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Travel Nursing Can Be a Bumpy Road – Tips to Deal with the Unexpected

August 28, 2015

For the most part, travel nursing is fun and offers memories and experiences to last a lifetime. However, like with anything, there are the occasional bad assignments and/or experiences that come with the territory.

Miscommunication, varied expectations, unfriendly staff, poor work conditions, unsatisfactory housing, and other anomalies can all happen; you just have to be prepared to handle each situation as it arises. Here are some tips on how to handle the unexpected in a professional way.

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Communication & Expectations

The most common disappointment with travel nursing, from our experience at least, has to do with expectations and communication. There are a lot of people involved in the process, which can sometimes lead to miscommunication, errors or confusion.

1. You have yourself, the nurse.

2. And of course your agency which can include multiple people:

  • Your Recruiter
  • Your Recruiters Boss
  • The Account Manager (person that deals directly with the hospital)
  • Customer Service or whoever handles your documentation
  • Housing
  • Benefits

3. And don’t forget the hospital:

  • Interviewer/Hiring Manager
  • Your Boss(s) on the Floor
  • Scheduling Personnel
  • Human Resources

So as you can see, there are a lot of people handling one position, which leaves a lot of room for misunderstood or misinterpreted expectations.

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Get it in Ink

I cannot stress enough to always, always get everything in writing (in your contract). I know it sounds tedious, but your recruiters “word” over the phone just isn’t good enough. Trust me, we have learned the hard way that if it is not in the contract, they will quite possibly not hold up their end of the deal when push comes to shove.

It’s not always an issue with the recruiter. Another common breakdown of communication can happen between the hiring manager and your boss on the floor. So again, get it in writing so if there is ever a dispute you can refer back to your contract.

The perfect example of the importance of getting everything in writing is an assignment my husband took a couple of years ago outside of Cape Cod, MA. It was a very small hospital in a small coastal town. Towards the end of the interview and hiring process it was mentioned that he wouldn’t be working 3-12’s like he strongly prefers. Instead it would be 40 hour per week contract instead of his typical 36. We decided to accept, but we asked that it be added to his contract that he would only work a maximum of four days a week and a minimum of eight hour shifts and only between the hours of 7am-11pm.

Fast forward to him receiving his first schedule after orientation and we were so thankful that we added the stipulation to his contract. His schedule was all over the place. They scheduled him to work five and six days a week. One day might be for four hours late night and then turn around and come back for a 16 the next morning. Literally in one schedule he was supposed to work 4, 8, 10, 12, and 16 hour shifts; all different times of the day/night.

Their stance was that he is a traveler and was there to help them out, however and whenever they needed him. The hiring manager accepted his contract with his stipulations, while his manager on the floor and person in charge of scheduling was clearly left out of the loop.

Had we not asked the recruiter to add his stipulations into the contract he would have been required to work it. Thankfully we had the foresight to be specific on what he was and was not willing to do schedule-wise. They weren’t thrilled about it but they did adjust his schedule to adhere to his contract.

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How to Handle a Bad Situation

In the above example, my husband Skyler first discussed his schedule with his boss on the floor, explaining that it didn’t uphold their contractual agreement. She wasn’t budging though, so he then contacted his recruiter and asked her to get involved. She contacted the appropriate people at the hospital and rectified the situation.

In most disputes, that is probably the best way to handle things. First try to resolve the issue yourself, then get your agency involved if need be.

Just remember to always be courteous and professional in all situations. Don’t be that traveler that gets upset about an unexpected situation, justified or otherwise, and storms off the job. It leaves a bad name for the travel nurse industry and not to mention could tarnish your reputation with both staffing agencies and hospitals.

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Breaking a Contract – Process & Repercussions

If you have tried to resolve an issue and it is just not coming to an acceptable outcome and you choose to quit a contract, you need to discuss the procedure and possible ramifications with your recruiter. Honestly, we have never quit a contract so I don’t know what the exact process is. It varies per situation so be sure to follow the directions of your recruiter.

If you are quitting for a valid reason, there shouldn’t be any repercussions per-se. You might be out some travel expense, etc., but it if you are quitting because they are not holding up their end of the contract, that should be about it and your recruiter will likely try to get you placed in a new assignment quickly.

Now if you are quitting for personal reasons or reasons not really justified by the contract, you might be out money for housing and travel, etc. Again, it is handled on a case-by-case basis, but you should find out what the ramifications of quitting are before you make that decision.

Not the Norm

It is truly uncommon that an assignment or situation is so bad that it warrants quitting a contract. It does happen occasionally though, so it is good to know how to appropriately handle the situation. More times than not, problems that arise on a travel assignment can be worked out without having to cancel the contract. No matter the situation, just make sure that you, as a traveling nurse, are representing your colleagues, agency, and most importantly yourself, professionally.

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Kelli Leach and her husband Skyler have been traveling since July 2010. Skyler is a CVICU RN and Kelli is a writer. They are from Missouri and had a baby boy in November 2013 so they are now a traveling family of 3! Connect with Kelli on Facebook.