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The making of a traveler

Like most people, I have assumed many roles in my life. First and foremost, I am a husband and a father. And for more than 25 years, I worked as an auto body repair mechanic.

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?"

My Wife, Tina, and I enjoyed a trip to Grand Canyon National Park.
I considered Tina's suggestion. She'd made a very valid point. Many years ago, I had been a firefighter with a local fire department and an emergency medical technician with an ambulance service—both of which were voluntary commitments. And it was true; the times I felt most motivated and challenged were when I could offer assistance to others, especially those in crisis.

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.

Just a 20- to 30-minute commute from Manhattan, Jersey City is the Garden State's second largest metropolis. Considered part of the New York metropolitan area, it is home to offices of many companies headquartered across the Hudson River.

Yvonne Lawson-Thomas, RN, had been a trauma nurse for more than 15 years when she decided to become a traveler. She regards her mobile career as kismet. When she first married, her husband was in the Army. From Dover, Delaware, to Boise, Idaho, and Miami and Tampa, Florida, to the Caribbean, Yvonne worked wherever his job took them. Since she also grew up in Jamaica and was educated in England before moving to the United States, traveling has always been a natural part of her life.

Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) is a 4-year unit of the University System of Georgia. Located in Americus, the dynamic community of learning offers students personalized and challenging experiences in preparation for flourishing careers, leadership roles, productive citizenship, and a satisfying quality of life. The university is fully accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. GSW's School of Nursing (SON), which is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, offers the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. Baccalaureate graduates are prepared for a variety of beginning positions in hospitals, community healthcare agencies, private offices, the military, industry, and schools. The BSN program accommodates three tracks: a basic generic option, an accelerated BSN track, and the RN – BSN option. GSW's SON supports the Georgia Articulation Model to facilitate educational mobility for registered nurses..

A mobile healthcare provider for about 3 years, Mark's travels have taken him everywhere from Portland, Oregon, to Clovis, New Mexico, to Iowa City, Iowa. "My interest in becoming a mobile ST was piqued by a couple who told me about their experiences as travelers," he recalls. "Instantly, I was hooked on the idea."

For many patients, the time they've spent in an intensive care unit (ICU) is a vague memory. They don't recall being intubated, catheterized, or connected to lines and monitors. But their families remember quite clearly how sick their loved ones were, their own fears and exhaustion, the expertise of the staff, and the constant vigilance, support, and sensitivity of those providing care.

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