Hey Travel Nurses, should you take corporate housing or the living stipend?

This week, I completed my three days of orientation at the hospital – two nights in the PICU (my home unit) and one in the NICU (one of the two units I will be expected to float to, the other being the gen peds floor).

I work 12-hour night shifts, and with the way my schedule worked out (it was assigned to me), I got off work Wednesday morning at 8am (yes, after working three night shifts), and had to pack up and move out of my Hollywood Hills apartment by 3pm to move into my new apartment in West Hollywood.

Since I only had two weeks to prepare for moving to Los Angeles, once I knew I had the Kaiser LAMC contract, I couldn’t be as picky and choosy as I wanted for my living situation. These summer months are high season for Los Angeles, which explains why so many vacation rentals were booked through until September, and might explain why I didn’t get as many responses from my rental inquiries.

This being only my second travel assignment, I’m still experimenting and trying to figure out the best things to do to make my “nomadic” life easier. For my first assignment back in January, I wasn’t sure what to expect, had never been to the Bay Area (where I took the contract at Lucile Packard Children’s), and I also only had two weeks to finalize my living situation. So I decided to play it safe and go with my travel nurse company’s housing. My company paid approximately $1,700/month on my behalf for my apartment in Santa Clara. I learned from friends in the area that this is the going rate for a fairly decent one-bed apartment in the San Jose/Santa Clara area.

I got assigned an apartment in Santa Clara, approximately a 30-minute drive away from my job in Palo Alto. It was pretty nice – a one bed, one full bath, huge bedroom, wood fireplace, full kitchen, stacking W/D unit, A/C & heat. The complex had a pool, Jacuzzi, and workout room, as well as a lounge and “business center” for residents. My company provided the basic furniture and paid for all utilities except for Internet access.

So, out of pocket I had to pay for Internet access (including the activation fee), a monthly fee for having requested a W/D in unit (considered an “upgrade” by my travel company), and a small monthly fee for my request for a sofa sleeper vs. a regular sofa. I paid at least $225/mo for all of these things. In addition, my apt came with nothing else except for the furniture. So I brought with me, or purchased, many household items – kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, extra bedding, a vacuum, iron/ironing board – I couldn’t fit all of these things into my little VW Jetta (I drove to Santa Clara from Portland, Oregon, about a 12-hour drive). I lost track of how much everything cost, but I know that I spent hundreds more on these household items. Definitely over $400, and I shopped mostly at IKEA, Marshall’s, and Target.

Now on to my second travel nursing assignment, I am a “seasoned” travel nurse, right? I only had two weeks to prepare for this assignment as well – as far as when my contract was official and I got word that I was definitely going to Los Angeles. Since I had been to LA prior, I was aware of what I was getting myself into (kind of). So I decided to be brave and take the living stipend offered, which was $2,200. Just a tip, travel nurses; the living stipend is supposedly “set” but can sometimes be negotiated. From my informal “research,” I have discovered that this is the general figure that travel nurses get if they choose the living stipend (some will get around $2,000, some a bit more). However, your stipend is based upon the area and cities like Los Angeles and Manhattan will get you the highest stipend.

I decided on an apartment that was only 3.5 miles away from my job (this one featured in my blog was my temporary home and was 4.8 miles away from work). I knew that living right in the Hollywood area would be spendier than say, living 10 miles away, but I was also aware that 5 miles in LA can often easily be a 30 minute drive due to traffic. I went with VRBO.com (Vacation Rental by Owner) to find my temporary 3-month home. Although VRBOs are often daily or weekly rentals, many owners on that site are willing to negotiate lower prices if you rent for one month or more. What is nice about VRBOs is that since they are used as vacation rentals, they offer fully furnished rentals with all utilities and Internet included. They come completely stocked – kitchen items, linens, etc.

A note on this – I know of some travel nurses here whose company gave them the rental stipend AND has a housing coordinator who finds them suitable independent housing in the area for them. That being said, the nurses’ complaint was that their housing coordinator did not actually come through for them, misinterpreted/misquoted the monthly rental amount, did not stay within their budget requests, and for their first week in the city they had to live in a hotel that was an hour drive from work until their housing situation was cleared up and organized. But in the end, they did get an apartment completely furnished like a VRBO. Last I heard they were still negotiating who would be paying the excess in rent since it was outside of their budget range.

