Crystal Gustafson
Crystal Gustafson
September 26, 2017 - 3 min read

Are Travel Nurses Treated Poorly?

If you are one of the many nurses considering a career in travel nursing, you’ve probably heard how great it is and you’ve probably also heard some horror stories. Many of the negative experiences involve being assigned the worst patients, having to work every weekend,  or being bullied/ marginalized by your co-workers. Allow me share my perspective from my experience as both a travel nurse and a staff charge nurse.

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Patient Assignments

When it comes to being assigned the worst patients, I think it’s important to define what is meant by “the worst.” As a staff ICU nurse, I was used to taking the sickest of the sick: balloon pumps, CRRT, ECMO – you name it, I took it. On the other hand, as a travel nurse, I was assigned what I would consider the easiest patients. They were “walkie talkies” who required a different kind of care. I wasn’t tending to machines anymore, I was tending to people and it was something that I had to get used to. I personally enjoyed taking a break from the intense patients and working on my people skills. As a charge nurse, I often assign travel nurses the easier patients because I am not familiar with their skill level. If a travel nurse has extended with us a couple of times, then I feel more comfortable assigning them more critical patients.


I think where assignments get tricky for travel nurses is when they have to float. In most hospitals, travel nurses are the first to float, so an ICU nurse floating to telemetry may feel like he/she is getting the shaft or being marginalized in some way. Remember, your purpose as a travel nurse is to fill a need that a hospital has. If that hospital needs flexibility in their staffing, then you need to be flexible. Your contract should say whether or not you are required to float. If this is something you think you can’t handle, then it may be wise to choose your assignments accordingly.

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Choosing your assignment to fit your needs is extremely important for your satisfaction, especially when it comes to scheduling. I have never had an experience as a travel nurse where I had to work every weekend and every holiday. The units I chose to work on had self-scheduling with a weekend and holiday requirement that was the same as the staff nurses. Your schedule may not be exactly what you asked for, but it is usually close. If you know you need some time off during that assignment, it’s important to have those dates ready when you interview so they can be written into your contract. If your contract is for night shift, then you work night shift. I have never heard of a unit making you work a shift other than what your contract states.

When interviewing for your assignment, it is important to ask how often the unit you’ll be working on has travel nurses. There are some hospitals who have an alarming amount of travel nurses working for them. I feel this puts a burden on the staff nurses which may lead to what some might consider bullying or poor treatment. You will find that most people don’t talk to you for the first few weeks. This isn’t because they don’t like you it’s just the way it is sometimes. If you are open and friendly, you will find it easier to connect with your co-workers. If you are quiet and keep to yourself, then people probably won’t approach you. Choosing a unit that has a few travel nurses has always seemed to be better in my experience. The nurses were less stressed, the onboarding process was more thorough, and the management seemed to be more supportive.

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Management and Leadership

Having a supportive management and leadership is important whether you are a staff nurse or a travel nurse. There are some units which handle matters with travelers personally, and then there are some that prefer to go through the nurse manager at your agency. Personally, I preferred to have management talk to me directly about issues rather than going through my agency. If you are someone who prefers a less confrontational route, then it is extremely important that you have a good relationship with your recruiter and your agency’s nurse manager because they are going to be your main support system. Except for one instance, my experience with nursing leadership has always been positive.

What You Can Do

Having a positive travel nursing experience is ideal but not always guaranteed. You may have an assignment where you get the worst patients or terrible co-workers. Just remember, it’s only 12 hours or 13 weeks; it is not the rest of your life, and what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. Don’t let other people’s horror stories scare you away from travel nursing. Create your own positive experiences instead. 

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