On Temporary Co-Workers

As a travel nurse I work with all new people every 13ish weeks which presents some unique challenges. For instance, I am supposed to learn a new set of names at each job, and I am horrible with names and faces. Luckily healthcare is a profession where all of your colleagues wear name tags. I just have to be real discreet each of the 170 times I check the name badge of the nurse I’ve been working with all day.

But it’s not just names, I also need to know each person’s role. Are you the Doctor? Respiratory Therapist? One of the many supervisors who I report to, but who I will only meet once on my whole assignment? Transport? When someone asks me “Is there anything I can help with?” I have to pause and think, is there? Are they offering to start an IV or to clean up a room? Thankfully many hospitals have solved this with systems like badge buddies or color coded scrubs. Learning a new system every 13 weeks is marginally easier than attaching a name, a face, AND a role.

What I really want to know is not their name or what their scrub color means, but “What type of person is this?” What will it be like to work with this person for the next few months. When I meet the full time nurses at a new job, they generally fall into 2 categories:

1---The “Nice to meet you, I’m so-and-so, let me know if you need anything” Nurse

And 2--- The “Oh another traveler, good luck” promptly walks away Nurse.

Nurse 2 is obviously not ideal for the moment when I need to ask “where do I find the whatchamacallit?” --an inevitable question after my hasty half-day unit orientation. I get why Nurse 2 might dismiss me, there may be hospital drama or system wide changes that he or she will have to deal with indefinitely. I’m just passing through. But I am going to be on their team for that shift--and possibly dozens of others--for whatever daily hellstorm the ER is going to throw our way.

Just because Nurse 2 is less than enthusiastic about breaking the ice with me doesn’t mean s/he’ll be a bad teammate. Working in the ER, what I really want to know about my co-workers is “are you the kind of nurse that I should follow?”  

Let me explain, there is a general rule in emergency care that there is “no running.” I learned this early on in my EMS career. Running creates adrenaline and emergency workers need to be calm and cool headed, not hyped up. Running only serves to draw attention to yourself and frighten bystanders and patients. You may move rapidly and expeditiously, you may “walk with purpose” as my summer-camp health friends call it, but there is no running. If you run, you’re going to freak people out.

 ER nurses know the running rule. As a result, we are hyper-aware of the health care worker who is walking with purpose. When I see a colleague walking expeditiously to a room, I assume that something’s up, and I prepare myself to help. What I’ve noticed is that not all nurses, know when a situation calls for hasty walking.

I have seen many nurses walking with purpose into a room and I’ve followed assuming the worst only to find that nurse flustered over a completely stable patient. Before traveling I had a full time ER job and I got to know my colleagues well. One nurse had worked in that ER for longer than I’ve been alive and usually shuffled around like she was taking a leisurely sunday stroll. The 2 times I saw her move with purpose a true emergency ensued and I was glad that I followed behind her and was there to help.

Another nurse ( also with many years of experience) seemed to panic at the slightest provocation. I quickly learned after following him several times that he could be driven to walk with purpose by a minor nosebleed or a chipped nail. I stopped following him.

Now as a traveler I frequently see my colleges moving with purpose and I follow not knowing if a true emergency awaits me in the room or a patient is in need of a tissue. I’ve learned that one nurse’s idea of an unmanageable day could be another nurses idea of normal--it really depends on what each nurse has seen and what they’re used to.


Traveling has allowed me to see lots of different hospital systems, patient demographics, and levels of acuity. It’s underscored for me how important good co-workers can be to a travel experience. From day one, I try to be the colleague who is calm in all situations, because it’s way more helpful to have a calm nurse who has no idea where any supplies are rather than the nurse who designed the ER and is in a total panic. t