Here is the negative for travel nurses taking the living stipend…if for some reason your contract gets cancelled, you could be locked into your independent rental, unlike the company-issued housing where you would not be responsible for the rental contract (the company signs the rental contract for you). I heard about a travel nurse whose contract was pulled, but he was able to pick up another contract quickly in the area… And you could find a landlady like mine, who is very flexible about our terms. She knows I will be working in the area until the end of October, but we are on month-to-month terms. Also, if you go the rental stipend way you will be responsible for the deposit, which I have learned can be as much as one-months rent, even for a short term 3-month rental…

Another thing to keep in mind about the rental stipend…obviously, you will not get any money in advance. No paychecks until after you start working. Some jobs will pay weekly, like my current contract; some will pay every two weeks. I had to pay my monthly rent up-front for my rental(s) – that is another blog post, regarding my two rentals. However, my living stipend is broken down to pay out per day and I see a portion of it on my weekly paycheck. So, although I started work on 7/30, my first paycheck will not be issued until 8/10. I learned that even with weekly pay, your first paycheck will not kick in until the “real” bi-monthly pay day, which happens on the 10th of Aug for me, instead of the 3rd of August like I thought and expected. SO, why is this info important to travelers? Because, come 8/31 when my September rent is due, I will not have accrued the full amount of my rental stipend to cover my September rent (I will have only received 3/4th of my rental stipend).

And there you have it…my initial blog post on taking corporate housing vs. the rental stipend. Would be happy to hear other nurses’ experiences on this topic! Feel free to share info on the blog comments!

This is what I suspected the corporate housing option to look like…and it did. But the grounds were well manicured with a few lovely water features, underground assigned parking with small storage, as well. NO elevators, which made it a pain for moving into a 3rd floor apt.

Typical for the area, this apartment complex had a pool, jacuzzi, and a small work out room for residents. I suspect that this might be typical corporate housing, but I may not have others in the future to compare it with because I think I prefer to take the living stipend. I did love the business center – 2 computers and a printer, use of a fax machine and photocopy machine.

My bedroom in my corporate housing apartment. They provided the bed/mattress, two end tables, a dresser, and these hideous lamps. I provided all the bedding and the indian decorations that I hung on the mirror. The apt was still so dark that I bought 3 more lamps (two floor and one desk lamp)…these could always be negotiated in a contract in advance, but sometimes you won’t know what you are going to be getting or moving into with corporate housing, as I did not since it was not set up until days before I moved to Santa Clara.

I SO disliked the hotel style furniture that I felt the need to purchase accessories to liven it up a little – the heart pillow and zebra throw are my touches. 🙂 Note, wall art was not included in the furnishings. I am sure I would not have approved of their art choices, anyway, though, lol.

This is the Hollywood Hills neighborhood where my first VRBO rental was located. I loved this neighborhood! It’s quiet and peaceful! No garage or driveway parking like the corporate housing option had, but it was never a problem finding street parking in the front.

This is a home in Hollywood Hills. The land lady lives on the top floor, she rents out the small apartment (right bottom) on VRBO at $125/day (a discount if you stay at least one week), and there is another unit to the back left (not in this photo).

The VRBO’s main living area was quite small – this space included the dining area (next photo). There was a full-sized kitchen, a full bath in the bedroom, a queen bed, but no W/D unit. There was A/C, though – a must for LA weather, in my opinion! All things in the photo were here upon my arrival. The rental included a hair dryer, iron/ironing board, toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, etc. These were all things I had to provide myself when I took the corporate housing option.

My VRBO’s teeny tiny dining space by the front door. Cute. But tiny!

Posted in The Nomadic Life, Travel Nursing | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

On to my Second Travel Nurse Assignment!

Well, here I am in Hollywood, Los Angeles. I’ve been here in my new “home” for almost a week, and I LOVE it. Since my last blog post a month ago about Doha, Qatar, I have been to Istanbul, Turkey, all over Jordan, to Bellevue, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Slacking on blogging, I know. But busy living life, as usual.

