Have Scrubs, Will Travel
by Caroline Fairey Photography provided by Andria Bennett
Andria Corral Bennett called me while driving through the New Mexico desert. Five nights before we spoke, she had finished her last shift at the hospital, showered and jumped in the car to start a 2,500-mile drive. She should have been exhausted, but instead she started talking about the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, her plan to visit four out of the mighty five Western national parks, and how indescribably gorgeous the Grand Canyon at sunset was. Her cell phone service suffered from interruptions, but she sounded more than happy to trade a shoddy connection and a little fatigue for the adventure and beauty of the American West.
Although currently, Andria and her husband, Bradley, are road tripping cross-country for pleasure, she just spent 13 weeks working in a California hospital. She’s part of a nationwide, travel nursing program, which works with healthcare centers all over America, identifying staff shortages and remedying them by placing qualified, registered nurses from different parts of the country in a new hospital for a short period of time.
Andria knew she wanted to work in healthcare since she was a child. As an ER nurse, her skills are always in high demand. Travel nursing especially benefits communities with low-income residents. Some patients won’t have access to primary care or precautionary care—until their hypertension, heart disease, or diabetes sends them to the emergency room. When a majority of sick people come through the ER, instead of other medical channels, it’s easy for a hospital to find itself understaffed. That’s where Andria comes in.
“You have to do a lot of critical thinking, a lot of thinking on your feet. It’s a very rewarding career, but it’s also exhausting. When you get someone who is critically ill, or who has suffered severe trauma, it can be especially hard. But those hard days are also the days you realize this is what you’re meant to do.”
When she’s not on the job, Andria explores her brand-new city with her colleagues. When I asked her what her favorite part of traveling the country was, Andria said, “You get to experience all the joy and excitement of moving to a new place without having to commit. You see the country and do things you’ve never done before. It’s so much better than vacationing because after three months, you get to know the city like a local.”
So far, Andria’s been stationed in Rock Hill, SC; Concord, NC; Long Island, NY; and Mission Viejo, CA. She also lived in Birmingham, AL for a year and a half while she completed her stint at a teaching hospital. She grew up in Augusta, GA, but she and her husband have lived on Clarendon Plantation in Beaufort since 2013. Andria worked at Beaufort Memorial Hospital for a few years, but she knew she wasn’t quite ready to settle down for good.
“This was a perfect time in my life to do this,” Andria said. She’s working on her family nurse practitioner certificate at the University of South Carolina (mostly through online classes) and she and her husband were recently married and have no kids. “My husband and I both love traveling. And I’ve wanted to live in New York ever since I was a little girl. As a travel nurse, I can learn the culture and the people and truly feel like I lived there without uprooting my life.”
Starting a long-distance relationship after you’ve already tied the knot can be extremely challenging, though. “We basically agreed New York and California would be the only exceptions,” Andria said. “The rest of my assignments are purposefully in the Southeast so I can come home on my days off. For the faraway places, he visits me twice, and I visit him twice. We talk every day on the phone or Facetime, too. It’s hard, but it’s doable, and we make it work.”
Despite the challenges, Andria maintains she wouldn’t change any of it. She believes if you have the opportunity to travel, you’re cheating yourself by not taking it.
“It’s eye-opening to meet people who have a completely different life than you, who live somewhere that’s the polar opposite of the South. Travel changes you; It broadens your horizons, and gives you a sense of perspective. I’ve met some of my best friends and seen the most beautiful sights of my life in places I never would have gone if I hadn’t taken a risk.”
Bon Appetit: Andria loves trying inventive local cuisine. Her favorite New York creation was a “ramen burger.” Think regular hamburger, tomatoes, and lettuce, but with al dente ramen for buns!
Childhood Dream: To be a large animal veterinarian in Africa. She started her career working with farm animals and wanted to train as a vet until she learned she was very allergic to cats.
Woman’s Best Friend: Her dog, Okee. Bradley keeps her when Andria’s away on the job, but when she comes home, Okee loves running with her mom.
Craziest Roadside Attraction: The drive from California to South Carolina has plenty of worthwhile sights and stops…and a few might just be tourist traps. Andria saw a sign for the World’s Largest Working Thermometer on the way to Las Vegas.
On the Road Again: When she gets back from the road trip, Andria’s heading out the door again for a bachelorette cruise to Cuba!