While most traveling healthcare professionals are prepared to hit the ground running when they arrive at a hospital, they do need the support of their permanent counterparts to get up to full speed quickly. These tips will help you orient travelers and welcome them into the fold at your facility.
Many overworked permanent employees are thrilled to see travelers, who are especially helpful in relieving heavy workloads during high census periods. Other permanent workers, however, may balk at an agency employee's high pay rate. Or they may resent the fact that these workers are guaranteed a certain number of hours, which means that if the census is low, permanent staff might lose their usual overtime or be forced to take time off.
Taking your anger out on the traveler rather than addressing staffing issues with managers will just create a tense, unpleasant working environment for everyone and could give your facility or unit a bad reputation. "I've always been welcomed and given a fair workload and treated as one of the hospital's own instead of just agency, but I've heard of some travelers getting dumped on," says respiratory therapist Mary Graham, who has been a traveler with Cross Country TravCorps since 1998 and currently works in Indiana.
Graham has learned which hospitals to avoid through the highly effective traveler grapevine. "Treating travelers well is a good recruiting tool for facilities," she says. "Dumping on one traveler could mean you lose a potential hire someday."
Help Travelers Succeed
Most hospitals provide travelers with a day of orientation and a few days of working alongside a preceptor before allowing them to care for patients independently. But travelers' satisfaction levels and performance will greatly increase if their facility offers them a few more days of training and an extended mentoring relationship with a permanent employee, says Gail Klein, BSN, RN, director of clinical staff and physician development at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
At Klein's hospital, travelers attend the same initial three-day orientation as new permanent staff. After that, all travelers are paired with preceptors. In critical-care areas, an RN traveler's first week working with a preceptor is followed by a second week, during which the traveler is assigned an experienced RN to support him and make him feel comfortable. After the second week, travelers in critical-care areas are assigned yet another new buddy, usually a permanent RN who has been at the hospital for six months to a year. "This person can really relate to what the traveler is going through being new," Klein says. "It gives the staff person who is a buddy an opportunity to shine and feel good about helping somebody else, and it gives the traveler a chance to talk to somebody they may feel more comfortable with than an administrator or experienced nurse."
Make Simple Gestures
It takes only a moment to introduce yourself to a traveler, but that simple gesture can mean a lot. Often, the unit staff ignores travelers, says RN Lori Northcutt, who has been a traveler for Cross Country TravCorps since 1994 and now works in New Hampshire. "Just saying, ‘Hi, I'm Sarah' or ‘Welcome to the unit' lets you know you're welcomed there."
Once Northcutt received a welcome package from the hospital in North Carolina she was heading to next. "It included a homemade card that said ‘Welcome to the PICU' and was signed by all the nurses," Northcutt says. "It was just a simple thing, but that card really made me want to go there. I was excited before I even got there, and it did end up being a good place to work."
Be a Resource
Travelers generally aren't shy about asking questions -- from locating supplies to finding the best local restaurants or tourist attractions. Your cheerful responsiveness can play a significant role in the traveler's experience. Northcutt is still grateful to a staff nurse at one of her assignments for telling her about a shortcut that shaved five miles off her commute.
"Regular staff can be a great resource for us," Northcutt says. "They're usually proud of their area and will gladly answer questions."