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Careers in Healthcare

How Travel Nursing Reignited Sarah Gaines’ Professional Passion

Travel nurse-nursing-burnout-representation-healthcare
Travel nurse-nursing-burnout-representation-healthcare
Sarah Gaines | Photo by Lois Campos

We chatted with Sarah Gaines, who created the program Six Figure Travel Nurse, about what led her to pursue a career as a travel nurse, burnout in the nursing profession, the importance of diversity in healthcare, and more.

What inspired you to pursue nursing? Was becoming a travel nurse always where you wanted to be in your career?

I’ve always known I wanted to be a nurse, I went straight into nursing school, graduated, and realized, “This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.” The first couple years into my career, I was really burnt out. We had mandatory overtime, were extremely short staffed, and didn’t have the most pleasant leadership.

I stayed as a staff nurse because it was in my comfort zone. Travel nursing didn’t really seem like it was worth it.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I asked for time off after he passed away and it was denied due to short staffing. I was forced to go to work the day after my dad’s funeral. This, for a nurse who always worked overtime, has never been late and never missed a day.

I’m a labor and delivery nurse, so my patient called her dad into the room to say “hello” to his first grandchild. Of course, I lost it. The manager walked up to me and told me to “get up, stop crying.” That’s when I decided that I was done.

Once I started travel nursing, I realized how much freedom and flexibility it gave me in my career. It got rid of the burnout — I was able to take off as much time as I needed.

What advice do you have for those looking to become a travel nurse?

If you’re in nursing school, focus on getting through nursing school, pass your NCLEX, then gain experience in building your skill set. If you don’t have experience or the skills, you’ll be unprepared, and you either won’t be able to find a job as a travel nurse because you don’t meet the minimum requirements, or you’ll slide through the cracks and end up at a travel assignment, then your contract will get cancelled because you don’t have the skill sets.

If you’re jumping into your first assignment and you’re nervous, remember that you’re qualified for the job. If you have experience and skill set behind you, and you’re open to learning new things, you’ll be fine.

The key is to be adaptable. Some people look at it as instability, but I see it as flexibility. Because it is always changing, you understand how to leverage it to your advantage, you can use those changes to really work out in your favor.

Photo by Ashley Adair

Are there any misconceptions people have about Travel Nurses that you feel should be addressed?

I would say the most common misconception is that every travel nurse is getting paid $10,000 a week. Another misconception I often run into is nurses who think that travel nursing is not worth it or it’s simply too risky.

My goal with my program and my social media pages is to just shed light on travel nursing and all the benefits that come with it. I know too many nurses who waited until they hit rock bottom to jump into travel nursing.

I would say the biggest misconception is that it’s risky, but that’s because so many nurses don’t know about it. Anything unknown appears to be super risky, but once you get the correct information, travel nursing provides you flexibility in your career, more freedom, and opportunities for you to advance your career.

What are some challenges you faced in nursing? How did you overcome them?

Burnout was one of the biggest challenges. I had heard of burnout before, but I wasn’t expecting to be that nurse that suffered through it because I was so passionate about my job.

That’s another huge misconception: Other nurses may be burnt out, but I love my job, I love this. It was really challenging and kind of heartbreaking for me to go through. I think a lot of nurse’s struggle with it because we are so passionate. Because we love helping people, a lot of times, we put the hospital above ourselves, above our mental health, above our physical health.

Once I realized how burnt out I was, I felt stuck. I almost felt like I couldn’t overcome it. For me, personally, travel nursing was my door — my light at the end of the tunnel.

Representation is obviously very important in healthcare. Were there ever any interactions you had with patients that really solidified your choice in becoming a nurse?

I would say one of the biggest reasons I became a nurse was, yes, I’m obviously a minority. I wanted to help not only people of color, but also low-income individuals who are treated differently. I wanted to take care of the urban population, the homeless population, people of color.

Being able to build a successful business that still helps and empowers a ton of nurses of color is what solidified me being a nurse. There was a time when I was caring for a Black patient who had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy. As I observed the baby, I noticed that he appeared to have a “dusky” skin tone, which can indicate a lack of oxygen. Typically, this change in color makes the lips of a white baby turn blue. However, for a baby of African descent, the “dusky” appearance is different, presenting as a subtle light grey undertone.

In an effort to address the situation quickly, I called the rapid response team, but they did not identify any immediate issues with the baby. However, I persisted as my instincts told me otherwise. Eventually, a neonatologist evaluated the baby and discovered an underlying heart condition.

This experience made me deeply appreciative of my role as a nurse, while also highlighting the importance of recognizing that some of the attending medical professionals may not possess the necessary understanding to accurately assess Black patients. It was an enlightening moment for me, and it left me concerned about what might have transpired had I not been present. I am grateful for the opportunity to make a positive impact and provide support to patients of color. This underscores the significance of representation and diversity within the medical field.

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