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Ask the CEO

Have you ever wondered how a company started and what work had to be put in to see that company operate? Well, we have some answers for you. The CEO of Travel Nurses Inc, Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN, took some time to sit with a member of our team to explain how her vision for this company became a reality. There were many long hours and hard work put into this company, but Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN, pushed through to see this nurse-owned and operated agency grow. Above all, this CEO’s main priority is to care about the nurses who travel with us and the patients they are helping.

Megan: Hello, everyone, my name is Megan, and we are here with Travel Nurses, Inc. CEO Denise Burnett Stuart. How are you?

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: I’m good. How are you?

Megan: Good, good, good. So, we have some questions just that were sent in through Instagram, some stories that were submitted about what they would ask the CEO of our company. So, the first one is: What prompted you to start a travel nurse agency?

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: Well, actually, it has a very long story, but I’ll make it short. Okay, way back in the early days, my friend who I met, Carol Paterson, it was her idea to start the company because we were both surgery nurses. We worked in the OR, and she said we could do this better. I know we could. She said, “Let’s start an agency!” and I’m like, “I’m in.”  I did the first shift at a surgery center here in Memphis, Tennessee, and immediately loved it. We just hit the ground running. I lost her two years later to ovarian cancer. She was the one that got this whole thing going.

I’ve been a nurse since 1978. I loved what I did. I would go out, work with my nurses, orient new nurses, you know, fill in for the clients, whatever they needed–Break and lunch relief. It was a lot of fun. I did that for the first twelve years of the business.

Megan: And then how did you get to the travel nursing part?

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: Well, strangely, we always did travel nursing. We had clients that would call us from California, Hawaii, Alaska, Illinois, different places over the early years. They would say, you know, we have a need for a nurse in a specialty OR area. So, we would say, “Sure, we can do it!” We’d get the nurse; we would arrange everything. The difference between then and now is we wanted a brand that defined what we did. Travel Nurses, Inc. defines what we do, and it talks about travel nursing, which has really, really grown in the past several years.


Megan: Yeah. What inspired you to become an operating room nurse?

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: Well, when I first got out of nursing school, I wanted to be a pediatric nurse. I thought, you know, every young girl back then wanted to be a pediatric nurse. So, we, my husband and I, were moved to a small town in Kansas with his job and the only job I could get– You ready for this?– (was) seven to three surgery. And I carried a pager. It was so fun, and I fell in love with it.

Megan: That’s awesome. What do you think separates Travel Nurses, Inc. from other travel nurse agencies?

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: So many things. How long do you have?

Megan: All day!

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: I think the difference is that it’s all the people here. And you’ve seen them, you’ve talked to them. You’ve seen their energy, their enthusiasm, their dedication. It’s the culture who we are. I say to everyone when they first start, if you do your job really well and you take care of the nurse that you’re sending out to take care of the patient, then we all win because the patient is our end goal. If we know that we can give the patient the very best care, that’s exactly why we’re here.

Megan: We care about people!

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: We do. We do.

Megan: What are some of the benefits of working for a travel nurse agency that is nurse-owned and nurse-operated?

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: Currently, we have three nurses involved in the corporate structure, and it really does give a different perspective. I mean, yes, this is a business, and yes, we want to run it well. We want to make sure that we do everything according to all the standards. But in the middle of that, we have to remember why we’re here and because we’re nurses, we get it. We can talk to our nurses. We can, you know, tell them we understand how this feels. We’ve been there. We’ve done this. These are all nurses who have worked before they came to work with us in the office. You know, they talked several nurses off the cliff, especially in the past year and a half to two years.

You know, COVID has been hard, and I have to say our nurses in the corporate arena have been a godsend to these nurses because they actually understand what they’re going through.

Megan: Speaking of COVID, what advice would you give to nurses during COVID? And how do you say to take care of their mental health when staffed as a nurse?  It’s not easy.

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: No, it’s probably the hardest I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of things through my career. I can remember, you know, having to work on a floor where there was an isolation patient, and maybe we had to two isolation patients. You had to put all your garb on before you went in the room, you had to take all these precautions. Then when you came back out, you had to, of course, take everything off and be careful how you disposed of it.  So, we’ve been doing this type of thing for a long time, but never on this scale. It’s a huge challenge. I think the thing that we try to tell our nurses is if you have if you have to watch a patient struggle and die, you know, we’re here to help you get the get the support that you need. You have to be able to grieve with your patient. It’s not easy. I mean, you can you can separate yourself in the moment so that you can do the job that you have to do, but it’s not easy.

Megan: Yeah. That’s all we have today. I appreciate you coming and doing this interview with us.

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: You can tell this is something I like talking about.

Megan: You are very passionate.

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: Because I don’t like talking a lot, especially on the camera.

Megan: Well, thank you guys for watching and follow us.

Denise Burnett Stewart, BSN, RN: Bye!

About the Author

As a nurse-owned and operated company, we take pride in the positive footprint we are making in the healthcare staffing community. Meet the people dedicated to making sure our clinicians, vendors, and facilities are cared for regardless of their role.

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