An Interview with Travel Nurse 101

Brandy Pinkerton, RN, is a travel nurse and owner of Travel Nurse 101. She’s been a nurse for more than 18 years, with experience spanning neonatal and pediatric ICU, critical care float pool, flight nursing, and travel nursing. On her site Travel Nurse 101, she also helps nurses successfully navigate the travel nursing landscape.

We talked to her about common nursing struggles – from managing money to pandemic stressors to avoiding burnout. Here’s what she had to say.

Brandy, what issues do you see in the nursing industry? 

The dynamics of nursing have changed. It used to just be nursing. Now we are nurse, social worker, housekeeper, secretary, dietary – all of the things basically. The demands are higher and the patients are sicker and we aren’t being paid anymore to wear all of those hats.

Here’s my perspective as a nurse pre, during, and post pandemic: nurses lost credibility during the pandemic and it wasn’t even our fault. We were being told so many controversial things with a lack of evidence-based practices like we are used to doing. It was almost like trial and error but with people’s lives at stake. We had no clear guidance or resources from our government leaders or from hospital admin down to the doctors.

I know we were truly navigating an unknown and something that we’ve never experienced. I think I can speak for many when I say that as healthcare providers, we felt very unsupported and our health and well-being was pushed to the back burner.

Do you have any tips for nurses who want to protect their mental health in difficult healthcare environments? Some of the places our nurses work may lack resources; many of the patients deal with historical trauma.

When you work in an emotionally and mentally challenging healthcare environment, you have to prioritize your mental health. Here are my tips.                                    

One is to practice self-awareness and acceptance. Acknowledge your feelings without judgment. It’s normal to feel stressed or overwhelmed in such an environment, and that doesn’t make you weak. Practicing mindfulness and meditation is something that can help you stay present, manage stress, and cultivate resilience. So can taking small breaks to recharge.

Seeking support is also important. Remember, protecting your mental health is crucial for providing good patient care. Try connecting with colleagues who understand your challenges and be candid with them about your experiences and feelings. But also be aware of signs of burnout, such as exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced effectiveness. And don’t be afraid to reach out to counselors who can help with coping strategies.

Boundaries are another big one. Avoid taking work-related stress home with you – and make sure you keep up with your favorite hobbies and creative outlets outside of work. Exercise offers amazing benefits for managing stress so try to develop even a simple exercise routine – and stick to it. You might also consider limiting your exposure to traumatic content and media.  

Finally, remember to practice gratitude and focus on the positive impact you make in patients’ lives.

What’s the best way for a nurse to deal with compassion fatigue/burnout? We hear about nurses quitting the profession entirely, but is there another option beyond leaving the nursing field?

I truly believe that you have to put yourself and prioritize your wellbeing first. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to take time to escape and recharge on your days off.

Plan rest days, fun events, and vacations so you have something to look forward to. Learn to say NO – it’s ok to say NO to working extra shifts and picking up extra shifts if it is affecting your mental health. Keep your WHY close at heart at all times!

The biggest help for me has been getting into travel nursing. It allows a lot of flexibility in your schedule, you can take more time off, and you get to explore with a purpose. You constantly have something new and exciting to look forward to and that momentum keeps you going. You don’t have to get involved in any staff politics or drama. You are just there to help them for 13 weeks and then move on to the next place.

Travel nursing changed my outlook on nursing and quite honestly saved my career and even my life.

Thank you! Next week, we’ll share Brandy’s advice on how nurses and other healthcare professionals can better manage their money.

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