By August 31, 2011 1 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: What should I do if I am stuck in an awful assignment?


travel nurse in handcuffsAsk a Travel Nurse Question:

About a month ago I started my first travel assignment. The assignment was a home health position. Everything was going great. I liked the people and my recruiter has to be one of the best on the planet. Then the census dropped real low and not even the permanent nurses were meeting their quotas. Rather than end the contract they ask me would I go to another branch out which was about 40 minutes away. (Looking back, I should have declined). I said ok. David, as soon as I saw the Director I knew there was going to be trouble. She slowly looked me up and down and I could see it in her demeanor. Long story short. By the end of the first 4 days, she told me she was not happy and had a problem with the fact that I never worked in ICU or a hospital (I’ve always been in home care). She told me that had she would not have hire me because of this because I wouldn’t know what to do if something was to happen to a pt in the home. She’s not happy. Again, I was hired by the other manager in one of the other offices. David, even though she will work with me, I don’t want to be there. It’s not only because they give me the pt.’s a hour away or more because their own nurses don’t want to go that far, but it’s mainly because this Director does not believe in me even though I have excellent references, a good history and have successfully handled things in the home that have come up. I don’t want to be there, but I also want to be considerate of the travel company I work for and the recruiter. I would welcome your thoughts.

Ask a Travel Nurse Answer:

I’m sorry that you have had this happen on your first assignment. In over a decade of travels, I’ve certainly encountered similar situations, but rest assured, it’s really not the norm as far as travel nursing goes.

You have a few options here and how you proceed can be dependent upon what you wish the final result to be. In probably all instances, the best outcome would be just trying to get through it. I have had assignments I didn’t care for, but have only had one assignment where I seriously thought about “walking”. The first thing I did, which I also recommend to you, is get your recruiter in the mix.

Now recruiters can really run the gamut when it comes to their effectiveness. I tend to travel with companies, and more importantly, recruiters, that have my back and will fight for me in situations that occur on the job. Actually, this might be a pretty good test for your recruiter and travel company. I always maintain that most travel companies are alike when it comes to finding you an assignment and getting you working. However, the true test of a travel company comes when there are problems and how those problems are solved.

Have a conversation with your recruiter, tell them what is going on, and express your displeasure with the current situation; see how they react. I am hoping that they offer to see what can be done. If you hear anything other than support (and especially if they threaten any action if you leave your contract) then it might be time to find a new company.

When you talk to your recruiter, you can express your desire to leave, but also stress that you are certainly willing to stay and fulfill your obligation if your working environment can be improved. Ask your recruiter to speak first with the manager who hired you. Your recruiter should give you updates as they speak with people, but feel free to call your recruiter after a few days if you have not heard from them.

Hopefully, your recruiter will have some options for you. It really depends on what the manager who hired you wants to do. They may offer to terminate your contract, which I believe I’m hearing is the option that will make you most comfortable. If so, it’s always a bit better if the company terminates the contract rather than you. This all depends on how good a travel company you are with, but if the home health agency terminates, then they (your travel company) should not hold you accountable for any fees or penalties. Some companies will try to collect money from travelers if the traveler is the one who terminates. You should also check your contract and see what it says. Does it mention anything about termination? The contracts I used to sign stated that the travel company could terminate, but it also stated that I could terminate with two weeks notice and not incur any penalties or fees. When you have questions about what might happen in regard to your travel contract, always revert back to the contract itself. You’d be surprised at how many travelers sign these things without ever reading past their hourly rate.

If having your recruiter talk to the original hiring manager doesn’t help, have them call your current supervisor (with whom you are having the problem). If the supervisor isn’t happy with you, tell your recruiter to tell her that she needs to talk to the manager that hired you. It seems as if she is not happy that you were sent to her, she should be speaking up to the hiring manager; you are just caught in between. If you are still at a stalemate, then you have to determine what is best for you and how you want to play it.

If your company does a good job of at least attempting to intervene, then you might consider sticking it out and earning “mad props” from the company, and your recruiter, for completing a difficult assignment. If your company does nothing whatsoever, or the stress is honestly causing health issues, then you can consider “walking” on the assignment. Again, read your contract to see if you could incur any fees or penalties for doing so. I believe that in most states, your company cannot legally withhold your check for money on hours that you have worked. But I am NOT an attorney and they certainly might have some legal way around that. You must understand that walking on a contract can cost hundreds, or thousands, of dollars in lost hours working, cost to move back home or go to another assignment, or any fees your company will levy. It’s not a matter to take lightly.

One other thing you might try is asking your company if there are any other assignments in the area or close by. If your company knows that you are walking on one contract, but then willing to pick right back up with another, this can certainly change their perception and lessen the likelihood of any fees or penalties.

