Kathryn Bishop — Nursing on the Road

From taking in the scenery at Tunnel View in Yosemite Valley, hiking trails surrounding Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, and ascending Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Kathryn (Davis) Bishop (’11) admits that life as a travel nurse has its perks.

Eight years since graduating from Southeastern, Kathryn and her husband, Stephen, are now living as travel nurses in California. Although Kathryn is enjoying the adventures and flexibilities that come with being a travel nurse, she didn’t always see herself continuing to practice bedside nursing. As a student, she had dreams of becoming a nurse practitioner or a medical doctor. While she excelled in the biology/pre-medicine program, was president of the Christian Medical & Dental Association student chapter, and was preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test, she discovered that the holistic approach of nursing appealed to her.

At that time Southeastern did not have a nursing program, so shortly after graduation and her marriage to Stephen, she decided to enroll in the accelerated nursing program at the University of South Florida. She had originally hoped to continue her studies in a nurse practitioner program after working as a bedside nurse for several years. So, soon after earning her nursing degree, Kathryn started working in her hometown at Lakeland Regional Health in the pediatric emergency room (ER).

“As I was working in pediatrics, I realized how much I really loved it, and my dreams started to shift a little bit. I loved being at the bedside, which is something that a lot of doctors don’t get to do as much because of all of the charting that’s required of them. As nurses, we are constantly at the bedside doing procedures and caring for the patient. I really loved that one-on-one patient contact,” said Kathryn.

As her plans began to change, she also developed an interest in traveling as a nurse. 

Because the demand for nurses is so high, there are often shortages in certain areas. Travel nurses typically move around the country to fulfill those demands, working in a specific position for a certain amount of time.

The longer she worked at  Lakeland Regional Health, the more she heard from other nurses that they wished they had taken time to work as a travel nurse before they were further along in their careers and started their families. As a nurse himself, Stephen, who was working in Lakeland Regional Health’s ER, was also on board.

A Step Closer to Medical Missions  

Kathryn and Stephen met through a mutual friend while she was a student at Southeastern and early into dating, they started talking about their aspirations of becoming medical missionaries. “He and I had similar goals about how we viewed nursing as an avenue to one day pursue medical missions. We later found that travel nursing might be an excellent way for us to practice adapting and overcoming new challenges,” she said.

For their first assignment, they headed to the New England town of New Haven, Connecticut, where they both secured contracts at Yale New Haven Hospital. Kathryn worked in the pediatric ER and Stephen was in the main ER. When their time in the northeast came to an end, they headed west to San Diego, California, where they worked at Rady Children’s Hospital. They completed two assignments there before going on to the San Francisco Bay area, later to Tucson, Arizona, and finally back to San Diego. Kathryn adds that most travel nursing contracts are 13 weeks, but the couple usually extends theirs to average around five to six months at each location.

Early on, the couple realized that they needed to figure out a different housing situation. Between traveling with their dog, Jackie, and having three- to six-month-long assignments, they had difficulty finding affordable, furnished short-term housing that allowed pets. Their solution was to buy a 2000 Fleetwood Bounder motorhome. To make the RV feel more like home, they replaced the twin beds with a queen and began to remodel the living room and kitchen.

“It became a lot easier for us to travel. We found that by staying in RV parks we cut our costs by at least half,” added Kathryn. The RV parks they have chosen are typically vacation destinations for travelers so they enjoyed beautiful settings with numerous amenities.

Kathryn and Stephen typically work three 12-hour shifts a week, leaving them with lots of time to explore the surrounding area. As soon as they take a new assignment, Kathryn begins researching the area to discover the top sites and cultural events so they can enjoy what each area has to offer. They also utilize annual national park passes, which give them access to all the national parks and forests, where they often camp and hike.

In each of the locations they have been, Kathryn has continued to work in the pediatric ER.

“Every day is different in the ER. Some days I feel like all I’m doing is taking care of people with colds and stomach bugs. Other days we’re doing CPR, stabilizing traumas and praying to God these kids will pull through,” said Kathryn. “However, my favorite part about pediatrics is that kids heal so quickly and that there is often an element of play involved in the care we give.”

New Places, New Rules 

Although many adventures await with travel nursing, it doesn’t come without difficulties.

“The hardest thing about travel nursing is the first two weeks. They give you two days of orientation, show you where the supplies are, where to view policies, and try their best to explain how they operate in that location. You now have to figure it out and they expect for you to figure it out quickly. The first two weeks can feel like a roller coaster ride,” said Kathryn.

Even with the challenges of her job, Kathryn shares how she has enjoyed travel nursing and it has helped her grow on a personal level.

“I used to view myself as very much of a perfectionist. Through travel nursing and having to constantly adapt to new places and new scenarios, I had to learn to let go of some of those perfectionist mentalities and learn how to go with the flow more easily and adapt,” she said.

As an introvert, she surprised herself in how much she enjoyed travel nursing. “One of the things I like about it the most is making new friends and meeting a lot of other travel nurses who just want to explore and see new places like we do.”

Following their last assignment in San Diego, the couple returned home to Lakeland for a few months where they welcomed their first child, Elijah, in December of 2018. While they adjusted to life as parents, the Bishops headed back to the Sierra Nevada foothills of California where Stephen has an assignment in a rural ER and Kathryn stays home with Elijah. They have discussed swapping roles for future assignments, enabling each parent to take time with their son and work.

Prioritizing Faith 

As they pray for guidance with their next step, whether it takes them to another stateside assignment or overseas, Kathryn shares how she has had the opportunity to share her faith stateside as a travel nurse. “There have been times where the Spirit has led me to pray with my patients, and there have been times when I have been able to speak life into the hopeless.”

Yet, in a secular field, Kathryn has faced challenges with sharing her faith.

“With nursing, you enter the field wanting to be Jesus’ hands and feet. But then, you realize that you are employed by a business — one that is more concerned about finances and appeasing customers than meeting emotional and spiritual needs. It is incredibly difficult because nursing in itself is a profession of caring for the whole person — the physical, emotional, and spiritual. It’s incredibly difficult for us to integrate that into our practice in today’s culture,” said Kathryn.

In the midst of their travels, they have always made their faith a priority. Every time they plant their roots in a new city, one of the first things they do is find a local Assemblies of God church. Some of the churches they have attended include: Shoreline Community Church in Connecticut, Harvest Time Assembly in San Diego, New Life Church in the San Francisco Bay area, Central City Assembly in Tucson, and currently Mt. Zion Assembly.

“We have been blessed by so many wonderful churches around the country and have really been able to connect with those people and make new friends at each one. They have embraced us with open arms and helped us feel at home.”

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