Started my second travel nursing job here in Hollywood at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center. The process of getting my second assignment with my travel company, Medical Express (a daughter company of AMN) was radically different than my first assignment earlier in the year at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) at Stanford in the Bay Area.

With my first assignment I had a contract (already got the job at LPCH) and had a couple of months to prepare. Easy peasy lemon squeezy…kind of. Of course, during those three months I took off and went to Hawaii, followed by India and France for a month. So I still had to scramble when it came to fulfilling all the requirements of a new travel job – lots and lots of paperwork, online training, testing, etc. I hustled and completed most of the requirements before I left the country.

The one small “snag” I ran into was the lengthy amount of time it took for my fingerprints to process for the background check for my CA nursing license. When I returned from India/France with only two weeks before my LPCH job was to start, my license was still held up due to the finger printing/background check process. So I had to fly to Sacramento, CA (from Portland, OR) just to get the LiveScan finger printing done because they promise to process your background check in just 5 days if you do it that way. It worked – I got my license within the week, whew!

It was a little challenging to set up my second assignment with Kaiser (or any hospital) while I was traveling around the Middle East. Although I had an international plan w/AT&T for my iPhone, I had all my phone calls forwarded to my Google Voice number. I received my messages (love the option of having my VMs transcribed & texted to me!), but had to play phone tag with Children’s Hospital LA and UCLA. What was great about the Kaiser LA job is that they extended a contract based upon the contents in my travel file – resume, letters of recommendations, skills checklist, etc, as well as the clinical interview I had with them nine months ago. This made it so much easier for me to get this assignment, because my recruiter and I were able to set it up via email, which was much easier for me being overseas. Still, I got the Kaiser assignment with only about three weeks to fulfill all the requirements (more paperwork, training, etc), and needed to find housing in Los Angeles!

There are huge differences between starting each assignment. When I started my LPCH assignment, I was given everything I needed to know for the first week of orientation. I was given a schedule for the week, was informed where I should show up, what to wear, what to expect every day, etc.

When I started this Kaiser LA assignment, I laughed at how I was given small bits of information at a time – like on a need to know basis. I was emailed the location and times of my on-boarding session, but had no idea what I would do at that session. I showed up, and learned that it was an exam day, based upon 12 hours of online education I did the night prior (yay for paying attention to my online training!). At the on-boarding session I was given a “first day” sheet that told me where I was to show up the next day, what to wear, and what time I needed to be there in the morning. No clue about anything else. It’s like I’m a secret agent – cool! I showed up… and was given more exams! LOL!

So, for those of you who plan to be travel nurses…my words of wisdom for you: Be flexible. Be VERY VERY flexible. And when in doubt, park closest to the facility, smile (at everyone), and make at least one friend on your very first day. Happy travels!

Let me know if there are specific questions you have about travel nursing and I will try my best to answer them!

It’s really a beautiful facility in the middle of Hollywood, CA. Some random nice staffer who was nice enough to walk me to to cafeteria when I got lost, told me that building is only about 3 years old. He also informed me of the three children’s hospitals in the area and where I can get food in the area on night shifts (Kaiser’s cafeteria closes by 9pm on weeknights and 7pm on weekends). All the staff here have been really nice!

You are looking at a PICU/Peds CVICU nurse who is soon to be trained as a NICU nurse. I’m excited about it! I like that I have this kind of opportunity to be cross-trained in a new unit as a travel nurse.

Posted in Critical Care Nursing, Healthcare, Travel Nursing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Initial Impresssions of Doha, Qatar

Three days in Doha, Qatar are not necessarily enough to get a complete idea of what Doha life is like, but it’s a pretty good start for such a small city. Not having spent much time in a desert, I have very little to compare it with. A friend of mine suggested that Doha might be a little like Disneyland meets Las Vegas. For a guy who had never been, he was very close to how Lisa (my current travel partner in crime) and I would describe it, minus the wonderful themepark rides.

There is crazy city development here – really an understatement though, because I think there are more cranes than buildings. Some areas contain the most amazing futuristic architecture, like the areas along the Arabian Gulf, but in other areas it’s as if we are driving through Anakin Walker’s home in Star Wars.

