Diverse Perspectives & Advocacy

Born to Travel: Nurse Leah Gnitka

Chelsea Rolfes, RN
April 19, 2018
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Leah is a travel nurse from who Minnesota who’s love for adventure began when she decided to go to nursing school up north, right on the lake. She started her nursing career on a cardiac step-down unit which is ironic because she claims that subject was her weakness in college. Travel nursing had been on her agenda since she started nursing school and when 2017 hit she packed her scrubs in a suitcase and took off for Arizona.

Currently, Leah is on assignment in New Orleans but she doesn’t anticipate putting her nomad lifestyle to an end anytime soon. In fact, her passion for meeting new people and traveling has her planning to pursue her nursing career around the world.

What influenced your decision to become a nurse?

I had always been interested in the nursing profession, I went to a nursing camp when I was in 8th grade. When I was in high school, I had many ideas for my future, but I decided I wanted a career where I knew that each day I would be making a difference in someone’s life.  I knew I could go home from the work day and feel accomplished. I am a very social person and love being around people so the thought of being a nurse where I get to talk to people all day excited me. Therefore, despite the other career ideas I had, I ended up going to nursing school and loving the career even more than I ever thought I would.

What do you enjoy most about nursing?

In nursing, I love the interaction with people the most.  I love when you get the chance to talk to the patients and hear their stories and know where they’re coming from.  I’ve had patients give me life advice, tell me stories, and even ask me to pray with them. I love those moments where you find yourself laughing with the family members about a funny story.  And I love those moments when you know that you have made a patient feel like the day is going to be okay and that there is hope in the future.

What do you think is the most difficult part of being a nurse?

The most difficult part of being a nurse to me is not knowing the answer.  It’s hard when a patient is sick and you or the doctors can’t figure out what is wrong, or what will help the patient.  It’s hard when sometimes out of the blue a patient takes a turn for the worst and you’re stuck wondering what you could’ve done differently or if it would’ve happened no matter what you did.  It’s hard wondering why some things happen to some of these people. It’s hard not knowing the answer to the question, “when will I be well enough to go home?” It’s just hard not knowing answers you wish you did know.

What do you wish the world knew about nursing?

If you are considering making nursing your profession, know that it is wonderful, rewarding, hard, and sometimes stressful all at the same time.  Out of those, the profession truly is mostly rewarding. People are more thankful than you know for your help. It is so neat to be able to get to know patients and their families and really connect with them.  It’s exciting when you see people progress and become healthy enough to leave the hospital. You know you are greatly appreciated when your patient gives you a hug at the end of the shift and it’s the best feeling in the world.  But some days are hard. You won’t know the answer to everything; sometimes events will be out of your control; and sometimes no matter how hard you try to be accommodating, you’ll have that one patient that just is never happy. If you are considering nursing as a profession, it is a wonderful career.  Just remember that just like any other job, you will have your good days and bad days.

One thing that is really neat about being in this profession, is that there are so many opportunities for you.  If you don’t like a unit at the hospital, you can go to another one. If the hospital style isn’t for you, there are clinics, schools, nursing homes, and more you can work in.  There’s professions that aren’t patient-contact such as professors. There are also more unique nursing careers such as home health nurses, sport’s team nurses, cruise ship nurses, and what I currently am – a travel nurse. Don’t limit your options, because they are endless!

Do you think it’s important to identify with other aspects of life in addition to “nurse” or “nursing?

I definitely think it is important to identify with other aspects of life in addition to being a nurse/nursing as a career.  You need to remember you are not just a nurse. You are a person also and have a life outside of your career. You still have family, friends, church, clubs, whatever it may be that you are involved with.  And it’s good to still have those things and support groups outside of nursing. Being a nurse is part of your life and part of who you are, but it is not your whole life.

I think it is also important for nurses to have side-hobbies and other interests besides nursing.  Even though there are wonderful days in the life of nursing, some days can be draining and you need something else to keep you occupied.  You do have free time as a nurse, and instead of spending that time thinking of everything work-related and the stresses that may be at the hospital, it is good to spend your time doing something you enjoy.  Some of my hobbies I do in my free time include the following: spending time with family and friends, traveling, reading, taking pictures, and crocheting.

nurse leah gnitka smiling in scrubs

What do you wish the world knew about nursing?

