By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
If you ask a group of travel nurses why they started traveling, I can guarantee that a majority would rank “hospital politics” among their top 3 reasons for taking the leap. In fact, the reason I applied to my first travel job was thanks to an unfair time off policy and a series of floating out of turn.
What exactly does the term “hospital politics” mean?
Depending on who you ask, the phrase can cover everything from the culture of a unit to holiday rotation. Anything that affects a healthcare worker beyond direct bedside care is in some way related to the inner workings of the hospital system.
Most healthcare professionals go into their line of work hoping to help people in some way. As you move through your career, however, job satisfaction is based around a lot more than how successful you are at caring for your patients.
Even if you have the nicest group of people to care for, your mental health can take a beating if things like your schedule or interactions with higher-ups are constantly eating at you.
The best part about being a travel nurse at a facility where these politics seem to be wearing everyone down?
You don’t have to deal with the issues long term—or even at all.
While some of the struggles that plague full-time staff may affect your duties, a lot of them will not. The challenge comes when you become more comfortable and get to know the staff, and their problems start carrying over to you as a traveler.
Before you get too deep into that mess, check out these tips for avoiding this unnecessary drama while on assignment:
1. Do not discuss time off requests or pay with full-time staff.
- Any time a full-time staff member mentions how much money travelers make, I do my best to not respond. If I get a direct question about what travelers make, I give an average take-home amount for the area. I never, ever discuss my pay directly with full-time staff members.
- If I have negotiated time off or am not working the holidays, I keep this to myself. Telling staff who may be upset about PTO denials or stressful holiday rotations that I don’t have to deal with is not the best way to start a positive conversation.
2. Ask staff members about themselves, rather than asking questions about work.
- Striking up a conversation about work may seem like an easy segway to getting to know people, but it is also a great way to get the wrong staff member ranting about how they are unhappy.
- Instead, ask direct questions about the other staff members you are trying to get to know. Perhaps mention where you are from, talk about hobbies outside of work, or the best local restaurant to try on your day off.
3. Don’t use the phrase “At my old job we did it like this…”
- Unless a manager or supervisor asks you specifically for feedback, I find it better to keep constructive criticism to yourself. Each hospital will have its own way of handling different policies and you may find that their way is actually better than what you have learned before.
- The only caveat to this is if an outdated policy or procedure could cause harm to a patient. If this is the case then definitely speak up.
4. Avoid gossip with other travelers if possible.
- Once again, this may seem like a great way to start a conversation but it guarantees a negative outcome in the long run. Discussing all the negative events going on at work will simply make you more focused on them, which will have an effect on your overall demeanor towards the assignment.
- If other travel nurses are discussing unit problems, you could try to change the subject. Worst case scenario, I would simply advise listening and nodding but doing your best to not contribute to the negativity.
5. Remember—it’s only 13 weeks.
- Luckily for us, we get to walk away from all crazy schedules or inconsistent policies at the end of our assignment. The beauty of travel nursing is that we typically know our jobs won’t be a cake walk and we get to decide what we do and do not want to put up with when we move to our next location.
- Show compassion for the staff that does have to deal with these issues going forward, and do your best not to discuss how excited you are to leave before you make an exit.
Travel nursing may come with its own sets of ups and downs, but hospital politics should not be one of them. It can be easy to get sucked in, but for your own sake, focus on staying away from that negativity as much as possible.
If nothing else, use those rough assignments to be extra thankful for your ability to move on to something new and appreciate the learning experiences you can glean from each of them.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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