Written by: Kaleigh Murphy BSN, RN
Like other travel nurses, I enter a new hospital every three months. As I navigate through the halls of each unit, I attempt to gain my bearings on the whereabouts. Searching for the bathroom, the crash cart, and the break room. I ask all the appropriate questions pertaining to scrub color, patient ratios, time off requests, and shift swaps.
The queries that separate me from the “medical nurse”however include more than obtaining knowledge on the nature of the Pyxis. It is understanding the policy of restraints, asking about the legal status paperwork, and all the basics of the locked unit I will call home for the next 13 weeks.
When I tell people about my specialty of nursing, I am usually met with the response “I could never do what you do”, along with some variation of a question pertaining to my safety. The truth is, I have never felt more safe than on a behavioral health unit of a hospital. The halls are filled with highly skilled health care professionals that are experts in communication, de-escalation techniques and the ability to efficiently work under pressure if need be.
Psych nursing is different than hanging bags of fluids filled with cocktails of life-saving remedies. It’s about predicting actions based on presented emotions. It’s about understanding pronouns, communicating effectively, establishing rapport, and actively listening to the patients who need a little extra support in their lives. Great nurses understand the body, but as psych nurses, we learn and work to also understand the mind.
Traveling as a Psych Nurse
After spending three years building my expertise in the behavioral health field, I decided to venture out. I moved from my small community hospital in the west end of Toronto, Canada to explore all corners of the USA. One psych unit at a time. Despite the myth that travel nursing in psych is essentially non-existent, I have had no issues. I’ve obtained contracts in the states and cities of my preference. Two and a half years of travel, four states and 3 contract extensions later, I can adequately say that travel is the best thing you can do for yourself and your career.
What I have learned as a traveling psych nurse is that as human beings, we share the same needs and desires regardless of our location in the world. We are all searching for happiness in different places and the same issues exist no matter where you live. Despite the differences of code color for “violent patient” and the form name for involuntary status, psychiatric units across the nation are all filled with similar patients. Those who share the same illnesses and are starved for the help they deserve to live successful and content lives.
Unfortunately, stigma continues to endure in mental illness. Homelessness continues to exist and lack of resources for mental health support is still a major issue across the nation. I continue to travel so I can bring acquired knowledge to new places, playing a small part in this change. To not only teach my patients but to learn from them as well.
If You’re Thinking About It, Do It!
Despite the “revolving door” term used to describe the nature of psychiatric units, behavioral health nursing is the most fulfilling career for me. Assisting in promoting mental stability is as rewarding as healing a broken leg. Immersing myself in new cultures and diving into new places has helped me become a better nurse. It has also helped me be a better person and improve my own mental health. For anyone toying with the idea of travel nursing in the psychiatric specialty: Do it, I promise that you won’t regret it!
Kaleigh Murphy is a Registered Nurse. She specializes in behavioral health with five years experience in different areas of psychiatric nursing. Kaleigh has worked on psych floors for: adult, geriatrics, child/ adolescent, detox, emergency, and the psychiatric intensive care unit. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Kaleigh moved to the USA in 2021 to begin her travel nurse journey. She has worked in four states, two countries and is only just beginning. Kaleigh aspires to one day become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and will begin her master’s degree early next year!