I wish that the world knew that nurses are truly trying their best.  Sometimes patients or families don’t understand why something is not being done, but trust me, the nurses are doing their best as quickly as possible.

Also, yes, we only work three days per week (usually).  But after three 12-hr shifts all you want to do is sleep for a while.  I work night shift, which messes up my sleeping schedule, and for sure my first day/night off I am sleeping most of that day.  Working three days a week is only 4 hours short of a 9:00-5:00pm work week, and that is without picking up any extra shifts. Most hospitals are needing nurses to pick up and fill in extra shifts, so most nurses pick up a full or part shift a week.

What do you think is in store for the future of nursing? What about for your nursing career?

It’s crazy to see how advanced nursing has become.  So much new technology, new machines, new tests, and new charting systems.  I think the future of nursing will only continue to advance, especially in the technology area.  I’ve heard of machines being made to do blood draws in the future, and who knows what else they will come up with.  I’m excited to see where the future will take nursing!

As far as my future nursing career, I have so much I want to do.  I love where I am at right now: a travel med-surg/tele/cardiac nurse.  This summer, I will be switching it up a bit and will be working as a camp nurse in New York!  It will definitely be different than the hospital setting, but it will be fun for the summer.

Whenever I decide to end my travel career and settle down at one hospital, there are other units I would like to try such as ICU and Labor & Delivery.  World nursing is another passion of mine. I would absolutely love to do more nursing/medical trips around the world in the future.

nurse leah gnitka sitting in cafe with coffee

  • Day-shifter, night-shifter or both? I am a night-shifter.  I have been working night-shift ever since I started my career.  This summer, I will be working as a nurse at a kids’ summer camp, so I will have to start adjusting to being up all day long.
  • My work days usually start with… I usually get up around 3:30pm and go to the gym.  Getting a work-out in before work actually makes me more awake.  Then I go on with a normal morning routine with a shower, cup of coffee, lunch making, and hopefully a little reading before heading off to work.
  • Go-to mid-shift snack: My not-so-healthy choice is Cheese-It’s.  I always seem to start craving those around 1:00am.  But, if I’m trying my best to eat healthy, then apple slices are my go-to work snack.
  • Favorite thing to do on a day-off: After getting some sleep in, I like to go do some exploring.  The whole point of being a travel nurse is being able to see new places and have new adventures.  So I always make sure that happens.
  • Clogs or sneakers? I’m a sneaker girl.  I tried nursing clogs when I first started, but I found that sneakers were a lot comfier, and I have never gone back to clogs.
  • Favorite patient diagnosis: Anything cardiac related.  I started off on a cardiac step-down unit, so any patient that has a cardiac-related diagnosis I get excited about!
  • If I wasn’t a nurse, I would probably be…Either a world traveler or an event planner.
  • Favorite world destination: Australia.  I have always loved that destination and was able to make my dream a reality and go there last year!
  • Compression stockings, compression socks, or neither? Compression stockings when I remember them.  Usually I forget, and wear neither.
  • Puke, poop, sputum, IV starts in babies, we’ve all got our aversion, what’s yours? Feet are definitely my aversion!  I always try to nonchalantly put on gloves before touching a patient’s feet.
  • Go-to choice of caffeine?Either a cup of coffee or a cold Dr. Pepper
Chelsea Rolfes, RN

Chelsea, an Ohio native, is a Medical-Surgical nurse who began her nursing career in Chicago and soon after became a travel nurse. Chelsea’s zest for life and adventure has brought her to Seattle, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, and Austin. She has developed a true passion for health and wellness and aims to be an inspiration for those around her. She uses her Instagram account, @healthy_withchelsea, as a platform to showcase her recipes, food photography, and her active, healthy lifestyle from city to city. She can’t wait to see where her enthusiasm for living a happy, healthy life will take her in the future!

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