WILMINGTON — “Every nurse was drawn to nursing because of a desire to care, to serve, or to help.” — Christina Feist-Heilmeier, RN, author of “Nurses Are From Heaven.”
Megan Culbertson (nee Weaver) has taken that quote to heart by becoming a traveling nurse.
Culbertson — a Wilmington High School 2009 graduate now living in Greenville, South Carolina — is currently on assignment in Washington, D.C.
“I currently am a float pool travel RN at a hospital in D.C. I work on 11 different units, but mostly I work the COVID units,” said Culbertson, who also writes a blog for nurses and nursing students — peacelovenursing.com.
Before becoming a traveling nurse, Culbertson worked on a Transitional Care Unit for four years, then moved on to working in a hospital. She worked on a busy cardiovascular/telemetry unit for three years, then became a nurse preceptor — a cross between an educational instructor and a professional mentor. She received her associate degree in Nursing from Greenville Technical College and Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the Medical University of South Carolina.
She decided to become a nurse after two personal events in her life. The first was when one of her best friends was in an accident while they were camping.
“I helped get her to the hospital and was with her through much of her hospital stay and recovery,” she said.
The second was her father’s battle with stage III melanoma.
I’m thankful to say my friend made a full recovery and my dad is an eleven-year cancer survivor,” she said. “Watching the nurses care for people I loved and seeing how smart, caring, and compassionate they were inspired me to become a nurse myself.”
According to her, travel nurses go to hospitals to help with staffing shortages. While a staff nurse needs to be oriented to a unit for 6-12 weeks, a travel nurse begins working on the unit with only two days of orientation.
“For example, I accepted my assignment and within two weeks I was at the hospital oriented and caring for patients on my own,” she said. “You work anywhere from a four to a 13-week assignment. Travel nurses have to be adaptable, flexible, and strong in their nursing and critical thinking skills.”
She had always had a dream to travel and see the country. So, when she learned about travel nursing, it felt like it was a perfect way to do that. But then the pandemic hit, and a new reason to do it became apparent.
“When COVID hit and I saw the struggles my fellow nurses were facing, I felt called to go and help. I put in my notice at my staff job and accepted a travel nurse assignment at a hospital in Washington where the census was over 50 percent COVID patients,” she said.
While she and her husband (Bradley) don’t have a set timeline for how long they’ll be doing this, they do enjoy it.
“I plan to, at least, travel for the next two years. Maybe longer,” she said.
Right now, she’ll be in D.C. until Thanksgiving, then she’ll take some time off for the holidays with family.
She’s hoping they get to travel to Florida, Washington state, California, and Colorado.
They bought an RV so they could easily travel their dogs and always have “home” with them.
The positives of this experience have been exploring and experiencing these new areas — or at least, as much as they can with COVID restrictions. But being away from family and friends, moving every three months, and not staying long to form strong relationships with co-workers has been the tough part.
But the one thing that’s made part of this worthwhile is being able to provide comfort and care to COVID patients.
“Some of these patients have been in these hospitals for weeks and are unable to have any visitors. The only people they see are in total PPE and all you can see are eyes and a lot of plastic,” she said. “Taking the time to comfort them when they are scared, help them see family members with the use of an iPad, or updating a worried family member and assuring their loved ones are cared for all encompass one of the biggest reasons I became a nurse.”
She loves the science and ability to save lives, but the privilege of comforting people in the worst times of their lives is something she’ll always cherish.
“To have patients tell me I made a difficult time better, or I made them feel safe, just makes my job even more rewarding,” she said.