The final thing I would tell you (and please don’t take offense), is to try to develop a thicker skin when it comes to people questioning your skills as a nurse. You yourself said that you know you are a good nurse. However, you’ve let the lack of faith that this other individual has in you, affect you. If you take a different assignment every 13 weeks, in a year you will have had to start over, and prove yourself to a whole new group of people, four times. In travel nursing, you will constantly be proving yourself on each new assignment. You will also run into nurses who have bad attitudes, hate everyone, and really shouldn’t be anywhere near patient care. You need to learn to just isolate yourself from those people as much as possible and have confidence in the skills you know you possess.

On one assignment, I had been there for two months before meeting the assistant manager for the unit. It happened one night as I was eating my dinner out at the nurses station (something I’d seen countless others do on our unit). She approached me and introduced herself and then proceeded to tell me that what I was doing was an OSHA violation and that I needed to report off to another nurse and take my food in the back. I apologized politely and did as she asked; however, from that moment on, all she did was give me crap about one thing or another.

One night, she was sending people home in the middle of the night, but kept taking admissions to a dangerous point. I was tripled (which was not supposed to happen in ICU) and my patients were horrific (and please believe me when I say I am not embellishing the facts here). The third patient I had to take in the middle of the shift was a fresh admit and ended up having to go to surgery only a few hours after coming to the floor. She was so busy up to the surgery, that on day shift, they made her a 1:1. One of my original patients was a GI bleed and was off and on the bed pan all night. My second original patient was pretty sick, but I cannot recall her diagnosis. However, she was apparently so sick that at 6:00 that morning, she ended up coding and dying. So after what was probably the worst shift of my career, I stood in a hallway at 7:00 in the morning telling a tearful husband (who had just arrived to the hospital) that his wife had just died.

During all of the chaos, I was visibly upset at how incompetent this assistant manager had been and what a dangerous situation she created for the patients and the unit as a whole. During one trip to the Pyxis (the machine that dispenses medications) I pulled a bag of IV fluids out of a lower cabinet and then kicked the door shut loudly. Apparently, the assistant manager wasn’t concerned over the danger she had created, but rather, the fact that I was so visibly venting my frustrations.

A day after that shift, just as I was leaving, I noticed the unit manager in her office, I stopped and knocked on the door and when she looked up, she just smiled. She invited me in for a little “chat”. I asked her what she heard about the evening before and she said, “Um, I heard you kicked the Pyxis”. I looked at her for a second and then we both chuckled a bit. I asked her if these were the types of childish issues that she really had to deal with as a unit manager. She went on to tell me that the assistant manager went to her to recommend that they let me go. She also told me that she informed the assistant manager that she had just renewed my contract for another 13 weeks and didn’t really want to let me go because I was the first traveler about which she had not had a single complaint (because I got alone with EVERYONE but this horrible assistant manager). She went on to admit to me that the unit probably was unsafe that night (I did a little happy dance in my head at that confirmation) and that maybe I should just try to “steer clear” of the assistant manager.

So on one hand, I was happy to have a job for another contract, but I also knew that I had to work another three months with a person who actively tried to have me fired. It did not affect my practice as I knew that I was a good nurse, but it certainly made me more aware to watch my step when she was around. During those next three months I do recall a few more friction moments, but ultimately, the rest of the staff liked me and I took pride in the fact that I stuck it out and finished an assignment where I was in a tough position.

I do apologize if the preceding was a bit long to illustrate a point…..I guess that’s just the writer in me 🙂 But I wanted to convey that you are certainly not alone as a traveler who is feeling bad about an assignment all because of one negative person. Someone once said to me, “If someone is creating chaos, drama, or just any type of negativity, that is their shit. It only becomes your shit if you let it.” I realize that although this is a simple statement, it is much, MUCH, easier said than done. But if you can even start to let just a little bit of other people’s chaos be their own, it will help you immensely in your travels.

If you would, could you please come back and post a comment about how you handled the situation and the end result? It would be much appreciated by those readers who might find themselves in a similar situation. Thank you so much for writing and I hope this helps.


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About the Author:

My name is Jeff Long. I’m the Marketing Manager at Medical Solutions, one of the leading travel nursing companies. I have never been a nurse and am not a recruiter. I have worked at Medical Solutions for four years and think it is a great company that has a lot to offer nurses and allied health professionals interested in a travel career. I do post just a small sampling of travel nursing jobs from Medical Solutions, but mostly I write about travel nursing. On this site you will not be recruited on this blog (unless you specifically inquire about traveling with Medical Solutions then I will forward your info to a Recruiter). I understand that you are reading and/or commenting on this blog purely for informational purposes and I want you to enjoy that experience My job is to help you meet your career goals by sharing information, advice and the benefits of travel nursing with you.

1 Comment on "Ask a Travel Nurse: What should I do if I am stuck in an awful assignment?"

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  1. Veronica Schoo says:

    Hi, David~ Love this story. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am a recruiter for Advantage RN (866) 301-4045 ext 242 fyi — Anyways I love my job and absolutely love my nurses. This is an unfortunate aspect of travel nursing but the way you shared your advice… I couldn’t agree more! Thanks, again!! Great advice =)

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