I’m thrown off by Qatar’s population, which is apparently made up of 80 percent foreigners. I’ve met people from the Philipines, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, France, Japan, the U.S…. In some areas of Qatar people are dressed in Muslim attire while in other areas people are in western clothing. Signage is in English and Arabic. Most everyone speaks English or basic English. There are huge western-type shopping centers like City Center where you can get your Haagen Daz and Starbucks fix, or souqs, traditional markets with their winding twists and turns and small speciality shops of all things Middle Eastern.

My initial impressions and thoughts about Doha are:

  • There are a lot of men here. Where are all the women hanging out?
  • It’s crazy hot. The heat is kind of miserable (understatement).
  • Where are all the people? Why are so many of the buildings empty?
  • The food is amazing.
  • The process of eating out from sitting down to getting the bill takes hours and hours.
  • It’s really clean.
  • They do glam (in buildings and architecture) really well here.
  • Drivers are really nice – they actually stop and let you cross the street.
  • People are really nice and friendly.
  • The Arabian Gulf is beautiful.
  • “Middle Eastern time” is very aparent here (I need to channel my Hawaiian Time roots), lol.
  • Uh. There are a lot of men here. Where are all the women?!

Doha city view1 from our hotel

Doha city view2 from our hotel

Doha city view3 from our hotel

It’s dead in the middle of the afternoon (about 1pm) in Souq Waqif’s international restaurant row – too hot to be out and about.

Souq Waqif’s international restaurant row

It’s strange to see a bunch of camels hanging out next to all the city buildings – not something we are used to seeing every day.

At night the buildings are lit up in wonderful colors along the Arabian Gulf.

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Live your life – truly live it – because life can be cut short at any time.

I was at the TEDMED 2012 convention in DC when I saw some odd posts on my friend’s Facebook page. People were commenting, “RIP.” This is a terrible way to get news that a friend, much less once a best friend, has died.

KW and I were the least likely to be paired as best friends when we first met, but fresh out of high school and starting my first “serious” job, we bonded over food, our love of dancing, playing pool, and the beach. Our friendship was even made stronger due to our tight circle of coworkers whom we got together with regularly for beach picnics, hiking, and trivia nights at each other’s houses.

I have a million wonderful memories of my time with KW. The time he taught me to ride his motorcycle and would lay on the road in the sun while I practiced driving it up and down. He never got angry when I would break something on it when I dropped it. He would just patiently pick it up for me. All the times we would meet for nachos at Hard Rock – a favorite. The time we took trip around the East Coast together where he got to meet many of my extended family members and I got to meet some of his. We stayed at a terrible bed and breakfast in Boston and befriended the owner’s family and took their granddaughter for a day trip to the beach one day.

And then there was the time that KW told me that his grandma told him to move to another island to go to college and she would provide him with a free ride. He asked me if he should go, and I bravely told him he should take the opportunity because I loved him, and what best friend wouldn’t want the best for someone they loved? I went home and cried and cried for days and never told him that I really didn’t want him to move.

Over time, with KW on another island with a new life, we lost touch. Years later he found me on Facebook. He told me he had been looking for me forever and that he even posted on his MySpace page under “Who I’d Like to Meet,” that he wanted to meet me.

Our current relationship was different, yet at the same time unchanged. We caught up once in person and continued to keep in touch occasionally by text and Facebook.

A year ago he sent me this message. Always such beautiful and loving messages.

“Hey beautiful, Been thinking of you, love your adventures traveling. You have always been one to view all aspects of the world. Hope our paths will cross again soon. You are such a beautiful person, and I thank you for the time we spent together. All my love”

April 1st, 2012 he sent me another message.

“Thinking of you… Miss u;) hope all is well in Ali land. Coming to Hawaii anytime soon?”

I responded and let him know I was going to be in Hawaii on May 15th.

On April 12th I got word through KW’s friends’ Facebook posts to his page that he was dead, which I found a news article that someone posted that confirmed it.

This is a reminder to cherish those whom you love. And to communicate with love. Because you do not know when life and friends will be taken from you.

Live your life – truly live it – because life can be cut short at any time. xo

KW loved the ocean.

