[dropcap size=small]B[/dropcap]rigida Martinez doesn’t have to think twice about caring for those around her – she does so intuitively.
I noticed this from my first encounter with Martinez at an ashram in Indore, India. Children of construction families were helping their parents on the heavy-duty construction of a nearby, three-story building. (There is no minimum wage in Indore, nor are the laws against child labor. This often results in entire families getting hired to do back-breaking work for next to nothing.) While erecting the cinder-block frame the families were also living in it as a means of temporary housing. They had little in the way of food, clothing, water, and, for over a month, I’d been contemplating appropriate ways of offering them aid.
On her first day in Indore, Martinez invited me to walk up to the families and give them food. My first question was, “You just arrived in the country, how did you acquire ready-made meals?”
“I asked the airline stewardesses to save any untouched leftovers from the plane ride,” Martinez explained. “ I just knew there would be a better use for the food than to dump it out.”
For the record, foods on international flights to India aren’t your everyday airline peanuts. They’re full, hot meals that are usually better than what you would find in a U.S. soup kitchen.
Unsurprisingly, I came to find caregiving is part of Martinez’s everyday life. She’s an international travel nurse, working in pediatric, intensive care. She travels to where there’s a shortage of highly trained professionals, and in those places she trains nurses and helps with risky surgeries like correcting congenital heart defects. (CHD’s are heart defects resulting from structural problems with the heart that are present from birth.) India is where I met Martinez, but she’s spent time in five other countries and six U.S. cities during her 15 years working in healthcare.
What came first, the nursing or the travel?
I didn’t realize it until recently, but I guess I’ve been traveling all of my life. I can look back at family photos and find pictures of us visiting foreign countries when I’m as young as two. My dad was in the army. My mom was a nurse who traveled with him. I was born in Dallas, Texas, moved to Germany as a toddler, and finished middle and high school in Ohio.
Was it easy to mesh nursing with travel?
Oh, definitely! The work itself is not easy because there can be language barriers and it’s hard to gain patient trust as it is, so gaining patient trust (or the trust of their parents) as a foreigner can be particularly challenging. You also have to get used to new facilities and working with new people each time you relocate. However, I’ve found that being foreign can also work in your favor. When people know that you’re traveling with a willingness to help they are usually welcoming and hospitable. Nurses from different places have a lot to teach me about how they do things and I have a lot to teach them from all of the places I’ve been. In the end, everyone learns something.
As far as landing a job in a new place – that isn’t a challenge. It’s easy to find places that want to hire nurses. I think that was true for my mom, which allowed her to be flexible for my dad’s army job, and it’s true for me. Nursing is not only something I am passionate about, it also funds my other passion – travel. When you relocate as a nurse, you automatically have an engaging job that pays well, and you’re usually given direction on where to live.
Is it always easy to combine nursing and travel?
For me it has been, but I think that is due to my huge passion for travel and has to do with the fact that I am happy at work. It takes some sacrifice, planning, and financial responsibility (most likely proportionate to the amount of travel desired.) I will say that anything is possible if you want it. “Sab kuch Milega.”
How long have you been a nurse?
How old are you?
38 and holding on to that number as long as I can
When was the first time you meshed your nursing with travel? Where did you go?
I started out small. I moved from where I did nursing school in Toledo, Ohio to Santa Maria, California for an assignment at Marian Medical Center. I stayed there for two years. My first international assignment was seven years ago when I traveled to the Dominican Republic with the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF.) I’ve taken nine trips to five countries with ICHF since 2007.
Where do you find these travel-nurse jobs?
Internationally, I’ve always traveled with ICHF. I heard of this organization by word-of-mouth. However, just typing in “travel nursing” into a search engine online will provide you with a lot of resources.
How long do you stay in your assigned clinics?
Anywhere from two weeks to two years. The shortest I’ve even stayed in a place is two weeks, but if I like a place, if I feel like there’s a need for me there, and it’s a good fit, I can keep extending my stay.
Share with us something unique about working in the clinics.
The children and families that I care for inspire me on a daily basis. Some of the children, whether they be 5 or 16, inspire me to no end. They remind me how to appreciate the life that we’ve been given, how to stay positive when things look grim, and how much we really can endure. They epitomize the true strength of the human spirit.
I once met a very inspirational young teen. While waiting for a heart, she proved to be one of the most positive people I have ever met. Despite being stuck in the hospital she continues to live her life, enjoying the simple things in life such as her family, friends, doing her nails, music, singing and playing. When things do not go as expected she just says, “That’s okay,” and gracefully accepts the changes as they come. I don’t know that I’ve heard a single complaint from her, ever. She reminds me of the kind of person that I strive to be. She is truly amazing.
What is the first thing you do when you land in a new place?
Smile and take in a big breath with happiness and gratitude, excited for the adventure ahead.
I imagine that when you’re stationed somewhere you spend a lot of time working. Do you get a chance to experience the culture around you outside the working environment?
The cool thing about travel nursing is that I get to work side-by-side with local nurses from the places I’ve relocated to. I get exposure to their language, I hear about their families and I learn about there lifestyle right there in the working environment. But I also take time to get out and wander around outside the hospital. I especially like to travel within the place I’m visiting when I’m off on weekends.
Would you recommend nursing to anyone interested in a job that allows for travel?
The great thing about nursing is that there are so many avenues one can take in the profession. You can work as a bedside nurse. Then there are managerial and educational positions, which are more long-term. I love being a salaried bedside nurse. This allows me to work 12-hour shifts three days a week as a clinical RN and it allows the most opportunity for travel, especially for a lot of short trips. If you work as a contract nurse, you can take longer periods of time off between contracts. I’ve worked both as a staff and contract nurse, and even as a staff nurse I was able to travel quite a bit after accruing enough paid time off. I think if you love to travel you will figure out how to make it work. Nursing is a very gratifying profession with a lot of benefits, but it can also be extremely mentally and physically exhausting. I think that if someone wanted to go into nursing solely for the purpose of being able to travel, it may not be the best profession to choose. But if someone were even remotely interested in a rewarding profession in healthcare, in which they feel like they are making a difference, and if they also happened to love travel then nursing is ideal.
What do you do when you’re not being a travel nurse?
Well, then I just travel. And I love to combine this travel with visiting those that I love, like my mom and my sister. I also rock climb. When I’m not a travel nurse, I’m a travel rock climber.
Tell us one fact about your self.
Because of my mixed background (I’m Mexican-Pilipino) I’ve blended in almost anywhere I’ve visited. I didn’t stick out as a foreigner in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, India, Libya, and I don’t stick out in most places in the United States. Of course things would be different if I visited a small Nordic town in Europe, and it was a bit different in Germany. But I find this an interesting part of my travel experience.
Is there anything you’d like to add before we wrap this interview up?
Yes, make me sound cool when you publish this.