Staying Safe As a Travel Nurse On the COVID-19 Front Lines
This is a hard time in our history to be a travel nurse — here are some tips on staying safe as a travel nurse during the COVID-19 crisis.
Gone are the days when working as a travel nurse primarily meant having the opportunity to travel, see new places, and experience new aspects of your nursing career. Now, travel nurses are, more than ever, serving a crucial role in the raging battle against COVID-19.
As areas that have been hit the hardest are seeing more patients than they can handle, and healthcare providers and professionals are facing infections themselves, or being forced to quarantine to prevent spreading the virus to the most vulnerable, hospitals and healthcare facilities have a desperate need for travel nurses. For instance, just one New York staffing agency’s site states that they have a need for over 1,000 crisis response positions right now.
And while travel nurses will be critical to getting our country through this pandemic, it’s also so important that if you are working as a travel RN right now, that you stay safe too. Here are some tips for staying safe on the front line as a travel nurse through COVID-19.
Follow CDC Recommendations To Protect Against COVID-19
The CDC has a page of guidance resources for helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, both in the workplace, and at home. You should educate yourself on the guidelines, and as you are able, follow all the CDC’s recommendations in any travel nursing job you have, such as: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60 to 95% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Soap and water is always preferred over sanitizer, especially for visibly dirty hands. Avoid touching your face. Have your patient wear a facemask. Wear a disposable facemask and gloves when handling any bodily fluids. Throw out disposable PPE and do not reuse them. Remove PPE in the following order: gloves off first, wash your hand, take off your face mask, and wash your hands again. Clean all high-touch surfaces, such as bedside tables, keyboards, tablets, and your phone.
Be Prepared for Limited PPE
Sadly, many hospitals and healthcare facilities are already severely low on PPE for nurses and other healthcare staff. Nurses have already been forced to take risky measures, such as reusing PPE or working an extended time once they put on PPE to make the most of it.
If you can, try to talk to nurses already in the area to find out what you should really expect of your working conditions, so you are prepared. The reality is that masks are in short supply and N95 respirators may be virtually impossible to find, so it’s very important that you know what your real-life working conditions will be like.
Pack Your Own Supplies
If you have any of your own supplies, such as sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, or even gloves or masks that you stocked up on, speak with your nursing agency to see if you can bring them with you. Depending on how severe the situation at the hospital or facility is, they may welcome any supplies you can use to protect yourself.
Use Telemedicine If Available
The U.S. signed a special HIPPA waiver that allows the use of certain third-party applications for health purposes as the country is under a national emergency. This means that you may be able to communicate with patients or even other staff members more easily, using common apps such as FaceTime and Skype, without being face-to-face, reducing your risk of exposure and preserving PPE and other supplies.
Double-check Your Agency’s Quarantine Policy
Especially if you are traveling to an area to work that is far from home, it’s imperative that you check the agency’s policy on quarantining. You’ll want to find out: What are the procedures in place for if you begin to feel sick? What are the policies on if you have been exposed but are not feeling symptomatic? What accommodations are being made for nurses who have to quarantine–for instance, will you need to supply your own food, are you still responsible for paying bills, etc.? Will you still be paid in the event that you have to quarantine?
Find Out Their Travel Protection Policy
On a related note, you’ll want to find out if the agency has any protections in place for what could happen if you are unable to travel home — hopefully, there won’t be any domestic travel closures, but it could happen, so it’s a good question to ask ahead of time. You’ll want to make sure you have a place to stay if you are unable to get back home, along with access to food and necessities.
Be Clear On Where COVID-19 Can Live
Obviously, any facility you work at will be doing all they can to clean and kill off COVID-19 from surfaces, but it can be helpful to know for yourself on what surfaces COVID-19 can live the longest on. That way, you can take extra precautions around things that might get overlooked, like the fridge or coffee pot in the breakroom
According to the most recent data, COVID-19 can live for the following lengths of time on different surfaces: up to 3 hours in aerosols up to 4 hours on copper up to 24 hours on cardboard Up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel
Support Local Protection for All Nurses
Many local nursing organizations are pleading for lawmakers to issue emergency protections for nurses as they fight to do their job with limited resources. Filling out a petition, like this one in Michigan, this plea for more PPE with the American Nurses Association, or this one with National Nurses United, can help ensure protections in your region and ensure that staying safe as a travel nurse is easier.
Share Your Story
Whether it’s to your local nursing union, online, or to us here at TravelNursing.org, share your own story of what you are experiencing as a travel nurse. Remember, this is a moment in history that you are living through, and the experiences and stories that you — as a front-line soldier — can share will shape the future.
Don’t Forget Your Self-Care
I know it sounds almost frivolous right now, but the truth is, as much as nurses are being painted as warriors and superheroes and as much as you are all of those things, you are still a real, normal human who can not give endlessly.
It’s imperative you don’t work yourself to the brink of exhaustion and you take extra time for self-care in any way you can, whether that’s through prayer in your belief system, talking virtually to loved ones, exercise, or just binge-watching your favorite show from a simpler, coronavirus-free time.
Staying safe as a travel nurse means you’ll be better able to care for those who need it.