Travel nurses who routinely relocate and work at new facilities on an interim basis face some employee health problems unique to their situation. Others are slightly different manifestations of common issues in nursing, explains Cheryl J. Roby, RN.
Roby traveled extensively during her 30-year nursing career, taking on a variety of roles that included occupational health. Roby has set up a website for travel nurses where she regularly blogs and post other information and resources. (Her website is available at: https://www.wanderingnurses.com.)
“There are many thousands of travel nurses,” she says. “It’s a fluctuating business. There are nurses that try traveling for a year or so, and they don’t like it and get out. There are nurses that get into it and do it until they retire. We cover all 50 states, and there are those who travel outside the U.S. to other countries as well.”
Travel nurses usually are referred for jobs by recruiting agencies, signing for a typical contract of 13 weeks. “Sometimes they will get onsite and really like the hospital and they will extend their contract there if there is a need for them,” Roby says. “They are in every nursing specialty you can think of. All kinds of nurses went down to Texas when they had the floods there, so they travel and do things like that.”
All nursing jobs seem to be stressful to some degree, but there are several aspects of travel nursing that increase the pressure.
“You are moving into a work environment where you don’t know anyone and you don’t know the hospital,” she says. “It’s like starting a new job every 13 weeks. You have to learn the new policies and the technology in every hospital, so stress is huge.”
The ebb and flow of this work means nurses who like “constant change” thrive as travel nurses. Others find out rather quickly it is not for them, no doubt in part by the attendant aggravations that affect health.
“Sleep is an issue,” Roby says. “You are traveling to a new location, most of which work 12-hour shifts. They may have to flip-flop shifts when they get there, depending on what the hospital needs. Fatigue is huge.”
Another issue common in travel nursing culture is bullying. This is a toxic work culture trait that has too often been reported by all types of nurses, but travel nurses face a distinct risk upon arrival at the new job.
“These nurses will come in and there is already a clique of nurses who work the routine shifts,” she says. “They tend to dump on the new person in the hospital.”
In a blog post on the issue, Roby gave travel nurses some straightforward advice that also applies to nurses of all stripes. “Be aware of what is going on, and remember you deserve respect,” she noted.1 “Do not just brush off bullying and do not chalk it up to being the new guy or gal. Document and take notes — including dates, names, and times — on how you’re being bullied.”
React appropriately, but defend yourself.
“It’s a tricky balance to strike, but just be communicative, professional, and honest,” Roby wrote. “Speak up and say, ‘You are bullying me. Please stop.’”
1. Roby, C. Be Aware of Bullying as You Travel. Wandering Nurses blog. Available at: https://bit.ly/2uA2spI.