Travel Nurse Goes From Burnout to Chillin' Out
Travel Nurse Beats Nursing Burnout in Alaska
Theresa Mills, Staff Writer
Suffering from Burnout. Working in Alaska. Volunteering at Camp Wewanawe. These are just a few of the things that make NursesRx acute dialysis travel nurse Birthe Schwartz so interesting.
Schwartz entered her story in the NursesRx “I am NursesRx” story contest and agreed to tell other RNs how travel nursing changed her life.
Born in Denmark, Schwartz came to New York in 1980 where she worked in neonatal, pediatrics and postpartum. After having her children, she decided it was time to change her specialty to dialysis, which she fell in love with.
Eventually, she settled in to a permanent staff position in a large hospital, helping dialysis patients who were either in full kidney failure or recently diagnosed with kidney disease.
During her 10 years at the hospital, Schwartz committed herself to continually learning about advancements in dialysis treatments, working tirelessly to improve patient care within her facility.
“As a nurse, you always need to be learning,” she said. “It’s our obligation to do things to improve the patient outcome and find safer and better ways of doing things. Unfortunately, nurses who have worked at the same hospital for years tend to do things the same way. I believe in self-improvement and constant progression. When I worked at the hospital, I drove myself to do better, learn more and push for change - even when it wasn’t the popular choice.”
However, Schwartz eventually felt the effects of her years of efforts. After 10 years, she began experiencing symptoms of nurse burnout.
“Suddenly I became very negative and found myself complaining a lot. I even became a little passive-aggressive, which is fruitless and completely out of character. It was then I realized that I needed a change. I talked to my nurse manager and much to my amazement, she agreed to give me a seven-month personal leave of absence. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: learn more about pediatric dialysis and try travel nursing in Alaska.”
And that’s exactly what she did.Schwartz packed her bags and prepared herself for the adventure of a lifetime.
“Before I left for my assignment, I half-imagined that I would be working in an igloo, but my facility was first-rate. No matter what the weather brought, my dialysis patients always arrived for their treatments. I figured, if they could brave the snow, so could I."
"On my days off, I hopped on my bicycle and rode everywhere, exploring the area. The Alaskan scenery is breathtaking and something I’ll never forget.” She laughed, “Of course, my sons were worried about me cycling in bad weather and told me not to be a hero in the snow.”
After leaving her assignment in Alaska, Schwartz returned to warmer climates. Immediately, she set out to fulfill her second goal: to learn more about pediatric dialysis.
“Children are amazing,” she said. “They’re so resilient and have this incredible ability to adjust to their situation.”
Schwartz enjoyed working with children so much that she volunteered at Camp ‘Wewanawe,’ a summer camp sponsored and facilitated by the National Kidney Foundation in North Carolina.
“It was heartwarming to watch young kidney patients laughing and smiling and having fun. They had all endured so much and the camp was a place where they could just be kids.” Sadly, after five summers of volunteering, Camp Wewanawe was closed due to lack of funding.
After the camp closed, the children were invited to participate at The Victory Junction Camp in Randleman, North Carolina during Kidney Week.
“Victory Junction was founded by race car driver Richard Petty in memory of his grandson, Adam Petty, who was killed in an accident several years ago,” Schwartz explained. “Victory Junction is open the entire summer to children with all types of disabilities.” Schwartz volunteered for two years as the dialysis nurse during kidney and heart week. “Those children were an inspiration to me and will always have a place in my heart.”
After she retires, Schwartz plans to settle in St. Louis, Missouri to live near one of her children, but for now, she continues to thrive in her career as a travel nurse.
“It is often said that travel nurses get the worst patient assignments. I must say, that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve met a lot of great co-workers during my travels.”
“If I could give two pieces of advice to RNs considering a career in travel nursing, the first would be to discuss your orientation when you interview with the hospital. Make sure you insist on three days of orientation. You need that time to really understand your unit and the hospital’s policies and procedures.”
And her second piece of advice?
“You should definitely try travel nursing in Alaska. You’ll have the time of your life and meet incredible people. But if you do, remember one very important thing: bring a coat because it gets really, really cold.”