Profiles & Personalities

Travel Nurse Extraordinaire: Jeri Ford

Sarah Gray, RN
February 20, 2018
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There are 7 pediatric hospitals in 7 different cities on 8 different assignments and a couple hundred of nurses that have had the fortune of Jeri’s presence. Seriously. She’s whip smart, hilarious, infectiously positive, 100% real, and beyond kind. She’s the nurse you want in the break room during your lunch break and by your side when your patient isn’t doing so well. Shifts with Jeri leave you walking out after a rough shift still full of energy, passion, and faith in humanity and the difficult profession we’ve chosen.

She’s a travel extraordinaire and definitely maximizes her time and adventures wherever she is. We got to pick her brain on how she absolutely crushes #gypsylife and her insight for others!

When were you first exposed to travel nursing? How long had you been working as a nurse at that point?  

I first heard about travel nursing back in college, but I didn’t seriously look into it until about a year into my first new grad job. I knew another nurse who started traveling and fell in love with it. I worked on my first unit for about a 1.5 years before taking my first assignment.

What were the biggest draws to travel nursing that ultimately convinced you to try it?

The money and the adventure drew me to the travel world- but mostly it was the adventure. It sounded like something so amazing, and I knew that if I never tried at least one assignment, I would always regret it. I had just ended an 8-year relationship and that was the “push” I needed to jump into the travel world!

jeri ford travel nurse overlooking tropical island

What do you think are the TWO biggest advantages to being a travel nurse?

Narrowing the advantages down to just two things is challenging. I would say the two biggest advantages are personal and professional growth. Personally, you have to learn some fierce independence. Even if you decide to travel with someone, it still pushes you out of your comfort zone. You have to learn to be comfortable with yourself. You have to learn how to fend for yourself.

You have to learn how to take initiative socially. When you are the “new girl” every couple months, most people will not go out of their way to get to know you. It is up to YOU to make friends and find amazing people and adventures. The experience is entirely what you make it, and many people do not live in that mindset. Professionally, travel nursing gives you a completely unique set of skills and makes you incredibly well-rounded. I like to say you have to learn how to “cook in someone else’s kitchen” every new assignment.

You become some of the most well-rounded nurses in your field. You will work with every type of personality imaginable. You will work on well ran and poorly ran units. You could have every resource or none at all. Each new assignment gives you a new perspective and set of skills that other nurses may never know.

What have been your favorite travel assignments? (location or facility! whichever you want) How many travel assignments have you been on?

I have been on 6 assignments total, just started my 7th in January 2017. I have been to Dallas, Grand Rapids, San Diego, San Francisco, back to San Diego, Hawaii, and Los Angeles in January. My favorite assignment is hands down San Diego. The location, the people, and the overall vibe of the city has pulled at my heart-strings since I arrived the very first day, and is something I cannot shake!

That’s another thing you realize when you start travel nursing: be prepared to leave pieces of your heart in each city you travel to!

What advice would you give a nurse who is considering a travel assignment for the first time?

My advice could be several pages long! First and foremost: be brave. You will be scared, it will make you uncomfortable, and you will sometimes ask yourself why you did this. Keep your mind open, know that each experience is a lesson (may it be good or bad), take initiative with friendships and experiences, and open yourself up to what amazing things are in store.

Second piece of advice is always keep in contact with a seasoned traveler. You will have so many questions along the way, and sorting out the contracts/policies can be the most stressful. Having a resource will be essential.

jeri ford tropical traveling nurse underwater swimming

What do you think is the most difficult part of being a nurse? Does this change as a travel nurse?

The most difficult part about being a nurse is learning how to care about and invest in your patients without letting it damage you in return. Us nurses have a caregiver syndrome complex- we give so much to others that sometimes we don’t care enough for ourselves. This does not change with traveling.

While there are different struggles we have from time to time, the heart of nursing does not change.

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

Yes! As the old saying goes, “don’t have all your eggs in one basket.” The same rings true for anything in life. You have to be able to identify yourself with many things to be well-balanced. Nursing can absolutely be your greatest passion, but having more to your identity and self-worth is so important for your body, mind, and soul.

What do you wish the world knew about nursing?

Oh man, what a great pandora box of a question! haha. I have always said I wish for just one week, HIPAA wasn’t a thing and a hidden camera could just follow all nurses around during their shift. That is all it would take for the world to understand what actually happens on a day-to-day basis! The world would see just how many hats we wear. They would see that “nurse” is not simply one job title.

We are care coordinators, health managers, educators, secretaries, counselors, MacGyvers, professional speed-walkers, life savers, pharmacists, documenters, IT support, resident and physician educators, negotiators… the list is endless.

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

The future of nursing is vast and so exciting. I think in the future we will see a stronger nurse presence in the preventative health field. I think healthcare in general will become more preventative-oriented, and nurses will be at the forefront. I think nurses will become more educated, nurse practitioners will be used more frequently, and nurses will be a huge part in helping solve the many complications of our US healthcare system. As for me, I plan to continue traveling!

I will eventually settle down and go back to school for my DNP or for education, but none of that is a certainty. I have gotten very good at enjoying the present and seeing where my career takes me, and it hasn’t let me down yet! I have no doubt more wonderful things are in store for me.

And then these fun ones!

travel nurse jeri ford
  • Healthiest habit for work days: I have a 1.5 liter water bottle I take to work every day and force myself to drink it! I don’t get it done every shift, but it sure does help having a visible goal each day to keep myself plenty hydrated.
  • My work mornings usually start with…  Coffee and loud jam sessions on my drive to work
  • Go-to meal that I pack for work: I have no go-to meal, but my go-to snacks are Chobani yogurt, some kind of protein drink, and Cheez its!
  • Favorite thing to do on a day-off: I like to have equal Netflix binge days to adventure and explore days! If I’m on an assignment with a beach, that’s where you’ll find me.
  • Favorite app: Instagram.
  • Clogs or sneakers? Sneakers! Fun colors for the kids!
  • Compression stockings, compression socks, or neither? I wear neither because they make me so hot in the mornings I’m afraid the children will be scared their nurse is profusely sweating
  • Puke, poop, sputum, IV starts in babies, we’ve all got our aversion, what’s yours? Sputum- the kind that is stringy. Or the kind that comes out as a surprise to everyone involved
  • Go-to choice of caffeine? Coffee! Pretty much any kind except decaf!
Sarah Gray, RN

Sarah is a Pediatric Clinical Nurse III at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and a UCSF 2017 Evidence Based Practice Fellow. A New Jersey native, Sarah graduated from Penn Nursing and has been living in San Francisco ever since. She's been an athlete her whole life and continues to be passionate about health, fitness, and making the most of all opportunities. She continues to harness her passion for innovation and process improvement in her role as Founding Clinician at Trusted Health.

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