Nursing Adventures from Florida to Alaska

Kara Benik on The Pacific Crest Trail

Kara Benik on The Pacific Crest Trail

How long have you been a nurse and what areas of nursing have you worked in?  I’ve been a nurse for almost 6 years. I got a job in the med/surg & telemetry unit that I did my practicum in. I didn’t love that unit but am thankful for a broader nursing scope to bring to L&D. My passion has always been women’s health and I’ve been working in L&D for 5 years now and have been travel nursing for the last 3 years.

What do you love most about nursing? I think I love different things at different times like the adrenaline, the opportunity to learn more all the time, and standing witness to someone’s joy, pain, anger, and strength. As nurses we are present for some of the most intimate and vulnerable moments in a person’s life, good as well as bad, and I consider it an honor to be there. Most of all, I really love being an advocate for my patients to help them have the birth experience they want. I think there’s so much distrust of medical personnel in L&D; that somehow the patient and medical team are working against each other. So when I’m able to connect and build trust with a patient and their family so they know I will do my best to keep them informed, safe, and make their needs a priority then it’s been a great day.

Tell me what you consider the biggest challenges or concerns about nursing today.  When I think of the biggest issues I’ve had in nursing so far most of them can be reduced to inadequate staffing. I’m pretty sure nurses have been complaining about inadequate staffing since the beginning of time and I don’t know what it will take for administration, hospital corporations, and the government to listen to our concerns and change things.  Defining what adequate staffing is and how to make sure that standards are upheld should be a priority not just for nurses but for the public in general or we will continue to lose great nurses to burnout and compromise patient safety.

Since you are a seasoned traveling Nurse, what advice would you give Nurses negotiating with an agency or recruiter for the best contract? I’m the worst person to answer this! I’ve met many nurses who are good at playing hardball and work with several companies going back and forth to negotiate the best rate-I am not one of these nurses. You have to be ready to walk away from a contract if you’re not getting the terms you want. I usually have very specific places I want to go and may be willing to sacrifice pay in order to get there. That being said I have turned down contracts after interviewing with a manager because the unit didn’t sound like an environment I would feel safe working in. My best piece of advice is to ask a lot of questions in the interview and be very upfront with your experience. If something specific is discussed in the interview i.e. time off, floating, weekends get it in writing in the contract!  

What throws you off balance and how do you know you are out of balance?  Working several long days in a row, lack of sleep, and not enough alone time. I know I’m off balance when I can feel my anxiety rising, or feel irritable and impatient. I start to only see the details that bother me instead of the whole picture.

What brings you back into balance? I get balanced with alone time in nature, going for a hike or visiting the beach. I meditate and do yoga to help me get out of head and gain some perspective, but I’ll never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep or putting on some loud music and dancing it out!

Tell me about your most favorite nursing job and why.  My favorite nursing job was my first travel assignment in Tacoma. I was their first traveler, the staff was very welcoming and midwives provided the majority of the care. I had come from a high-risk teaching hospital in Florida and had hoped to work in a model like this. It’s still the only hospital I’ve worked at that did water births and true intermittent fetal monitoring with a Doppler during labor. It was very interesting to see how a hospital made it work. 

What advice would you give to new grads starting out?  Nobody expects you to know everything; in fact the more experienced nurses around you know how much you don’t know and THAT’s OK! All anyone really expects is a willingness to learn which to me means jumping into uncomfortable situations, asking lots of questions, and asking for help.

Doctors can be jerks. Period. Try not to take it too personally.

Nurses can be jerks. Period. Ditto for this.

You may have a great preceptor or you may not. So if you get the chance to precept with a few other nurses take the opportunity-you can learn a lot from seeing the different ways things can be done. It will take time for you to develop your own style and way of doing things.

Ask for help. I promise you’ll look smarter and not dumber by doing so.

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