Travel nursing allows Kevin Zaliski to enjoy many experiences with his family.
by JENNIFER JORDAN
“Darest Thou Now O Soul, walk out with me toward the unknown region.” The two opening lines of Walt Whitman’s poem describe Kevin Zaliski’s zest for new experiences. It’s a poem that Kevin returns to often. He is intrigued by new opportunities and travel, and he has been fortunate to take several paths over his 47 years on this earth that have enabled him to “dare” his soul.
Kevin’s enthusiasm began in his childhood in Hooks, Texas. He grew up enjoying baseball, fishing and playing music. In high school, Kevin and his friend, James Lattimer, set up a lawn care business during the summers to earn extra money. They mowed lawns all over Hooks and Texarkana. “Mowing lawns in the Texas heat helped me figure out what I didn’t want to do for a living!” Kevin reminisces.
A passion for music led Kevin to major in piano performance at the University of Arkansas-Monticello. While there, he taught piano lessons and played in a country/southern rock band. “It was a lot of fun, and I saw my first bar fights in the roadhouses of Southeast Arkansas,” Kevin recalls. “I was only 19, so I tried to grow some facial hair to look older. Not the best look for me!” Kevin transferred to the Southern Utah University to continue his music studies, where he played Mendelssohn’s 2nd piano concerto with the SUU symphony. In Cedar City, Kevin developed a love for the mountains, skiing and hiking as often as possible.
After college, Kevin began a journey of working in a variety of careers. From these, he gained valuable lessons and met wonderful people. At the age of 21, Kevin worked his first full-time job as a correctional officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “Twenty-one! I was scared to death on my first day on the job,” he exclaims. “A fight erupted on my cell block, and someone was injured pretty badly. I went home and thought about it all night. I kept thinking about quitting,
but I didn’t quit, and gradually, I figured out how to be an officer. I worked with some really great people, which made the job tolerable, but I knew that I wanted to do something different.”
Kevin earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Texas A&M-Texarkana in 2000. After graduation, Kevin started a new job as a parole officer at the Texas Parole Division-Texarkana. After five years, Kevin grew tired of seeing people go back to prison over and over, so he earned his teacher’s certification at TAMU-T. While at TAMU-T, he met his wife, Amber, in an American literature class. “I sat down by her because I could tell just by looking at her that she was smart.
“My first teaching job was at Hooks High School. I taught sophomore English, choir and also helped with marching band,” Kevin remarks. “I loved working with students. I transferred to Liberty-Eylau after a few years, and continued to teach English. I saw the STAAR test become more and more central to public schools in Texas, and I also saw the effects of the test.” Kevin holds high respect for teachers. “I admire people who have been teachers for years. Teaching is probably the most difficult job I’ve had, and teachers aren’t paid near what they are worth. I hope that changes.”
Throughout his careers, Kevin has maintained his passion for music. “I love making and playing music. I’ve played and sung in many Texarkana bands, and I have so many great memories making music with some of Texarkana’s best musicians. Some of the bands I’ve played with include Jawbone, Robert St. John, Crooked Halo, The Soultones, and Strangelove.” Kevin credits his high school band teachers for influencing his passion. “Gary Meggs and Les Pack were my band directors at Hooks High, and they both motivated me to be a better musician. Mr. Pack made a couple of mix tapes for me which contained some of the greats of jazz guitar. I listened to it constantly, trying to copy what I heard. Mr. Pack also gave me guitar lessons, which led to me playing guitar for the Four States Jazz Band. I have been lucky enough to play with Gary with The Soultones, and he is still such an inspiration.”
Ultimately, Kevin decided to switch from teaching to nursing. He received his nursing degree with honors through Texarkana College and found his first job at Wadley Regional Medical Center in the surgery department. “Wadley was a great place to learn about surgery. I was around extremely knowledgeable and experienced surgical nurses, and they taught me so much,” Kevin states. “Taking a job in surgery is pretty much starting school again. There is so much to learn, and you need to learn quickly. I really can’t say enough good things about the staff at the Wadley OR.” Kevin cites Marsha Smith as a special influence. “She set such a high standard for herself and for those around her. She taught me so much about how to be a good nurse. I’m still working at it, and I often try to think what Marsha might advise in a given situation. I miss her very much, and she continues to be an inspiration to me for many reasons.”
Kevin’s interest in new experiences and his love of nursing found the ideal career – travel nursing. Kevin and Amber decided that it would be fun to travel, so Kevin began looking for a travel nurse agency. He explains that “it wasn’t easy to leave my friends at Wadley, but we wanted to see the country. I took an assignment at Baylor, Scott and White – Lake Pointe in Rowlett (Dallas). I did three contracts at Baylor, which gave us time to sell our Texarkana home and to prepare to travel for real! We downsized as much as we could, which wasn’t easy. I then applied for a job in Reno, Nevada, and they called for an interview, so away we went!”
Traveling the country for work has been a match made in heaven for Kevin, Amber, and their 5-year-old daughter, Mirren. “Traveling has already allowed us to see things we probably would never have seen otherwise,” Kevin comments. “We were amazed when we walked to the edge of the Grand Canyon. We took selfies in Yosemite under El Capitan. We watched the sun softly glowing behind the Sierras as it set over Lake Tahoe. We saw a brilliant night sky at Northstar ski resort in California. I couldn’t help but think of the line from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, ‘2001,’ ‘My God! It’s full of stars!’”
Kevin’s greatest rewards are his wife and children. “I couldn’t have gotten any luckier,” Kevin believes. “Daniel, my son from a previous marriage, has become such a great musician and recording engineer. He’s also a great husband and father, so I’m very proud. Mirren is also a remarkable little girl. She just learned to write her name with her foot, so that’s a big accomplishment for a 5-year-old!” The Zaliski family enjoys hiking, biking and kayaking, and traveling with each other.
Kevin Zaliski has a true appreciation for the world around him and the people in it. His career choices reflect a positive spirit and energy to try new things. If Kevin could change one thing and still have the important people in his life, he would have gone into nursing much sooner. He has found his calling, and he’s doing it with his family. Moreover, in his travels, Kevin is happily approaching his one-year anniversary of not having mowed a single lawn. As Kevin affirms, “We realize that we are very fortunate, and I believe that we have many great adventures in store.” What a wonderful way to experience life.