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How to Help Traveling Nurses Succeed at Your Hospital

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   August 23, 2021

The Princeton Baptist CNO, who knows firsthand what it's like to be a traveling nurse, makes travelers' well-being a priority.

As hospitals once again rely on staffing agencies to boost their nursing ranks as the COVID-19 Delta variant fills up beds, traveling registered nurses (TRNs) are returning to the road to fill the gaps.

Vandalyn “Van” McGrue, chief nursing officer of Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, understands firsthand the excitement, adventure, and good pay of being a travel nurse. She traveled for several years as a nurse and later as a director of operations for large dialysis companies.

Traveling let her see new places, experience cultural diversity, and expand her capabilities with a wide range of colleagues, she says.

"When you're traveling, you learn something new every day," she says.

But McGrue also knows the stressors and difficulties of the travel nurse: missing family and friends; finding a comfortable place to stay; adjusting to a hospital's unique protocols; and not having a familiar support system at hand, particularly in taking care of critically ill COVID-19 patients.

So, for TRNs at Princeton Baptist, McGrue makes their comfort and well-being a priority.

"I like to keep my pulse on them because I know how lonely it can be," she says.

McGrew had her nursing directors place invitations on their monthly and weekly calendars dedicating one-on-one time with the TRNs, she says.

"It wasn't to ask personal questions, but to find out in general how they were doing, and ask, 'What can I do to help?' We were keeping that touchpoint available and transparent," she says.

"You have to have good communication with travelers, because when they start at your facility, they don't know what they don't know, such as quirks of each physician," McGrue says. "There is not a lot of time to build those relationships, so we try to educate them to everything possible."

It's also crucial to have—and clearly communicate—an open-door policy, McGrue says.

Importance of Thorough Onboarding

Nurse leaders can also help travel nurses adjust to their new environment by providing effective onboarding to prepare them for safe patient care within the parameters of the hospital policies and procedures and nursing work environment, according to the study, Travel Nurse Onboarding: Current Trends and Identified Needs.

"Nurse leaders should share realistic descriptions of unit patient ratios and acuity level with TRNs. Such conversations can help to determine whether the TRN's background and skill will meet the needs of the unit," the study says.

Onboarding schedules should be sent to TRNs within one to two weeks before the start of a travel assignment because these nurses usually have only a matter of days to get to the next assignment, get set up in their new home, and complete required paperwork, the study advises.

When they arrive at their assignment, they should be given plenty of time to learn about unit routines and to practice with the EHR, the study says.

The TRNs who participated in the study identified three resources that enhance their onboarding, which, in turn, contributes to better job performance:

  1. An assigned experienced unit nurse to serve as an ambassador and resource person
  2. A photo directory of providers
  3. A list of essential contacts


Offering a personal touch

At Princeton Baptist, McGrue not only requires her directors to meet regularly with the TRNs, but she frequently checks in on them herself.

"Since I've been here, I've gone to the floors where the travelers are to meet them and establish rapport, and then I go back a couple weeks later to implement what I'm preaching," McGrue says. "We appreciate the help and I want them to feel like we have a family atmosphere here."

"The first time I did that, they said, 'Now who are you?' Now, they're used to me and look forward to my coming by," she says.

McGrue hopes that by creating a collegial, welcoming atmosphere, the TRNs know they can turn to their colleagues at Princeton Baptist when life on the road gets difficult.

"It seems like everything is so hard right now," she says, "and we can encourage [travelers] to take emotional care of themselves."

“I like to keep my pulse on them because I know how lonely it can be.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


The COVID-19 highly contagious Delta variant is filling up hospitals and creating severe nurse staffing shortages.

Traveling registered nurses (TRNs) are filling in some of the staffing gaps.

Effective onboarding and welcoming nurse leaders can help TRNS succeed at their assignment.

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