Ketsia Laguerre - Gypsy Nurse

Ketsia Laguerre is a successful 26-year-old Haitian, driven, individual located in Houston, Texas. In this interview, Ketsia opens up about how she came about her career course, her current lifestyle as a gypsy (travel) nurse, and her future with her career going forward.

CJ: Hi Ketsia, first off I’d like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. You are my first interview ever on this blog!

KL: I feel incredibly honored. Thank you so much!

CJ: To begin, what made you gravitate towards the nursing field in general? Was there a show you watched, or someone you looked up to?

KL: I kind of always knew that I wanted to be in the medical field somehow. Nursing just seemed like the quickest way for me to get into the healthcare field without having to do the 12 years that it takes to be a doctor or a physician’s assistant. I wanted to get on the floor as quick as I could and help patients.

I got my Nursing Assistant license at 20 and I got into one of the best medical centers in Houston and was working there as a Tech. Being in that environment and working with the patient’s and their family members eventually solidified the fact that I wanted to be a nurse.

CJ: Did you ever really want to be a doctor, like is that what your first thought was medical career-wise?

KL: I did at one point. I remember in middle school when they made me do all those career things and I wanted to be an Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OBGYN) for the longest. I don’t know what it was that made me change my mind, but eventually, it slowly turned into nursing. I think it’s because nurses are so much more hands-on. Doctors they do a lot, but nurses execute the orders that doctors put in. I wanted to be on the more personal side of healthcare and interaction with my patients.

CJ: Can you take my readers and I through the steps of becoming a nurse in general?

KL: To become a nurse, two routes you can take are the Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) route. What I did was the community college route (ADN), which was cost-friendlier for me. I did all of my prerequisites and then I applied to the Associates Degree Nursing program. I graduated with my ADN in 2016.

I was able to land a position in a graduate nurse program at one of the healthcare facilities here in Houston. 2-300 graduate nurses applied for the program and I was one of the 20 graduate nurses who was picked for the nurse residency program at that site.

I did that for about a year, and while I started working as a nurse, I started taking classes online for my bachelor's degree. I'll be done in September with that. Personally, I know that the BSN is necessary in order for me to advance my career, so I’m getting it done so that I can move forward with my Master’s.

CJ: Shifting gears into your traveling life within your career, how long have you been a gypsy nurse?

KL: I’ve been a regular nurse for a year, and I have been a travel nurse for 4 months. I gave my two weeks for my staff job in January, so I am currently on my first travel contract.

CJ: That’s great! How did you first go about being a travel nurse? Like, what research did you have to do and what requirements did you face?

KL: There are a million travel agencies that you can choose from. So the first step for me was finding an agency that met all of my requirements. First, I had to find a recruiter that I felt would meet all of my needs and be my advocate, because the recruiter is the middle person between me and the hospital. If I have any issues or concerns I go to my recruiter. I was referred to my current recruiter through a friend who also works with her. We met and connected off the bat, so I felt comfortable going forward with her, in terms of finding my first assignment. It took a month to find a facility to do my phone interview, and get all my paperwork in.

Requirements are generally just one year of experience in your specialty. I have progressive care, or ICU step down experience, as well as telemetry, so I had about a year and a half of experience. Some people will say you need two years, but I feel like with a year you know the logistics of it. I was pretty comfortable with my level of experience. You will also need the basics of working at a hospital: your licenses, the license of the state you are going to practice in, immunizations, and certifications.

There wasn’t an age requirement. You just submit all of that paperwork to your agency, then they will look and see what is available based on your profile, then submit it to the hospital and decide to pick you based off of that.

CJ: Once you got to the hospital, did they require any additional training?

KL: No, actually I think this hospital was straightforward. I know some hospitals make you take some type of exam based on your specialty.

CJ: Was being a gypsy nurse always a goal for you, or was it just kind of a spontaneous decision?

KL: My love for traveling definitely played a role in me wanting to be a travel nurse. I came across travel nursing sometime during my schooling and thought it would be amazing because it combined both of my loves of nursing and traveling, and travel nurses they make great money. I was single at the time, so I wasn’t tied down with a relationship and kids. Traveling was also a big goal of mine while I was in nursing school, so I could get my year of experience, then venture out.

CJ: I definitely understand, so what places have you been to as a travel nurse?

KL: This is my first contract, so I have only been to one city so far for nursing. It is a small one right outside of Kansas City, Missouri. I am currently waiting on my California license, which should be here by the end of June, so I should be headed to Cali after that.

