Like many nurses, Sarah Gaines was frustrated at being underpaid and overworked in her staff nursing job as a labor and delivery nurse.
Still, the work was rewarding for Gaines, who enjoys being at a patient’s bedside.
“It’s their most vulnerable moment, but also their strongest moment ever, going through labor and having their baby,” she says. “Seeing a baby take their first breath on this Earth is an everyday thing for me. That’s amazing. I love it.”
It wasn’t until Gaines’ father died from cancer a few years ago — she was his hospice nurse in addition to her regular nursing job — that she made a decision that changed her life: she was going to become a travel nurse.
She came to that conclusion when she requested the day off after her father’s funeral and the request was denied due to staffing needs. Gaines worked the shift and had a breakdown in front of a patient, who had just delivered a baby boy and was introducing the baby to his grandfather.
“Instead of just sitting around and dealing with it and complaining with how terrible it is,” she says, “when I realized that things were not going to change, I changed and I jumped into travel nursing to take back control of my career.”
Gaines, who has been a nurse for 10 years, worked three years as a staff nurse and has been a travel nurse for seven years.
“I pretty much jumped in and didn’t look back. It’s crazy because, unfortunately, so many nurses can relate to that story, and a lot of nurses had their breaking point during the pandemic,” she says.
These days, mandatory overtime for nurses is a must at many facilities, and it’s burning out people who love the profession. Gaines encourages medical facilities to adjust their culture and better support nurses, and for nurses to try travel nursing.
It’s empowering, she says. “It really puts the leverage back in your hands and puts the power back in your hands as a nurse. You get to choose when you want to work, where you want to work, and how long to do it.”
While higher pay is a big draw for many traveling nurses, Gaines values the job flexibility.
“It has honestly been a hidden gem,” she says. “You have the freedom to travel and get your housing paid for by your company and you get to work and do what you love.”
Being a traveling nurse is contract-based and there are no guarantees. While Gaines admits that sometimes staff nurses have animosity against her because she’s a contractor, she says the frustration is misdirected.
“My response to that is, ‘don’t be mad at the travel nurse, because you can do it too. And you’re mad at the wrong person. The fact that the hospital is underpaying you means you need to follow up with administration. Your anger should be towards your facility, not towards me.’”
With travel nursing, Gaines can take off as much time as she needs.
“I think that every nurse should take a couple months off a year,” she says. “Our job is very stressful and draining physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and we need that time off.”
She typically works for three months and then takes a month off. She says working nine months out of the year is the cure for her burnout.
Gaines has had more than 20 contracts all over the United States. She’s currently in Florida, a work destination she chose because she wanted someplace warm, in a city, and near the beach.
For her, every new travel nursing assignment is rewarding: “This is a new opportunity and a new experience with every single contract.”