Do Some Staff Nurses Have a Bad Impression of Travelers?


By Aaron J. Moore, MSN, RN, travel nurse expert

One of the biggest problems I faced in travel nursing was not one of my own fault. As a travel nurse, I found that you take on the persona of all travel nurses. If staff nurses had a bad impression of previous travelers, that could color their thinking of you before you ever showed up on assignment.

Now you may say that judging a book by its cover like that isn’t fair, and it’s not fair to say that if you’re a travel nurse, you must be like all the other travel nurses. I would agree, but it’s basically human nature to generalize, and it’s nothing you can’t overcome.

I can tell you that all travelers do have one thing in common, and that’s that we are brave enough to take a risk and try temp staffing. But after that, we are only as alike as any other person in the field of nursing. There are the good and the bad. And, in the long run, you will be judged for what you do during your 13-or-so weeks on the job.

So, here are some tips to avoid the travel nurses that can hurt your reputation, and, more importantly, how to avoid being labeled as one of “those” travel nurses that could give the field a bad name.

1. Create your own reputation. Some places I traveled I was the first travel nurse they had ever had so there was no preset impression; I was able to be judged for who I was as a person and for the quality of nursing care I provided. But then there were the bigger institutions that had seen many travel nurses over the years, so it was obvious they had worked with some good ones and some bad. This meant I had to try extra hard in the beginning to show them that I was indeed a good nurse.  

2. Don’t sit on the sidelines. One of the biggest clichés I found while traveling was that there was a perceived lack of teamwork among travel nurses. Some people thought that we were just there for the money. While, yes, it is great that we are well compensated for the work we do, we have to live up to that pay grade and work hard.  

3. Don’t be linked with poor quality nurses. If you are on assignment and notice that there is a sub-par quality travel nurse, you should do your best to distance yourself from that person. I remember one instance where I was hired as one of 10 travel nurses to help staff a large East Coast hospital during a staffing shortage in their ICUs.  Some of us were hired for specialty areas and some as floats. (I was lucky to have some great assignments in specialty neuro/trauma areas that got me an awesome job working on one of the best neuro units in the country; it still looks great on the résumé.)  

There was one traveler that kept to herself and was kind of rude when you asked her for help. Now I can live with that, but when she started making nursing protocol errors that made her look bad, I made sure to distance myself from her and really concentrated on following protocol to the tee.

4. Be vigilant about every shift. Now I feel that I am a competent nurse with a good work ethic. We all have bad days, though, and its tough to not take things to work with you when something isn’t going well. But as a traveler, you only get a limited amount of time to make an impression. Since most staff know that you are only there for three months, one bad shift can affect their trust in you and can get back to a manager quickly. So always do your best.

5. Work ahead and offer assistance. Being a team player is one of the easiest things to help your status from the get-go. I always made sure to get my baths done early and try and help others with their work. This served a two-fold purpose, as it let me meet new people and also helped make a great first impression.  

6. Don’t call in sick if you aren’t. This last tip may be the most important and also the easiest to follow: don’t call in sick if you don’t have to. I have a personal integrity not to call in sick unless I’m endangering the health of my patients and coworkers. Sadly, some travelers are known for calling in sick a lot, even on their last day of work. I can’t tell you how many times staff and managers would say “It was great working with you,” or “Good luck,” when I still had a few days left on my contract. But I made sure to finish well.

Don’t worry, you’re not going to be judged too harshly as a travel nurse, and the vast majority of nurses are glad to see you arrive to help them with the patient load. But if you follow the simple tips I outlined above you will avoid being unfairly stereotyped and make a great impression on your next assignment…and that leads to a great reference, which leads to a great résumé, and better and better jobs down the line.

So, put on your game face and remember how lucky you are to be a travel nurse. We are a rare breed in the whole scheme of things. Be one of the good ones and try travel nursing!

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