CJ: Oh, so every time you go to a new location, or new state you have to get a new license?

KL: Texas is part of a compact license agreement, so it's Texas and about 20 other states. Once you have a Texas license, you can practice as a nurse in these other states that are also part of the agreement. I know Missouri, Georgia, and Florida are compact states. The states that are not compact states you have to apply through a license each time to nurse there. California is not a part of it, so for a license it usually takes 3-6 months because it is such a popular site. So hopefully after I’m done with this assignment, that will be the next move, but we will see.

CJ: Since your traveling is work relates does your company pay for all of your travel expenses?

KL: I get reimbursed for traveling to and from my assignment. I also get reimbursed for the application fee and the license verification fee. I do receive stipends for housing and food every week. I can do company housing, but you make more money if you find your own housing and pay your bills that way.

CJ: Do you rent out a house, or stay in a hotel for your current traveling assignment?

KL: You can do hotels, but I was lucky enough to find a short-term lease apartment where I am. I signed a three-month contract, but I have extended it to five while I am waiting on my California license. It's cheaper for me to stay at my own place and pay my rent with the stipend they give me, rather than having them put me in a hotel where they cover the cost and I don’t get that money directly.

CJ: So at your current assignment, do you go to various clients’ homes and treat them that way or are you working at a hospital?

KL: I work at a specific hospital. It was actually up for sale last year and they didn’t have a buyer until the last hour. They were getting ready to close down, so a lot of the nurses and other employees quit. They ended up being bought at the last hour by the University of Kansas Health System. Because there are a lot of employees that quit, there are a lot of travelers at my job. Specifically, right now, I work on the telemetry floor and I am contracted for that specific floor. So I go to one hospital and one floor. I do get floated sometimes because I have experience in the ICU step-down unit as well.

CJ: Oh, so when you go through your 4 years of schooling after you're done and you start working, that is when you choose your specialty?

KL: You can get hired into your specialty. Some people just apply to different places and pick where they want to go. You can experience by working in that specialty.

CJ: What was moving to an entirely different state like? Take me through the emotions you were feeling moving away from your hometown and any kind of nervousness you experienced.

KL: I was so scared! I remember the day before I was leaving, my friends came over and they helped me pack, look for an apartment, and even threw me a surprise going-away party! One of my friends, in particular, is a travel nurse as well so she helped me with my contract and made sure everything was correct. My boyfriend, who is overseas, was also supportive the entire time.

I remember that morning, I got up at 4 am to leave because it was a 10-and-a-half-hour drive. I got to the driveway, with my car all packed, and just started bawling. I cried and cried and cried, while my boyfriend tried to console me.

Despite my worries, it has been by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life, so I have no regrets. Coming from a bigger city, like Houston to a small town outside of Kansas was definitely an adjustment. It was also my first time living in my own apartment, so living by myself was also scary and took some getting used to.

CJ: Were there any major challenges you had on your journey to becoming a nurse in general?

KL: Nursing school is not for the faint of heart that's for sure. I don’t really think I had any specific challenges. I kind of dedicated my life to nursing school. I was fortunate enough to have a really good support system between my parents, friends, and work-family because I was working part-time as a unit secretary at the hospital through nursing school, so they were super supportive with letting me study for school at my desk.

I think if anything, I just kept asking myself when I would be done. I just took it a semester at a time, and it was definitely well worth it at the end. I think the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) exam was probably the hardest thing, which is your boards. I completely shut down for a month not going on any social media, I didn’t go out. I just studied for four weeks straight before I took my test. Mentally, that was the most draining time ever of my entire nursing school experience.

CJ: At what stage do you take your boards? Is it a written or skills assessment?

KL: You take the test at the very end after you graduate. It is a computerized test. You can have anywhere between 75-265 questions I believe. The questions are patient-care based, anything from medication to the actions you would take based on a patient’s symptoms. Anyone in nursing school knows that the questions are very tricky. I think the time limit for the test is up to 6 hours. My test was 3 hours. My computer shut off at 110 questions. Everyone’s test is different. You get a different amount of questions. I know people who have had up to 265 questions and have to be there the entire 6 hours. Whenever the computer determines if you passed or failed, it just shuts the computer off. So it is extremely nerve-wracking.

I didn’t think that I passed. I was already thinking about what I would tell my parents. The pressure that I personally had with taking the test was that I had a job offer three months before graduation, so I already had a start date before graduation. Therefore, I had a period of time to take the test and pass it. I could only take it once before my start date because there is a 30 or 60-day wait window before you can retest. So, it was either I passed or I failed and lost my job offer. Failing wasn’t an option.

