My Experience as a Travel Nurse During COVID19

I had the opportunity to work as a travel nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic at two very well-known hospital systems in California and had two very different experiences at each one. I will keep both hospitals nameless, of course! I also want to mention that this is coming from my personal experience and no one else’s. Here’s what happened…

I was hired at both hospitals as ‘float pool,’ in other words, wherever they needed me. Let’s be honest there is always a need on COVID units. In the beginning, there was much unknown, which added to my fear and anxiety. Moving through it, like the rest of the world, I learned more and began feeling more comfortable from a clinical standpoint. This led me to the big question and concern of hospitals about PPE…

Hospital A was extremely high-acuity, with limited PPE, which made me very uncomfortable. Not only were they short on PPE, but we also had NO hand sanitizer & NO wipes to clean our equipment correctly. I understood this seemed to be a national issue; however, this was THE hospital to work at. They were always bragging about how prestigious they were and how much money they had. It did not sit well with me, but I was torn; I felt like the patients needed me. I mean, that is what we do it for, especially during these unprecedented times. I had a sense of pride and ownership amidst the pandemic, as many of my colleagues felt. We were all in this for the greater good and genuinely trying to save lives.

I kept all of that in my mind, shift after shift until I reached my breaking point. One night I came on to the COVID unit, and let’s say “stuff” got real. I reached for my little PPE goodie bag as I always do, and the charge nurse pulled it back. I thought, that’s weird. She responds, “Oh, you’re in the float pool; your bag is over here.” So once again, not fully caffeinated, nothing is registering yet. Then I open the bag and realize I have one surgical mask and some shoe covers. Then I am thinking, oh hell no, what is in the “staff” bags? So I reach across the desk and open one! They have a surgical mask, an N95, and not one but TWO hand sanitizers. I immediately went into a fight or flight mode and felt my blood pressure rising. What is this?! Are we any less of nurses if we pursue a career in travel nursing or are members of the float pool?!?! 

I took a few deep breaths, spoke with the house supervisor, received adequate PPE, and continued with my shift, but man, I was angry! Shortly after I put in my notice, I found a new higher-paying contract with much better working conditions. Let’s say Hospital B does it right! 3:1 ratios and unlimited PPE regardless if you are staff, traveler, or in the float pool. 

Never settle for less; you always have options and choices. You worked so hard (or are working hard) towards becoming a nurse. Do not tolerate poor working conditions! I will also leave you with this; you cannot take care of others if you do not take care of yourself!

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  1. It can be super difficult walking away from poor situations due to guilt! Nurses are often expected to sacrifice health, safety and satisfaction for the good of the patients. How can we reconcile our own needs with the needs of our patients and peers?