If you are one of the many nurses considering a career in travel nursing you’ve probably heard some horror stories — being assigned the worst patients, having to work every weekend, or being bullied by your co-workers. I’d like to share my perspective, both as a travel nurse and as a charge nurse.
When it comes to being assigned the worst patients, I think it’s important to define “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.
But, as a travel nurse, I found that 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. It was something that I had to get used to, but personally I 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.
In most hospitals, travel nurses are the first to float. So if you’re an ICU nurse and floating to telemetry, you may feel like you are being marginalized in some way. Just remember, your purpose as a travel nurse is to fill a hospital’s need. If that hospital needs flexibility in their staffing, then you need to be flexible.
Your contract should say whether or not you’re required to float. If this is something you think you can’t handle (or don’t want to), then it may be wise to choose your assignments accordingly.
When it comes to scheduling, choosing your assignment to fit your needs is extremely important for your satisfaction. I have never had to work every weekend and every holiday as a travel nurse. The units I chose to work on had self-scheduling with a weekend and holiday requirement that was the same for staff nurses. Your schedule may not be exactly as you asked, but it’s usually close. If you know you need some time off during your assignment, it’s important to have those dates ready when you interview so they can be written into your contract.
Also, a note on shifts: If your contract is for night shift, then you work night shift. I’ve never heard of a unit making you work a shift other than what your contract states.
When interviewing for your assignment, it’s important to ask how often travel nurses work on that unit. There are some hospitals who have A LOT of travel nurses working for them. I feel this puts a burden on the staff nurses, which may lead to bullying or poor treatment.
You’ll find that most people don’t talk to you for the first couple of weeks. This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you, it’s just the way it is sometimes. If you’re open and friendly though, you’ll find it easier to connect with your co-workers. If you’re quiet and keep to yourself, then people probably won’t approach you.
Choosing a unit that already has a few travel nurses always seemed to be better for me. The nurses are less stressed, the on-boarding process is more thorough, and the management are generally more supportive.
Having supportive management and leadership is important whether you are a staff nurse or a travel nurse. There are some units who handle matters with travelers personally. Then there are some units who prefer to go through the nurse manager at your agency. I preferred to have management talk to me personally about issues rather than going through my agency. But, if you are someone who prefers a less confrontational route, then it’s important that you have a good relationship with your agency recruiter and nurse manager. They are going to be your main support system.
Having a positive travel nursing experience is ideal, but not always guaranteed. You may have an assignment where you get the worst patients or the worst co-workers. Just remember, it’s usually only 13 weeks — it’s not the rest of your life. Do not let other people’s horror stories scare you away from travel nursing. In my experience, most of the travel nurse memories I’ve created have been positive.
Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has a blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal on her blog.