On top of that, my birthday was May 31, and I tested on June 28. When I got to the testing site, the lady told me my license was expired. I had to find a way to go back home and get my passport. My brother ended up meeting me halfway and brought it to me to that I could test. I had to completely re-focus, so I went into the test a nervous mess because all of this happened. My testing day was quite an experience to say the least.

CJ: How long after you test do you find out your results?

KL: It’s the longest 48 hours of your life! I isolated myself during those 48 hours by turning my phone off. I literally did not leave my house for two days waiting for my results. I tested a day before I told everyone I was testing. I told everybody I was testing the 29th, but I really tested on the 28th just so people wouldn’t be texting me “good luck” and “you’ll do greats”, and basically just avoiding that added pressure on the actual day. So the day I was waiting for my results was the day where I was getting those texts!

I did the Quick Results option for my test, and when I checked it and it said “Pass”! I remember my mom was there, and I just fell to the floor on my knees saying “Omg its over!”The results are through email, so whatever website you used to register for the test, I paid like $7 for the Quick Results option. Because the official results actually take longer than 48 hours. My license was posted on the Texas Board of Nursing website shortly after. You also get a letter in the mail with your license a few weeks after that as well.

CJ: With this career, where do you see yourself in a few years? Do you think you will still be traveling as a nurse?

KL: I don’t think I'll still be traveling. My boyfriend is traveling, so I think that was the biggest push for me to start traveling earlier. He got the opportunity to go back overseas, so I thought while he's traveling, let me travel too. That way when he's ready to come back and settle down, I can as well. We kind of have a deal to both be back home by the end of the year. I think I’ll just probably spend a few months in Cali, then that’ll be it. I definitely think if I wasn’t in a serious relationship, I would continue, but I can't imagine being away while being married.

CJ: Where else have you been travel-wise outside of your career?

KL: I have been to Cuba, Haiti, Los Angeles, San Diego, New Orleans, Dubai, Canada, Nicaragua, and Florida.

I actually went to Nicaragua my second year of nursing school for a medical missions trip. I did that during my Spring Break for a whole week. That was amazing and that’s something I want to do more of, definitely in Haiti.

CJ: For your leisure trips do you do packages or do you just save up then splurge when you get there?

KL: I have a travel account with my bank, so I have money that comes out every paycheck and it is deposited into that account, so the money builds. Usually, when I start planning a trip, I already have a set amount of money in that account to get started. I'll pay for things about 2 months in advance, so by the time I start planning a trip, I’ll already have plane ticket money in my travel account. From there, when I get paid I choose things to pay for, like “This check I’ll pay for housing, and this one will be for the rental car”. I like to pay for everything in advance, that way all the money I take on the trip is just spending money.

CJ: Do you have a favorite and least favorite thing you like about nursing?

KL: My favorite is definitely getting to see my patient’s overall progress. It's really rewarding to be there when they admitted in and they're sick, and then a few days or weeks later when I discharge them, seeing how they’ve progressed for the better over that period of time is amazing. Being the patient’s advocate is important to me as well. The doctors just come in and write orders, but you're with the patient for 12 hours, so being their advocate and finding your voice for them is great.

Family can get a little out of hand sometimes. Doctors can be a little pushy sometimes as well. The worst thing is how nurses are sometimes not appreciated. We go through a lot through the day, so there is an emotional toll that is taken on us. We see so much and do so much so that is probably the worst of it.

CJ: Any future plans regarding your career?

KL: I am thinking about Master’s programs. I think I want to be a nurse practitioner, but I don’t know if I want to do acute care, family, or mental health. I'll be done with my BSN in September, so I'll probably start a Master’s program Fall of 2019 because I'm a nerd and I like to go to school :)

CJ: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for any aspiring nurses?

KL: Be patient. It gets tough, but find your support systems and lean on them. I had multiple that helped me. Also, keep the end goal in mind and stay focused.

CJ: How would you like people to contact you if they have any further questions?

KL: Instagram is perfect! @ketsia_xo . That is the best way just go in the DMs!

CJ: Well Ketsia, thank you so much again for allowing my readers and I to take a glimpse into your life as a gypsy nurse! This will help so many aspiring nurses understand more about the profession and steps they can possibly take.

KL: Thank you for having me, I wish all the aspiring nurses the best luck!

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