Posted in Life, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

TEDMED Tweetup, DC

The second delightful surprise that came out of TEDMED was my first Tweetup. It started with a fellow tweeter retweeting my tweets related to healthcare and TEDMED. @HealthcareWen, a Manhattan-based MD who works with high-risk populations tweets about interesting and relevant things related to healthcare, so I of course followed her. Before the TEDMED convention, @HealthcareWen continued to retweet some of my tweets and I would retweet some of hers.

When I got to TEDMED I got a DM from @HealthcareWen, inviting me to a private little gathering one night. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend because it ate into my TEDMED time for a final night of celebration, dessert, and entertainment at the National Museum Building with other TEDMEDers. However, I was curious to learn more about the private gathering. I am a fan of small intimate gatherings with fewer people because they allow for a unique opportunity to connect with others that large groups often do not allow. @HealthcareWen told me to DM her with my email and she would send me further details.

Shortly afterward I received an email from @HealthcareWen that said local twitterati and DCers were organizing a gathering of health care policy, health innovators, and #hscm (health care social media) peeps. I was flattered to be included in the group, amazed that someone was interested in meeting up with me based upon my Twitter bio and tweets, and wanted to include me in this social circle. I was also very curious to attend my first Tweetup, so I agreed to join in. @HealthcareWen included a list of 20 others or so who were also invited to the Tweetup. Everyone was identified by their Twitter handles.

Thursday afternoon as I was exiting the TEDMED Social Hub (an amazing tent set up at the Kennedy Center that housed the sponsors’ exhibits, light meals and refreshments, and big screen TVs and lounge areas to observe the speakers in comfort) and I passed by the “patient advocate” artist in residence and noticed her name – Regina Holliday. She was one of the key organizers of the DC Tweetup so I stopped and introduced myself and chatted with her. This made me feel better that I now met and would “know” one person at the TweetUp.

Thursday night, the final night of the TEDMED conference I hopped into a taxi and took a 20-minute ride to Blue 44. I walked in and met Regina and @MsWZ, another tweeter of healthcare social policy. @HealthcareWen and a few others showed up shortly afterward and we sat down. One by one more Tweeters trickled in and it cracked me up as they walked in through the restaurant doors with a “deer caught in the headlights” look, as at least half of us didn’t know a single person. However, almost all of us had TEDMED 2012 in common.

What had me cracking up even more were our introductions. We went around the table and introduced ourselves and it went something like this, “Hi I’m Ali Mondragon and my Twitter handle is @alivsworld.” I find it to be extremely humorous that the best way to identify myself these days might be by my Twitter handle, as I did the day before over lunch when I met another fellow Tweetie.

The conversation, with those around me was stimulating, to say the least. Hearing everyone’s backgrounds, stories, and how they came to TEDMED was fascinating. I got to know more about Regina and her art, I met med students from Seattle and Kanas City, a health care techie from Maryland, a kidney transplant patient, an advocate for the aging population, and more! I thoroughly enjoyed the evening of new friends, interesting conversation, wonderful company, and delicious food. And as a bonus we were able to make it for an hour to the final TEDMED event where I made another friend at the dessert train!

Consider following and checking out the health care-related Tweeters on @ReginaHolliday and @HealthcareWen’s DC Tweetup invite list: @spenceralex @SocialBttrfly @alivsworld @almirathunstrom @ClaudiaNichols  @gboone42  @JamalPeter  @JoshHerigon @katiewehr  @HealthPolicyGrp @themixbymeeghan @sdbj @AgingToo @SterlingHIT @ePatientDave @Kaitbr @ChristineKraftt @HealthcareWen @SterlingHIT @MindofAndre @Kaitbr @SusannahFox @eKiveMark @boltyboy @TedEytan @ChristineKraft‏ @Lygeia @ADrane

I was impressed with the reverse side of @HealthcareWen's business card. She is not only science-minded but creative as well!

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Thank you TEDMED for giving me Dr. H

TEDMED day one was coming to an end at approximately 11:30pm. I had just flown in to DC early in the morning after having worked a 12-hour night shift the night before in California. I caught a power nap in my hotel room in the afternoon, then headed to the Kennedy Center to pick up my conference ID badge, followed closely by the first evening kick-off session and a beautiful dinner at the National Portrait Gallery.

