It’s no secret that most nurses dislike floating. I can’t think of one nurse that has been happy to show up to work on their unit only to find they are being sent to another unit because it is short-staffed. However, you should always be prepared for the possibility of being pulled to another unit. If you are selected to float, don’t panic! While it can be challenging to be pulled to an unfamiliar unit, it can also be an opportunity for you to experience something new, or even to share your experience with others.
All facilities have varying policies and procedures when it comes to floating nurses between units. Generally speaking (but not always), you may be more likely to float at a smaller or privately-owned facility versus a federal or state facility. Some facilities will require agency nurses to float to other units, and some prefer to have their own staff nurses float rather than agency nurses, as they are more familiar with the facility in general. If you take a travel contract that dictates floating is a possibility, you may either end up not being floated at all or find that you are floated often (this is especially true for facilities that are heavily impacted by nursing shortages, local crises, or extreme weather events).
In my experience, pulling staff to a unit in need has been done in a few different ways, including asking for a volunteer, requiring all staff to rotate through, pulling the most experienced nurses, etc. One thing is for sure – if an agency nurse is available, he or she may be expected to float.
You can and should ask your recruiter whether you should expect to float or not BEFORE signing a travel contract, especially if you’re a new traveler or feeling very uncomfortable with the idea. Nurses can and do negotiate around this specific aspect of the contract (such as floating frequency or distance traveled if floating to another campus). However, the facility is within its right to counter or refuse to budge on its floating policy if they feel it’s incompatible with their needs or policy. Knowing your worth and negotiating a travel contract effectively is a necessary and valuable skill to have, but keep in mind that contract negotiation is a two-way street. Remember – they are relying on agency nurses to fill gaps in their staffing schedule, so some flexibility is expected on your end too. Your recruiter should be able to provide some insight into what the facility’s normal patterns are, or at the very least, help you find a different travel assignment with a floating policy that is more aligned with your situation.
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Of course, as a nurse, it is your responsibility to assess the acuity of the patients you are assigned. If you feel you lack the education and expertise necessary to care for a particular patient or group of patients, it is not just your right, but it’s your duty to speak up. For instance, it makes more sense for an ICU nurse to be floated to Med/Surg rather than being floated to an L&D unit. Maintain a positive, professional attitude, and notify your charge nurse or supervisor of your limitations. Together, discuss how you could adjust the assignment to better reflect your knowledge and skill level. Patient safety is the common goal, and nursing is a team effort. Remember, you were floated here because they need you, but your patient assignment should be that of similar acuity and complexity you have experience with. This is important for the sake of patient safety, your own safety, and the sake of protecting your nursing license.
If you happen to take a travel assignment at a hospital system with more than one location or campus, it is possible you’ll be asked to float to one of their other locations if a localized crisis or staffing shortage requires extra assistance from medical staff at nearby facilities. This typically doesn’t happen as often as being floated to different units within the same hospital, but it’s not unheard of. In fact, some travel assignments dictate the need for a clinician to float between facilities regularly or on a shift-by-shift basis, similar to a float pool nurse. One upside to this type of assignment is that pay rates tend to run slightly higher than average due to the extra demands placed on the clinician. If this is the case, it will be clearly disclosed and outlined as a requirement in the offer letter/travel contract. However, it’s never a bad idea to ask your interviewer or your recruiter specific questions about this if you have any before officially accepting the travel assignment.
Floating policies should be discussed during the interview process. If your interviewer doesn’t bring it up by the end of the interview, don’t be afraid to ask! The interview process is a two-way street; it is also your opportunity to ask questions about the assignment and facility to help you decide whether it’s a good fit. Just bear in mind that the possibility of being floated (or how often it ends up happening) is nearly impossible for any of the parties involved to prevent or predict with absolute certainty.
Assuming the unit a nurse is floating to is appropriate for their level of experience and skill set, floating can bring some positive opportunities. For some, it may be a chance to observe what another specialty looks like. Some nurses end up falling in love with a different specialty than the one they started with, and they never would have discovered it if they hadn’t been asked to help cover that unit in the first place. Even if you don’t wish to ever specialize in the unit you end up floating to, you can at least learn a new technique or different way of doing things if you keep an open mind. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one who gets the opportunity to do the teaching! Look for these experiences when you can, and don’t be afraid to ask if you can watch or assist.
Being floated doesn’t have to be a negative experience. The floor you’re being floated to will be glad to have your help, even if sometimes through their busyness they may not show it well. Show up with a smile, introduce yourself, and be ready to help. Always be conscious of your limitations and speak up if there is a concern for patient safety. Don’t be afraid to look for learning opportunities, and don’t be afraid to share what you know with others. You never know when you get a chance to learn something new you can add to your resume, or make a meaningful impact on someone you would not have had the opportunity to do without stepping just a little outside of your comfort zone.
Assistant Director of Nursing, Advantage Medical Professionals
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