Closing the Gap Between You and the Permanent Staff

So there’s a little backstory to this post. Someone contacted me through LinkedIn to participate in a study that aimed to understand how nurses with different employment statuses communicate in their work environments. I usually don’t respond to LinkedIn messages, but I figured “why not?” As I’m fielding questions and offering responses over the phone, the wheels in my head were turning and got me thinking about the topic. It wasn’t so much a “light bulb” moment as it was a “well, duh!” moment. Of course there are some distinct barriers that are present when temporary and permanent interact, at least initially.

During my time as a traveler, I must have subconsciously identified and addressed these barriers because I never really thought about it before that phone interview. Although the phone interview only lasted an hour, I found myself thinking about the topic for quite a while and think I finally have a handle on it.

This goes without saying, but every unit is going to be different because they are staffed with individuals with varying cultures, personalities, ethnicities, and have different challenges to traverse. Based on the makeup of the staff, you will find that time it takes to “break the ice” varies. Sometimes, you can stroll in and have the run of the town. Other times, you’ll find yourself on the set of “Mean Girls” and “you can’t sit with [them].” Despite these varying degrees of acceptance, there are some common obstacles which will be present no matter where you travel.

What Do You Mean, “Obstacles and Barriers?”

When I say obstacles or barriers, I mean anything that could portray an “us vs. you” mentality. In other words, anything that could inhibit the cohesion or chemistry of your new unit. Our goal is to remove this frame of mind as soon as possible when arriving on assignment and working to prevent this from forming as the assignment goes on. Below, you’ll find some strategies to address these.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

The first thing we need to understand is the reasoning that you were hired on as a traveler. Of course you’re a great, qualified nurse, but more importantly, the hospital sought to fill this position because of a need. It could be that the census was super high, they were understaffed, or possibly a combination of both. As you can imagine, this probably doesn’t lead to the most ideal working environment for staff. They’re most likely stressed, burnt out, and frustrated.

If the reason you were brought on is a staffing issue (e.g. unable to retain nurses), you could be viewed as a short-term fix instead of a long-term solution (i.e. hiring new permanent staff). Furthermore, there could be some element of resentment there as well. This isn’t the case all the time though. Other times, people are genuinely thrilled to have some help, even if it is only a temporary relief. Regardless of each individual’s stance, your goal is to convey that you are there to help and contribute to a positive work environment; you are their ally.

Alleviate Their Fears About You

Let’s face it – you’re an unknown element in a very familiar place. You’ll likely get the impression that they’re feeling you out, seeing what makes you tick, and observing your work flow – and you’d be right in thinking that this is happening.

I’ve already touched on the topic of being the new guy in a previous post. The highlights from that post are listed below, but it’s definitely worth it to read the whole thing.

1) Be Approachable – smile, make a good first impression

2) Show Gratitude – chances are you’ll require some help when you’re getting started. Be generous with your thanks. Take the time to thank those who helped you in the moment.

3) Ask Once – show that you’re paying attention and try to figure things out first before asking for help.

4) Prove Your Worth – bring all of your skills and past experiences to the table. However, do not dwell on how you’ve done things in the past if it does not align with your new facility’s protocols. One thing people hate hearing is how they SHOULD be doing something because you did it that way somewhere else. Tips and tricks are welcomed, but stay away from lecturing people or trying to change the way they do things.

5) Be a Team Player – buy into the thought that this is your unit while on assignment, help your colleagues

6) Do Your Due Diligence – just as you are being observed, try to figure out those you can count on when you’re in a bind.

Show Them That You’re One of the Good Ones

This barrier presents itself when the staff have had bad experiences with travelers in the past or think you’re not invested in them or their unit because you’ll “come and go.” It’s similar to when you’re starting a new relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend and they have trust issues with you because of something their previous partner did. To continue with the dating example, it could also be a situation where your love interest doesn’t want to make anything official because “this could only wind up being a summer fling.” It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s something we have to navigate from time to time.

Sometimes, it’s hard to blame them. The fear of abandonment is something that a lot of people have difficulty coping with. To make matters worse, I’ve also had run-ins with nurses who barely do the minimum required, are toxic, and have an apathetic mindset because they’re only on assignment for X number of weeks more. I like to refer to these people as those who “have to travel.” These are ones who need to keep moving in order to avoid getting in trouble or those who simply abuse their welcome. Unfortunately, the staff might have encountered one of these types of travelers as well.

By contrast, you have to show them that you’re someone who “likes to travel.” You’re someone who enjoys seeing different parts of the world and exploring. You’re someone who wants to get to know new people and learn about different cultures. You’re a nurse who is a problem solver, not a problem creator. You’re a nurse who likes to see new and different approaches to solving similar issues. You need to show them that you’re different because you’re a nurse who is willing to do their fair share and consider this unit and city their new home for as long as your contract outlines.

Always Look to the Pocketbook

The last and most obvious barrier is money. Pay packages are going to vary. That’s the truth of the matter. It all depends on the contract, city, season, severity of need, specialty, etc. Sometimes, travelers get paid more than permanent staff. Sometimes, the opposite is true. It all depends on the situation. If you’re in a desirable location or vacation spot, you could find yourself making significantly less than your permanent staff counterparts and that’s okay because the assignment in Hawaii or San Diego is definitely worth it. However, what’s important to note is that traveler base rates are almost never on par with those on permanent staff, but because the bulk of traveler paychecks can be in non-taxed stipends, travelers can come out ahead by keeping more of their check.

For whatever reason, there’s a lot of misinformation about how much travelers make and I’ve seen some permanent staff nurses act on this. For example, they’ll drop a heavy patient assignment in your lap and follow it up with the reasoning that it’s because “you make more money than us, so you’ll have to earn it.” If this is the mentality of your new unit, make sure it’s addressed promptly and professionally because it’s something that you can’t allow to fly. You’ll need to advocate for yourself and your patients. The load should be distributed evenly so that it’s a safe and fair shift for everyone. Again, this behavior is more on the extreme end of things and will not be present at many assignments. However, I felt it was necessary to inform you that it may be an unfortunate roadblock at some locations.

On the more common side of things, a question might be asked while sitting at the nursing station which goes something like, “You’re a traveler, so you guys get paid a lot, huh? Do you mind if I ask how much?” If you don’t want to talk about finances – and that’s okay because some people don’t – then you can politely decline. If that’s not something that’s awkward for you and you don’t mind having that discussion, go for it. Whatever you decide, just make sure you are respectful. The pay structure for travelers and permanent staff is very different, so you might also find that they’re more interested in learning about how you find housing, etc. instead of a line by line breakdown of your paycheck. If you have trouble explaining or need some help guiding the conversation, be sure to check out the post “How Pay Works”.

Conclusion

I’m sure there are a few other universal barriers that could be at fault here, but these are the ones that I’ve revisited over and over as I’ve brainstormed the issue and chatted with other travelers. If you’re looking to coast during your assignment and avoid the cold shoulder, you’ll definitely want to implement some of these strategies and address any obstacles that might stand in your way.

What other barriers or obstacles can you think of?

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