Needless to say, TEDMED day one was exhilarating but also exhausting. I met an amazing variety of people from a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist who was creating an app to promote healthy behavior, to a health innovator for a global technology firm in Palo Alto, to a med student from Florida who came back from his rural health rotations in Latin America just to attend TEDMED.

Being that I was so exhausted, I decided to forgo the late night monument tour and head back to my hotel via TEDMED shuttle bus. I noticed that the shuttle bus passed right by my hotel. As we approached the next stop I got up to talk to the bus driver to ask if she was going to swing around again or if I was going to have to walk a few additional blocks back to get to my hotel. A woman on the bus was also voiced her concern because she needed to get to the same hotel, and as I passed her I told her I would check for us.

The bus driver told me I’d have to walk back to the hotel (only about three blocks), so I announced the news out loud and motioned for the woman to get off with me. As we walked back to the hotel we introduced ourselves – myself a TEDMED Front-Line Scholar and Peds ICU/CV nurse and recent bschool grad student from Oregon and she, Dr. H, a Neurosurgeon and Psychiatrist based out of Arkansas.

Dr. H explained to me that she decided to come to TEDMED very last minute and although she tried, she wasn’t able to book a hotel room because they were all full. She flew in from Arkansas just in time to attend the events for the day and was still carrying her overnight bag with her. Dr. H ran into a friend at the event who told her she could room with her at the Marriott and they planned to connect again later but was unable to because her cell phone died. Dr. H’s plan was to go to one (of the many DC-area Marriott hotels) to give her friend’s name to the front desk and hope it was the correct Marriott.

By the time we got to the Marriott’s front desk it was about midnight. I waited with Dr. H as she had the front desk look up her friend’s name. Her friend was not listed as a guest (later Dr. H learned that her friend goes by two names, an Indian and an English name and the reservations were under her Indian name, but Dr. H only knows her by her English name).

There was no way I was going to abandon some older Indian woman in DC at midnight, especially a fellow TEDMED conference-goer, and she was clearly stressed out about the situation. So I told her it wasn’t a problem, and that she could stay in my hotel room for the night. (DOH!!!)

Ok, I will confess, although many people who know me know that I am quite laid back in many ways, and I am very inclusive when it comes to others (the more the merrier most times), I was REALLY looking forward to my own hotel room so I could just chill. I had a crazy work schedule leading up to TEDMED, I was finishing my final week of my first travel nurse assignment at Packard Children’s in the Bay Area and was in the middle of coordinating my move back to Portland as well as my upcoming international travel plans. I was exhausted from work and travel and was just looking forward to my downtime. And then I picked up my surprise guest and roommate – some complete stranger.

But there was something quite comfortable about Dr. H. In the short amount of time that I interacted with her – walking three blocks to the hotel, swinging by the convenience store on the corner, and then chit chatting while we waited for the rollaway bed to arrive, I felt compelled to just go with the flow and accept my new roommate for the night. Dr. H’s rollaway bed arrived, we both got settled in and then she said, “How about I be your roommate for the whole conference and split the hotel bill with you?” And without hesitation, I said, “Sure.”

Dr. H and I touched base throughout each day during the remaining three days of TEDMED. A few times I even sat next to her for the sessions (she likes to sit in the very front row). She would call me over to meet people, including to sit with her while she talked to Scott Jurek (ultramarathoner and author) to tell him about his brain, lol. I was amazed at her ability to network and connect with people. She would return with the personal email addresses of people like Todd Parks, U.S. Chief Techonology Officer.

When I had a persistent headache she gave me acupressure followed by a reiki session the next morning. We had wonderful conversations about a variety of topics before we would fall asleep at night. She told me about meditation, why she chose to live in Arkansas, her dream for her WOW Village – a brain museum and education center, her neurosurgery disaster work, and philosophy on helping those in need.

The final night of TEDMED, I returned to the hotel later than Dr. H, who had been sleeping. I was so happy to see her, and she was equally happy to see me. I felt like I was coming home to family – “home” being our tiny single queen hotel room with a rollaway bed stuffed in it. She woke up and we excitedly talked about our day, who we met, what we did, shared iPhone photos…in our excitement we stayed up a little too late like teenagers way past our bedtime.

