The making of a traveler
While I enjoyed fixing things and making them better, I had to admit that my career—and my passion for it—had become stagnant. As a crossroads, I discussed the situation with my wife, Tina. She proposed that I contemplate a new direction. "You know, you've always loved helping people, giving them support," she said. "Have you ever thought about becoming a nurse?"
At the time, Jim and Colleen, our children from previous marriages, were grown and out of the house. What did I have to lose? So, in 2002, at the age of 44, I became a licensed vocational nurse (LVN).
Before graduation, several speakers came to the nursing school to tell my fellow students and me about different professional alternatives. One of the presenters discussed healthcare travel. I love to see new places, so my interest was definitely piqued. Now I knew what I really wanted and was meant to do. However, since we'd been told that travelers need at least 1 to 2 years of experience in an acute care setting, I patiently put the idea on the back burner. But it was a driving force I never forgot.
I was fortunate to land a permanent position on the progressive care unit at Washington County Hospital (WCH) in Hagerstown, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, I transferred to the facility's medical/surgical unit, where I also did telemetry. After practicing at WCH for nearly 3 years, I was ready to take a leave of absence and try my hand at travel nursing. At the time, I didn't know how much my life was about to change.
In December, 6 months before I planned to begin traveling, I started contacting a dozen staffing agencies. I obtained California licensure in June, loaded up the car and camper, and headed to the Golden State with Tina and our dog, Coco.
Believe it or not, I didn't actually have a contract lined up at that point. Tina had quit her job and was understandably concerned because I was on a 3-month leave without the benefit of a paycheck. "If nothing comes of this," I told her, "we'll just have a nice vacation and head back home."
En route to our destination, we stopped in St. Louis, Missouri; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Riverside, California, to visit with relatives and do some sightseeing. This is such a beautiful nation that I'm always amazed when people go to other countries in search of magnificent architecture, landscapes, and diversions. Don't they realize that we have all that and more right here? I thought.
While we were visiting my sister in the Centennial State, we spread my parents' ashes in the Rockies, something we had intended to do for quite some time. Shortly afterward, I received a call on my cell from a recruiter at AMS Healthcare Services, a staffing company based in Omaha, Nebraska—and had a telephone interview for an assignment right there in the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park!
Of course, being offered the contract made Tina and me very happy campers (pun intended). I learned that my assignment would be on a skilled nursing unit at Mee Memorial Hospital (MMH), a community hospital with 42 beds—26 of which are for long-term care patients—in King City, California.