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How a traveler can feel like one of the team

Group of skiers pose for photo in front of mountains

Veteran travel nurse Bob Goldnetz shares his advice on how to integrate yourself into the team on your new assignment.

Starting an assignment and joining a new team can be intimidating. Many hospitals have their own culture, and many units have their norms and cliques. How does a traveler — a stranger, a name on the schedule sheet — come to be a unique, accepted, and supported member of the unit?

All in all, as in many aspects of life, I believe the easiest way is to do more than less. Put yourself out there to stand with your peers instead of apart. Although you may only be there for a few months, it doesn’t take long to be one of the travelers they will never forget.

Lend a hand

Three skiers pose for photo on slope

My first job as a nurse was working on a MICU in a level 1 trauma center. The unit was large, the patients were sick, and many days were non-stop busy from start to end. That said, there was a culture of teamwork the unit was proud of and I have taken this mindset with me to this day.

Whenever you got caught up with work or had downtime, it was expected that you would offer assistance to others in the unit. I don’t mean simply being available to be delegated to, but actively seeking out opportunities to help your peers. If you’re not having “one of those days,” there is a chance someone else is.

Now, when I am on an assignment, if I have “free time” and my duties to my patients are done, I always try to take a lap, walk around the unit, and help others. Whether it’s a quick turn, passing meds, or helping with some ADLs, saving your buddy a mere five minutes can drastically improve their day.

Sometimes help isn’t task-based, but can just be a thoughtful word, spending time with a patient, or being an extra pair of eyes and ears. Several times I have been walking around poking my head into rooms and have seen a potential extubation, near fall, or something not quite right. Nursing is a 24-hour job, and often we must delegate. We have all had those shifts that are thirteen hours where you can never eat, drink, or sit, while sick patients require constant intervention and attention. It’s nice when it’s not your shift going like that and you’re able to help out someone whose shift is.

Do more than less, build some karma, people will remember. In the future, when it is you with the rough, never-ending day, your new peers will be reminded of the time when you previously saved them. This is easy to say, and harder to perform, especially on that last hour, after report, hand swiping down to clock out, and you’re passing a call light for a patient requiring assistance.

Get to know them

Two men dance at a wedding

What you put in is what you will get out. You don’t have to be buddy-buddy with everyone on the floor, and you will come across people you don’t vibe with. But make an effort to get to know your co-workers — it’s amazing what you can learn in a five-minute conversation. You never know what commonalities you’ll share with someone. For example, once on a new assignment, after taking the initiative to strike up a conversation with a nurse, within a couple minutes we found we had very similar interests. As a result, we took some outdoor recreation trips and became fast friends. A couple months later, I went to his wedding, where I met other nurses and his friends, with whom I later met up with in Denver. I have made ski and hiking buddies or made friends of friends who were once strangers and a name on the report board.

On the other hand, people have bad days, and you never know when a peer needs support. While we’re at work, we’re seen as the caregivers. We’re supposed to be on point, have all the answers, and provide the solutions. We all have our own families and an entirely different aspect of life separate from our employment. Unfortunately, our own life concerns or problems occurring outside of work do not register to our patients and their family members. Although we try, it’s not always possible to leave them in the parking lot. Be there for each other, we are all in this together.

Don’t be afraid to share what you know

Another way to be an asset to the team is to take advantage of the chance to teach or share your experience when the opportunity arises. As travelers it is common to hear, “the time for learning is over.” Although I learn new things every shift, I am expected to show up on assignments and perform efficiently, safely, and expertly in the field. I don’t know everything, in fact, there is much more I don’t know than I do know. While that is true, I have been around a bit and spent time in many specialties. In this aspect, I believe I have some tips and tricks to share.

As travelers we are adaptable and retain a diverse knowledge. I enjoy the opportunity to help out or teach on some topics — whether it’s helping out with an unfamiliar charting system, new equipment, or general tips and tricks of the trade. One place I worked was changing over to new IVs. I was familiar with the brand as I had utilized them on previous assignments, so it was nice to be able to offer some pointers to a staff that had made me feel so welcome. 

Join in the traditions

Man holds a cake in front of the camera

A lot of the time you don’t need to make a grandiose gesture to have an impact on the staff. In fact, sometimes it’s being part of the little things that stand out. Many units have quirks or traditions, so be a part of them. One of my favorites was on a job in Alaska, where after working Friday’s night shift, that Saturday morning we would get fresh baked scones and bacon! Sometimes people make coffee runs. I understand we’re here to make money but offer to be a part of that. Maybe once, pick up the tiny tab for coffees.

I worked in a unit that had a core night shift every 3rd Tuesday, so every 3rd Tuesday they did a potluck. I made sure to be part of it, even if I only brought a vegetable tray. Many of these participations and efforts led to being included in festivities outside of work.

Don’t want to meet people from work outside of work? No worries, you don’t have to, but this created an easy way to get on with the staff, get some local pointers, and be part of a community. A lot of the time, whether it’s a holiday, celebrating an achievement, a fundraiser, or a hospital event that’s for camaraderie and moral, put a little effort in and you won’t regret it. I cannot put into words how touched I was when on my last night of my first assignment the unit threw me a surprise party complete with cake and ice cream!

Again, all in all, try to do a little more than less. The staff will notice your efforts and they will appreciate it. We come in to fill holes and help out. A lot of the time, the staff are feeling burned out, so a new face with a great attitude is most welcome. Step by step, you’ll quickly find your assignment is coming to a close and you aren’t trying to be part of a team, but you’ve become a member of the unit family.

RELATED: How to get the most out of a travel nursing assignment

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About the author

Bob Goldnetz

Bob Goldnetz is an ICU travel nurse whose goal is to follow his hobbies across the world and experience as many cultures, cuisines, and cups of coffee along the way as he can. When he’s not taking care of patients, he’s probably traveling abroad or out-of-cell-service backpacking, snowboarding, skiing, surfing, mountain biking, paragliding, or rock climbing.


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