The next day was the final half-day of TEDMED events. Dr. H and I ran into each other at the very end of the conference as we hovered around one of the speakers, Dr. Mark Hyman, to have a chance to speak to him. She was already working her magic, getting his email address (that he purposely leaves off his business card), and he asked whom I was and what I did. Dr. H immediately said, “Oh, she is wonderful…” She gushed on and on. Such a sweetie.

Dr. H and I walked out of the auditorium together as we said our rushed good byes. I was in a time crunch to meet up with my cousin and she had to rush off to meet with the TEDMED execs to discuss her potential involvement in future TEDMED conferences on an advisory level.

I always have a takeaway from my experiences  – good or bad. But, I’m fortunate that they are mostly good. I knew that there would be a lot of takeaways from TEDMED and that TEDMED itself would be an amazing experience. However, I knew by day two of the conference that my best TEDMED experience, by far, was running into Dr. H the first night on the shuttle bus back to my hotel, and having the opportunity to get to know this wonderful person over the next few days while rooming with her…forever grateful.

TEDMED: a member of the PRICE band (who performed the final entertainment for the four-day conference), me, and Dr. H at the Kennedy Center, Washington DC

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TWITTER TO TEDMED: The story of how I arrived at TEDMED 2012

There are many things I can and should write about the TEDMED 2012 convention in DC, but first things first. I must share the two top experiences that I got from TEDMED (these will be the following two blog posts at later dates) and the amazing story of how I came to attend TEDMED 2012, which I blog about here.

I first learned about TED Talks when I became a Master in International Management student at Portland State University a few years ago. It seems amazing to me that during my 27 months as a part time student, I had never heard of TEDMED, until these past few months.

I have a Twitter account (@alivsworld) and one day this guy, Fred Cuellar (@FredCuellar), followed me on Twitter. I had never met Fred before, but I decided to follow him back because in his little 160 character Twitter profile, he included that besides being the Founder and CEO of Diamond Cutters International (I confess, this does not interest me greatly), he is also an author, inventor, executive coach, motivational speaker, and grateful (these five things DO interest me greatly).

One day I saw that Fred tweeted about TEDMED with a link for a scholarship. I clicked on his link, which led me to click on more links, and I quickly learned what TEDMED was about. I knew I wanted to be a part of the TEDMED community. I was giggling with delight because I just could not get over the fact that there were essentially TED Talks that were geared toward medical professionals. This was absolutely perfect for me – a pediatric intensive care nurse and recent international business graduate! Upon finding Fred’s link, I immediately applied for the TEDMED Front-Line scholarship. I was awarded a partial scholarship of $2,500 to attend the TEDMED convention. I was floored!

Fast-forward to the TEDMED convention that was just held in DC this past week. On Wednesday, the second full day of the convention, I joined a table full of strangers at lunch. Mind you, there were about 1,800 attendees at this convention. I chit chatted with a doctor to my right and a pharma industry professional to my left. As I glanced around the table at the other people I was sitting with, I noticed the man a few seats away from me with the TEDMED ID badge that said, “Fred Cuellar.”

Fred was deep in discussion with his neighbor and there was no pause in which to break into their conversation gracefully. I tried to wait patiently but finally confessed my Twitter story to my neighbor. She was so amazed that she immediately interrupted Fred’s conversation and informed him that I needed his attention for a minute. Of course, Fred, as well as the whole table, turned to look at me. So, I boldly extended my hand and introduced myself to Fred. “Hi, my Twitter handle is Alivsworld. I’m Ali Mondragon, and we follow each other on Twitter. A few months ago you tweeted about the TEDMED scholarship. I saw your Tweet, and applied, and received a partial front line scholarship. You are essentially the reason why I am here at TEDMED today. So, I just wanted to thank you.” The table was amazed and everyone went crazy.

And that is my first amazing Twitter story for you. As I have tweeted and tweeted for the past two years, I wondered what kinds of things Tweeting leads to, if anything. Engaging in social media takes time. But I would have to say that for this opportunity alone – to learn about TEDMED through the Twitter community and then to receive a partial front line scholarship to attend – it has definitely been worth the time I have spent on Twitter.

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