Crystal Gustafson
Crystal Gustafson
November 12, 2016 - 4 min read

The Truth About Travel Nursing: Do Travel Nurses Get The Worst Assignments

Imagine spending an entire 13 weeks taking care of ETOH withdrawal patients and then having to float to the telemetry unit for half of your shifts. As an ICU nurse, this is absolutely your worst nightmare. This nightmare is a common misconception about what it means to be a travel nurse.

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You May Find Yourself Using The “B” Word

Don’t get me wrong, becoming a travel nurse will definitely get you out of your comfort zone. There will be moments when you think you are getting the worst assignments but who in the world of nursing has the best assignments for 13 weeks in a row? That never happens…ever!

Some of your assignments may seem quite intense, but that is only because you are out of your comfort zone. You don’t know the doctors, maybe the nurses aren’t as helpful as you are used to or finding supplies is almost impossible. If you were back at home, that assignment would be no problem.

In my experience, the charge nurses tend to give the travelers the easiest patients. They aren’t really familiar with your skills and most of the time their own staff needs the experience with the more critical patients. You will often times find yourself in a 12 hour day full of boredom. Yes, I said the “B” word.

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Gaining New Skills Is Inevitable

One of my concerns before traveling was that I was going to lose my skills. As a staff ICU nurse I was used to taking care of the sickest of the sick. I knew all the modalities, CRRT, balloon pumps, Swans, and all of the protocols.

I knew that as a traveler, I would not be assigned these patients. What I came to find out was that I enjoyed the break from the critically ill patients. I learned to connect with my “Walky Talkies” and actually enjoyed taking care of them.

I was so used to my intubated and sedated patients that I think I lost touch with my bedside manner a little bit. I also learned that patients are virtually taken care of the same throughout the country so when I came back to my staff nurse position, it was fairly easy to get myself reoriented back into the different modalities.

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You Will Have To Float – Or Do You?

If floating is what concerns you the most, then it may be wise to either prepare yourself beforehand by floating in your current hospital or choose assignments that do not float their travelers.

During my first five years as a staff nurse, prior to traveling, I only floated to a telemetry floor once. I walked around the entire night peeking into my patient’s rooms to make sure they were breathing. It was the most nerve racking experience of my life.

The thought of spending an entire travel assignment floating made me cringe. To my surprise, I really didn’t have to float that much. When it comes to staffing, travelers are definitely the first to float so there is a good chance that you will have to float some time in you travel nursing career, unless you work in a specialty area like the Cath lab or OB. I personally only floated a few times with each assignment.

The worst part of floating is that you don’t know where anything is. The patients are exactly the same… for the most part. You just might have more of them. I personally found floating to the tele floor quite easy. I often wondered why half these people were in the hospital to begin with. Learning to float and being flexible is a skill; a skill that is only mastered by a few and tends to pay off financially if you become a float pool staff nurse.

If floating sounds absolutely horrible to you then it may be wise to sign contracts that ensure you don’t float. I’m not exactly sure if these exist but you can always ask your recruiter. You can also travel to places that are known to have busy seasons when floating is less common. When you have your interview it may be good to ask about the floating situation on that particular unit. If they tend to float their nurses a lot, then maybe you can pass that one up.

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You Control Your Travel Nursing Experience

Whether or not you have a good experience as a travel nurse is up to you. If you change your perspective on who you consider to be the worst patient or how you feel about floating to another floor, then your traveling work life will be much more enjoyable.

There are important lessons to be learned from putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. You will learn to have more empathy for your fellow nurses who care for 5-6 patients at a time, you will learn to connect to your talking patients and their families, you will become more flexible and in the end, a more desirable candidate for hire. Do not be discouraged by other perceptions, instead, create your own.

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