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Travel Nurse Perspective: How to resolve conflict

May 8, 2013

As with most industries, travel nursing may involve some level of conflict with other co-workers while on the job. This can happen mostly because of the nature of the job – travel nurses are new and the current permanent staff is unfamiliar with them. This being said, most times it is possible to come to a peaceful resolution. Read on as seasoned nurse traveler Candy Treft aka The Gypsy Nurse, tells you her advice and experiences about overcoming conflict as a travel nurse:

In nearly nine years as a travel nurse, what sort of conflicts have you been a part of (or seen)?

Travel nurses experience many of the same conflicts that any nurse (or employee) would encounter.  Examples of common workplace conflicts would include:

  • Interpersonal

  • Ethical

  • Managerial

In addition to the common workplace conflicts, travel nurses specifically encounter conflicts related to some common misconceptions related to travel nursing, including:

  • Pay vs. Assignment loads - Many times, the hospital staff feels as if the travel nurse is making much higher pay than they are so, therefore, they feel as if the travel nurse should have to work harder.  This may result in the travel nurse always being assigned the toughest patient loads, the most difficult patients or the sickest patients. 

  • ‘We do it better’ attitude - Hospital staff may have the belief that they do ‘it’ (procedure/etc.) the only way or the ‘best’ way possible.  As a travel nurse, having seen processes performed in many different ways, sometimes it’s difficult not to recommend a better way to do something.  By recommending a ‘better’ way to do something, this is sometimes misconstrued as an insult to the facility staff. 

  • Scheduling - Many times, the facility has an attitude of ‘you’re here to fill the holes.’  This can result in chaotic schedules, shifts, etc. 

Why do you believe these conflicts start in the first place?

I believe that a large part of these conflicts arise from simple misconceptions related to the travel nursing industry. Part of what hopes to accomplish is to educate not only travel nurses, but facilities as well as staffing agencies in hopes of minimizing these misconceptions.  I address many of these items on via “Top 10 Things a Travel Nurse Should Never Say” blog.

How did you try to resolve these issues? Were they actually resolved?

When attempting to resolve some of these issues, I would recommend that the travel nurse start by analyzing him/herself and any statement/comment that they have made.  Moderating your own statements/conversations is important as a travel nurse.  Make sure that you aren’t offending the facility/staff by your statements. 

It’s also important to realize that some conflicts will not be resolved; it takes both parties to be willing to resolve the conflict in order to resolve it.

Obviously every conflict is different. What steps would you recommend handling a conflict before it gets to the point where it can’t be resolved?

I would recommend that the travel nurse follow these steps in attempting to resolve conflicts:

  • First, determine if the conflict is even worth dealing with.  Sometimes, the conflict is negligible enough that it isn’t worth addressing for a 13-week or less assignment. Ex:  “I know that I am going to be assigned the worst/most difficult patients.  I personally choose to accept this as long as patient safety is not compromised.” 

  • ​If you feel that the conflict needs to be addressed, I would recommend that you first speak to the person in conflict and address it in a way that emphasizes how this affects ‘you’ and provide a possible solution. Ex: “When I am not given days off in a row, it effects my sleeping habits and makes me less productive.  I know that my position here is to assist the facility in meeting its staffing needs and I would like to meet these needs to the best of my ability. I feel that scheduling me every other day is counter-productive to this end. Could we possibly look at a schedule that would accommodate both of our needs?” 

  • If you feel that the conflict results in a patient safety issue, it needs addressed immediately. Speak to the person directly involved as soon as possible (using the same ‘I’ statements as above).  If this does not resolve the issue, go up the administrative ladder until the issue is addressed appropriately and resolved.

Anything else to add?

  • Make certain that you keep your Travel Nurse recruiter in the loop with any conflicts detailing what the conflict is and steps you have taken to resolve the conflict. 

  • If you cannot resolve the conflict utilize the resources available via your recruiter/staffing agency and get them involved. Many travel nurse staffing agencies have a nurse liaison on staff for just this reason. 

  • Know the scope(s) of practice in the state you are working in.  Sometimes, the conflict is simply a lack of understanding of each types of staff members (CNA, LPN, etc) scope of practice.

As a travel nursing educator, Candy Treft aka Gypsy Nurse, RN has worked in healthcare for nearly 20 years. During that time, she has worked up the ranks from CNA to LPN to RN. For nearly nine years, she’s worked as a travel nurse, allowing her to practice and live in 15 states throughout the U.S., and even one year in Germany for the Department of Defense. She regularly shares advice for those interested in travel nurse jobs on her website at: 

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