By Glenna Murdock, RN, contributor
Kraig Ferris was a warehouse worker in Florida when his wife, noticing the large number of newspaper ads for RNs, suggested nursing might be a good profession for him.
The marriage fizzled but the career idea took hold. He put his name on a nursing program waiting list and took courses to fill in the blanks on a list of prerequisites while continuing at the warehouse. He also used the wait time to finish requirements for BA and BS degrees begun in the early ‘80s. Back then, Ferris had studied biology and chemistry at a university in his home state of New York, but left school two semesters short of a degree because of issues associated with his father’s death.
“With my strong science background, it made sense that nursing would be a good fit for me but I’d never given it a thought. At the same time I was being nudged toward nursing, I was seriously thinking of joining the military,” said Ferris. “I’m glad I chose nursing.”
Eventually, he made it to the top of the wait list and began his nursing education at Florida Community College in Jacksonville, Florida. Any doubts about his new career choice evaporated as soon as Ferris moved from the classroom into the hospital for the first time.
“On my very first day of clinical I said, with absolute certainty, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”
During his second semester of school, Ferris worked with a travel nurse and the notion of a nursing career on the road began to take shape.
“He told me about his travel experiences and, from that point on, travel nursing was my goal,” Ferris explained. In the three years after graduating with an associate degree in nursing, Ferris worked as charge nurse in a pre-trial correctional facility housing 2,000 inmates and in an acute care center, overseeing step-down and cardiac telemetry units.
Flipping through a professional magazine one day, an ad for leading travel staffing agency Nurses Rx caught his eye and Ferris gave them a call. Soon he was packing his Jeep, plotting his route and bound for Texas and his first travel assignment. Ten years and 30 assignments later, Ferris, now 41, is still with his original agency, Nurses Rx, and more enthusiastic than ever about travel nursing. “Settling in one place is not on my radar screen, so traveling is perfect for me,” Ferris stated.
Unlike many travel nurses, he isn’t especially interested in touring new areas and seeing the sights. Instead, he likes a sense of community and a feeling of belonging.
“Within a day or two of arriving in a new city,” said Ferris, “I will have joined a gym and signed up for a softball or basketball league. I like to find a neighborhood bar—the kind of place where I can visit with the regulars, watch a game on TV or shoot a game of pool now and then.”
A few years into travel nursing, Ferris was frustrated that his employment possibilities were limited by his lack of critical care certification. In return for a 15-month obligation to stay with Nurses Rx, the agency paid housing expenses and tuition for a 13-week intensive critical care program.
“It was total immersion from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week, but it was a tremendous career boost for me,” said Ferris. “I have now worked the gamut of critical care, from ER to Transplant ICU to Trauma ICU to CCU. Other than OB-GYN, there isn’t any area of a hospital where I can’t work.”
His overall travel nurse experience has been so positive that Ferris would gladly return to work at any of his 30 previously assigned hospitals. Despite his self-described non-traditional appearance—“I have spiked hair, tattoos and piercings,”—Ferris has had no problems with acceptance by his new-every-three-months co-workers.
“Topnotch skills go a long way in the acceptance process,” Ferris said. “For me, it’s all about the patient and I get a lot of respect from the staff when they see the effort I put out for the patient’s benefit. Besides, I’m a strong guy and they like having me around for turning and lifting.”
Ferris is obviously doing something right because he has been offered permanent employment at each of his temporary assignments. “That’s a good feeling,” he remarked.
Soon, Ferris’s girlfriend, also an RN, is planning to join him in his portable career as a traveler and he’s hoping for a repeat assignment in Hawaii, a favorite locale. Life and work on the road suit Ferris just fine.
“Change is exciting,” he said enthusiastically, “and I expect to always be a travel nurse.”
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