I know that it’s okay to do this because I’ve done it,’ but then they say, ‘no, that’s not how we do it here.’ So you have to be very open, and that can be difficult sometimes to receive criticism. They’re not trying to be rude; they’re just trying to help. But it’s hard because you’re used to being a source that people would go to ask questions, and while you still are in a way, you’re also still the one asking a lot of questions. I think it keeps you on your toes, especially when you change travel jobs every three months, or even once a year. It definitely can be uncomfortable and humbling. I feel like it’s kept me open-minded to learning the different ways that people do things, even if it’s not what I thought was the right way to do it. It’s just a different way, and it’s how they do it, so I need to adapt to them. And it doesn’t matter so much about being right; it matters more about just doing what is best for that unit. So that’s been a challenge, but it’s also been a blessing for my life.”

If you want to listen to the full episode that features more insights into the inspiration behind Ashley and Kapri’s switch to travel nursing, Ashley’s accidental yet fulfilling switch to psychiatric nursing, Kapri’s experience being her sister’s labor and delivery nurse in Vietnam, and how BYU prepared them for travel nursing, go to https://thecollegehandoff.podbean.com/e/grounded-tips-for-travel-nursing/ or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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