Nurse Depression: How Travel Pulled Me Out
By Leah Helmbrecht, RN, BSN, Travel Nurse
When I was in nursing school I was asked many times, “why do you want to be a nurse?” The answer I would offer and many of my nursing friends would say as well was, “so I can help people.”
We watch these television shows that portray hospital life as something dramatic and glorious as if everyone is always grateful for the help we offer during the hardest times in their lives. While I have been thanked, it hasn't been very often.
My first job out of school was as a floor nurse on a unit that was severely short staffed.
"I felt like I was in an abusive relationship...with my job."
Almost every shift was met with 6 to 8 patients who were constantly on their call bells. I would run around passing meds, doing head-to-toe assessments, charting, pulling or inserting foley catheters, helping patients to the bathroom or cleaning them up, monitoring vitals, discharging patients, updating doctors, all while getting snapped at by patients or their family members about why it took me so long to get to them.
Have you ever been cursed at by someone, a complete stranger, while you are wiping their butt? My entire 12 hour shift would fly by without realizing I hadn’t gotten a chance to eat, drink, or even use the bathroom myself. This was not the glorious life I had imagined.
The Harsh Reality
About six months into my nursing career, I decided I needed to talk to a therapist. I felt like I was stuck in an abusive relationship…with my job.
It got to the point where I would go to work every day to get yelled at and go home and cry. I was put on an antidepressant, which helped numb the pain, but didn’t make it go away.
After getting my year of experience on the floor, I switched to the Operating Room. I thought maybe I could still help people, but only have to help one at a time.
I was wrong.
While it wasn’t as bad as my time on the floor, I was still met with crabby surgeons and a larger group of staff that always had something to complain about. However, there was a chance I would have a great day--depending on who I was working with. Not only that, but there were staff members who came in to give lunch and bathroom breaks.
The operating room is where I met my first travel nurse, Vickie.
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A Turning Point
About half of the staff were travelers, a trade I had never heard of before. Vickie had been a travel nurse for over 10 years. I was put in her room one day in a spine surgery where the surgeon was going off at her about something out of her control.
“She made me realize that we are there to serve others, not to be disrespected by them.”
I started to feel the anxieties I had felt before rush back. After about 2 minutes of his yelling she lifted her hand and made an abrupt noise in his direction, “SHHHHHH…SHHHHHHH.”
With my eyes wide open and jaw dropped under my surgical mask, I held my breath to see the surgeon’s next move. The silence in the room was deafening as he continued on with his surgery without a word. She made me realize that we are there to serve others, not to be disrespected by them.
Vickie taught me most of what I know about the operating room and travel nursing. Once I had my two years of OR experience, she gave me that final push to hit the road and never look back.
Since traveling these past five years, I’ve learned multiple ways different surgeons perform procedures, diversified my resume, and remained updated on new medical equipment. I’ve even helped change surgeon or nursing practices for the better via something I had done at a previous assignment.
I started feeling like I was truly making a difference and finally felt appreciated for my suggestions.
It’s a great sentiment when I am constantly asked to stay at a hospital and thrown a going away party. It has made me a more confident nurse, assertive enough that I can stand up for myself and demand respect when someone forgets we are on the same team.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have my bad days. When I do, I remind myself that in 13 weeks or less, I’ll be on a vacation and off to the next place.
How Can You Become A Travel Nurse?
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Leah has been a traveling operating room nurse for 5 years and a nurse for 8. She enjoys exploring her assignment destination and even takes trips internationally in between contracts. Her dog, Dakota, joins her on the road and is happy to hike a mountain, swim in the ocean, or just stick her head out the window for the ride. You can keep up with her adventures at offtheclocknurse.com.