Hi! My name is Leah Helmbrecht and I’ve been a Traveling Operating Room Nurse for the past 7 years, and a Nurse for a total of 10 years. As a travel nurse I work all across the United States filling in at hospitals that are short staffed. Each contract is only three months long. I started off answering this question with what my occupation is because it has a lot to do with who I am today. If you asked me ten years ago if I saw myself driving across the country by myself, or traveling solo internationally to places where English wasn’t the primary language, I would have answered a confident, “ya right, I don’t think so!” What about bungee jumping, skydiving, and paragliding? I can tell you right now, I was shy, quiet, and cared way too much about what others thought of me.
Today I can introduce myself in a different light. Since becoming a nurse, I’ve found my voice because it’s a requirement of the job. I must advocate for my patients and stand up to people who may have a higher degree, or more years of experience than I do, for the sake of patient safety. I dove head first into the travel nurse world, moving every three months from state to state with three suitcases, my car, and my dog, Dakota. This has made me more independent and confident that I can find my way in this world no matter what is thrown my way.
What’s your best piece of advice?
The best advice I can give is, “if you wait for someone to hold your hand before doing something you’ve been dreaming about, you might as well live your entire life sleeping.” What I mean is, find YOUR courage. Know YOU are capable of taking that trip by yourself, applying for that job, pitching to that company… ALL BY YOURSELF. If you have a dream, make it a reality sooner than later. I may have a dark outlook on this being an operating room nurse and seeing a lot of traumas everyday, but life isn’t guaranteed. So go for it!
What would you say to 16 year old you?
Sweet sweet 16 year old me… Chill the F**** out… I’m allowed to say that, right… and just have fun! Everything isn’t going to always be ok, but you will continue in life and push through the hard times. You will learn from those heart breaking, gut wrenching moments, and they will shape you into a beautiful, caring, and compassionate person. Also, the winning lottery numbers are…
Do you remember a specific time you overcame adversity?
This is always a tough one to talk about, but I can’t think of a more tragic time in my life than my father’s death. He didn’t pass away in a manner where family could surround him while knowing he is in a better place. My dad, a prominent doctor in the community, lost his life to suicide after struggling with a narcotics addiction at the age of 53. Although it is hard to talk about, it’s a topic I will not hide from because of the stigma that it is tied to it. But this adversity isn’t something you just overcome. It will always be an unwanted part of my past, has an effect on my present, and will continue to be a heartache that I live with way into my future.
The moment I found out my father had died, it took my breath away. It was a pain I had never felt before, and only those who have been unfortunate to lose someone close to them to suicide can understand the grief that comes with it. How do you take the worst day of your life and overcome it? Time. It took months for me to smile, get out of bed for anything other than work (which I had to go to in order to pay bills), years to talk about it without instantly crying, and almost a decade to forgive him for leaving us in such a way.
Today, I smile often knowing he would be proud of the person I’ve become. I know he’s with me during my travels and I continue each day reminding myself that if I can get through the worst day of my life, I can get through anything.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in life is to simply take the good with the bad and grow from it. You don’t get to choose the chaos, but you can choose how to handle it. I’m still trying to take my own advice each day by working through my endless “why” list:
Why did my parents have to divorce when I was so young? Why did I have to be diagnosed at 21 years old with an autoimmune disease that puts me at a 75% greater risk of cancer than the average person? Why did my dad, a brilliant doctor, have to add to the statistics of losing his life to suicide after battling a drug addiction? Why do I have to struggle with my weight? Why is it so hard to have a good relationship with my mom? Why can’t I find a man that wants to be with me? Why do I put myself down? Why…
It’s easy to look online and think everyone has a perfect, beautiful life. But we are all out here trying to work on our “whys.” Figure out what’s keeping you back from being the best you, and keep reminding yourself that you deserve to be happy.
How do you manage your work-life balance?
The Work-Life balance can be a hard one to crack. This is especially true if you have a career that is 24/7 365 days a year. When I was a permanent nurse, it was always a struggle to get time off for a vacation. Even if I requested time off months ahead of time, a few times I was given the whole week off except for one day in the middle of the week! Trust me, when you have a job that is physically, emotionally, and psychologically taxing, it takes a toll on the mind, body, and soul. That’s when I decided to try travel nursing.
As a travel nurse, I work 13 week contracts across the US, and in between assignments I can take off as much time as I want up to six months. Granted, I don’t get paid for the time off, but I make enough during those 13 weeks to take at least a month off to go country hopping. I started doing the month-off in between assignments about three years ago. This is also when I started traveling internationally solo. I think it’s so important to find something you love, for me it’s travel, and take time off for “you time.” Even if it’s taking a week off for a staycation to work on your garden, or go camping, or just lay around your house in your underwear eating chex mix and binge watching NETFLIX. Make your work-life balance true to it’s meaning… a balance. Although, if the scale tips a little more towards life, that’s not so bad either.
More About Leah
Leah Helmbrecht, RN, BSN is a travel nurse who moves across the US with her 7 year old Australian Cattle Dog, Dakota. She enjoys country hopping in between each contract. Over the last three years she had made it to 24 Countries and all 7 continents. Her passion to travel and learn new cultures, languages, food, and history is endless. She often shares travel tips, nurse humor, and talks openly about depression and suicide prevention in the hopes to battle the ongoing stigma associated with those topics.