By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
From hiking in the Arizona desert to surviving a Florida hurricane, travel nursing has given Crystal Walgenbach, RN, opportunities to experience life beyond Ohio.
“I love traveling,” said Walgenbach, who works for NursesRx. “It’s great. I’ve met great nurses and made some wonderful friends that keep me motivated.”
Walgenbach knew from the time she was a little girl that she wanted to work in health care or as a veterinarian. But as she reached adulthood she felt drawn to nursing.
“I like the one-on-one care nurses are able to give,” she said. “I feel nursing is my calling, and I see myself doing this type of work for the rest of my life.”
Walgenbach worked for four years on a high-risk antepartum unit in Ohio, before getting “antsy.” She wanted to see the United States, and a traveler working on her unit encouraged her to give travel nursing a try.
“I always thought traveling was too good to be true,” Walgenbach said. “But it’s a great experience. The lessons learned have been invaluable, as far as being flexible and being able to see what you are really made of in situations and environments you’re are not familiar with. It has really built my confidence in my nursing skills and in myself.”
A beach lover, Walgenbach enjoyed her first assignment in Naples, Florida. After returning home to Ohio, between assignments, she arrived in Miami just after Hurricane Wilma struck. Having stored her belongings and car at her uncle’s house in Central Florida, she flew into Tampa, waited out the storm and headed to Miami for orientation, uncertain what she would find, not knowing if her assigned apartment was still standing. It was fine, and the leasing office gave her the keys. But she had no electricity.
Out-of-town utility repair crews occupied all of the hotel rooms, leaving her no choice but to rough it in the apartment.
“It was a huge challenge, but I can look back and laugh,” Walgenbach said. “At the time, I was a little freaked out.”
Even so, Walgenbach called Miami a great experience. She met her current boyfriend there, and he and his dog joined her and her dog on the road, transferring from one restaurant to another within his company’s chain of eateries.
While on assignment on an antepartum unit in Phoenix, she and her boyfriend have traveled to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff and Tucson. She feels fortunate that the hospital gives her great choice in scheduling several days off in a row for longer trips. She and a couple of co-workers spent some time in Las Vegas. She also visits comedy clubs, sees the sights and participates in outdoor activities.
Although she enjoys being on the road, Walgenbach misses home and found it hard to be away from family at Christmas. Walgenbach plans to continue traveling for the next few years, and then would like to settle down and start a family. But first she wants to work in California, Alaska, Colorado, Washington State and New England.
“There is always somewhere interesting to go,” Walgenbach said. “The hard thing about giving up [travel nursing] is giving up traveling and seeing different places. It’s kind of an addiction.”
The hospitals typically make her feel welcome and a valuable part of the team. She recently received recognition for helping orient new employees and travelers to the unit and to a new electronic documentation system at her current hospital.
“It was very nice, and I was pleased to see they did that. It’s not very often travelers get recognized,” Walgenbach said. “Nurses don’t realize how valued they are in a community. When someone recognizes you, even for something small, you should really cherish that. And nurses should be proud of themselves, even when they are not recognized.”
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