How do You Treat “Pulled Unit Nurses”?

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At RTConnections, I help individuals and organizations create nurturing and supportive work environments. I do this through keynote presentations, seminars/workshops, and some consulting. I’m also a speaker for several large national education/professional nursing organizations, teaching clinical courses for them. To make sure I keep my “toe dipped in the water” I decided several months ago to go back into clinical practice. It had been 8 years since I independently cared for a patient assignment and 2 years since I had exposure to an acute care environment. It was a credibility thing for me. I can’t TEACH clinical topics if I’m not still CLINICAL!

I’m currently working casual on a neuro-trauma step-down unit. I have a background in neuro (used to be a Stroke Coordinator) and have always worked step-down. WOW!! The clinical environment is definitely getting more and more complex and I’ve found myself feeling like an amateur nurse again. Each day I work is another learning challenge (how do I get a missing med from pharmacy???), another opportunity for me to keep up with my skills, and a chance to see what it’s really like for nurses in clinical practice. Although I’m lucky to work with some amazing, supportive nurses….Geesh!! It’s crazy out there!!!

Each time I work, I’m a bit apprehensive. What type of assignment will I have? Who will I be working with? Will they put me in the step-down pod or will I be on the progressive care side? Will I be able to handle these patients today?… on and on.

These thoughts ran through my head as I walked into the nurses’ station this past Saturday. I looked at the assignment sheet but didn’t see my name. Then the charge nurse said something to me that shook me to my core. “Oh. You got pulled to another unit.” WHAT????? I’m barely able to keep up with my responsibilities on THIS unit – now you want to throw me onto a different unit??? (All of this said of course with my inside voice). I gently reminded the charge nurse that I had only worked 5 shifts independently and did she think that sending me was a good idea. She said sorry and reassured me that I would be okay. She said that the unit they were sending me to was a short stay unit and that it was a “nice” place.

I took a deep breath, acted “as if” I was confident in my ability to work on a completely different unit even though I still didn’t know what I was doing on my HOME unit, and walked the “green mile” to the other unit. On the way, I couldn’t help but think….. I know what happens to agency nurses, float pull nurses and travel nurses – they typically get the worst assignments and are treated like lepers by EVERYONE! I braced myself as I walked on the unit.

The first person I met greeted me with a smile and said, “Are you Renee?” When I said yes, she smiled and said, “Welcome. Hey Kara, Renee’s here.” Kara, the charge nurse came out of the break room with a big smile and said, “Yay!! You’re going to love it here today. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure you have a good day.”

In that moment with the nurses and unit secretary/nursing assistant smiling and welcoming me, I took my first breath since leaving my home unit. It was going to be okay.

What started out as potentially the worst day turned out to be the best day I had since going back into clinical practice. Here’s what they did to make that happen:

  • Everyone introduced themselves to me with a smile and welcomed me to their unit.
  • They took me on a tour of the unit – showed me where I could eat, drink and go to the bathroom.
  • Ruth, the nurse who gave me report, went out of her way to make sure she set me up for success. She got my med cart set up, stocked it with everything I needed, put extra bags of IV fluid in each patient’s room and told me specifically who to call if I needed anything for each patient.
  • Throughout the day the charge nurse (Kara) kept checking with me and asking me if I needed anything. Oh, I did and she enthusiastically helped me. I never felt like I was a bother even though I tortured her with questions.
  • In the afternoon, Kara told me I was getting an admission. Ugh. I was just starting to get caught up! While taking care of my other patient, my admission came. When I finally asked about my admission I found out that Rachel, the other nurse I was working with, already got my new patient settled, checked vital signs, got her hooked up the monitor and let the physicians know she was there. Really? Really? Yep.
  • Diane, the unit secretary/nursing assistant/amazing human – went out of her way throughout the day to keep my patients clean and safe. Seriously…how many times can one patient pull out his IV and bleed EVERYWHERE??? Each time, Diane was right there.

If this experience sounds fake or unrealistic, then you are not working in a nurturing and supportive environment. Because, this is how it should be every shift, every day, every time. Why? Not only did I benefit from the way they treated me but ultimately – the patients benefited. This group of people worked together as a team because they get it. There is no way we can keep up with the complexities of our ever-changing healthcare environment unless we see ourselves as a team.

I can’t thank them enough for welcoming me; supporting me, and helping me care for their patients. It was an honor and privilege working with them.
The next time a nurse or nursing assistant gets pulled to your unit, treat him/her the way I was treated. Go out of your way to help this person succeed. Not only is it the right thing to do for each other but the right thing to do for the patients we serve.

This is how it’s done! Kudos.

Thanks for reading this rather lengthy blog post. I’d love to read your comments about how you treat “pulled people” to your unit.

ReneeThompson_013_HRThanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected!


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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations who want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day. If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website

Contact Renee today at to bring her to your organization to talk about ending the cycle of nurse bullying.

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