By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
When Mother Nature spun her life out of control, Latoya Wells, RN, turned to travel nursing, which has expanded her outlook and provided opportunities to grow.
“The last year and a half has been the most rewarding in my career, because it challenged me,” Wells said. “Professionally, it made me step up to the plate, and I learned a lot as far as my skills. I met new, great people. I’ve learned to deal with different situations.
“Socially, it challenged me, because I had to learn to make new friends every 13 weeks, and I learned to fit in,” she added.
Wells and her family left New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached, expecting to stay in Texas a few days and return to her job as a night supervisor at Children’s Hospital of Louisiana, but flooding left her home and her husband’s employer under water.
Children’s Hospital temporarily closed. Unsure when it might reopen, Wells’ boss suggested she travel. Wells had never lived outside of New Orleans and wasn’t sure she could.
“I’d always admired nurses who traveled,” Wells said. “I wanted to, but I was scared.”
Not eager to stay in a Houston hotel, Wells and her husband, Brandon, discussed their options. He had family in Los Angeles and St. Louis, making those destinations less frightening. So, Wells went to a nearby store to rent computer time and applied online to American Mobile Healthcare, a company she had frequently worked with as a supervisor to order travel nurses.
A day later an O’Grady-Peyton International recruiter called, listened to Wells’ preferences and offered her a med-surg assignment at a children’s hospital in San Diego. Wells accepted, thinking San Diego would ease her into California’s fast, busy culture.
“San Diego is a beautiful place, but so much bigger than New Orleans,” she said.
The hospital offered a full week of orientation, and several travelers started at the same time and supported each other. Still, the new position took some adjustment.
“It was a major shock to me that a lot of the patients didn’t speak English, and I had to call a translator,” Wells said. “The kids were crying, and they didn’t understand what I was saying. That was a real shock. My first night, I drove home crying.”
As time went on, Wells adjusted, completed her assignment and accepted new gigs in California, each time moving a bit closer to Los Angeles and her husband’s family and new job.
“We decided to make California a permanent thing and to stay out here,” Wells said.
While on the road, the couple hired contractors to fix up their home in Louisiana. Wells still finds California freeways daunting. She, however, has come to enjoy its cultural diversity.
“I meet nurses from everywhere, literally,” Wells said. “It’s so enriching to talk with them. It’s a way of life.”
While on assignment, Wells and her husband have visited the sights and soaked up what the state has to offer, such as the beach.
“It was an entertainment thing to hang out on the beach,” Wells said. “I was in awe.”
Wells continues to learn and grow, accepting new assignments and opportunities to learn additional skills, floating to intensive care units and the nursery. She recently extended her contract to work in the hospital’s gastrointestinal clinic, another new specialty area for her.
“I feel I have accomplished a lot personally and getting over your own fears,” Wells said. “Nursing is nursing no matter where you go. There are different policies, charting and equipment may be different. The ethics of nursing and standard of care are the same.”
Wells still grieves for her former hometown. But she admits positive developments have come from the terrible circumstances that led to her travel.
“I’ve grown so much,” Wells concluded. “I am so happy I chose to travel.”
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