At 65 years young, Martha Rodriguez might not be the first person you think of when imagining a travel nurse. She has been a nurse for more than 30 years but only recently joined HPC as a travel nurse.
Even as a child, Martha always wanted to be a doctor or a nurse. Since her family didn’t have the money to send her to school in another city to become a doctor, she stayed closer to home and started training to become a nurse.
“I think I chose the right thing. I love being a nurse. I love being an operating room nurse,” Martha said.
She graduated from nursing school in 1972. After five years of working at a county hospital in Mexico, Martha and her husband decided to come to the United States. She applied for her RN license in Texas but had to overcome the language barrier.
“Most of the time, I had to study with a dictionary in my hand,” Martha said, “and sometimes I didn’t advance past one or two pages because of my lack of understanding.”
It was hard, but Martha's husband supported her through her studies by taking care of their home and their children when he wasn’t at work. She studied eight to 10 hours a day to prepare for her licensure. At the time, Texas only allowed nurses five chances to pass the exams. Martha persevered through all five chances and passed all her subjects.
She applied to Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso as an operating room nurse and ended up staying at the facility for 27 years.
“The first year, it was very hard,” she said, “Every time, I went home crying thinking that I’m not going to be able to keep going.” While her husband offered emotional support at home, Martha stayed strong at work. “At the hospital, I never cried. I just pretended that everything was fine … I just learned to forgive.”
Coming from a county hospital in Mexico, Providence Memorial was worlds away in terms of equipment and resources. Instead of backing down, Martha asked for a neuro assignment because she didn’t know enough about it and wanted more training. She ended up becoming a coordinator for neuro for six years after finishing her training. After that experience, she returned to her passion, the operating room.
“I really enjoy my job,” Martha said, “Even though I’m old, I don’t feel like I want to retire. I’m 65 years old and I don’t feel like I’m going to retire next year, no. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing.”
After 27 years at one hospital, it’s hard to imagine making the huge change to become a travel nurse. But for Martha, it was a blessing. Martha’s family — including her husband and her two sons — is close-knit. So when her sons asked Martha and her husband to move with them to Phoenix, they moved. Five years later, their sons moved to Mexico for work, and she decided to become a travel nurse rather than finding permanent positions with every move.
“Having flexibility was the main thing I needed as a travel nurse,” she said. As a travel nurse, Martha uses the breaks in between her assignments to spend time with her family, rather than being a permanent nurse with limited time off.
“[HPC] treats me very personally,” she said, “I’m very happy because my recruiter will always call me if I haven’t called in days or weeks … I can text her and ask anything at any time and they always answer me.”
Her first placement with HPC has been her most successful; the hospital has since extended her contract and Martha is happy where she’s working. From the first day, she felt like she was a permanent worker, even though she’s a travel nurse.
It’s hard coming to a new place. “I’ve had one very bad experience,” Martha said. “A new hospital in Fort Worth was very intimidating for me.”
If she didn’t mimic their permanent nurses exactly, she was wrong. She tried to review her techniques but nothing helped. Even though she didn’t enjoy working there, Martha stuck with it.
“I usually don’t defend myself,” she said, “but I started to talk to the director about how I felt and the way they were treating me.”
The director conceded the workplace may have been territorial. The experience was demoralizing, but Martha gave herself another chance. As it turned out, her next assignment was a much better fit and she had the chance to work with one of the best neuro surgeons in the country. As time has gone on, she’s learned a lot about being a travel nurse.
“We have to learn a lot of things in a very short period of time, especially to know where the stuff is,” Martha said, laughing.
For new travel nurses, she recommends being accepting of any instruction. Saying “I already know that” can make a poor impression. It’s better to be agreeable rather than defensive. Stay positive, and don’t let poor experiences have a major impact on your attitude.