How Travel Nurses Can Protect Themselves From Bullying

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travel nurse protect against bullyingTravel nursing seems so glamorous and adventurous, especially to newer, younger nurses who may not have the responsibilities of a family yet. In fact, I’ve talked with many aspiring nurses whose goal is to get their 1-2 years experience so they can travel across the country as a travel nurse.  And why not? Typically, travel nurses are paid well, their apartments and transportation are paid for and some agencies give their nurses a stipend for food. Yep. Sounds like too good to be true, right?

Here’s the untold secret that some travel agencies don’t want you to know…

Travel nurses are often the targets of bullying and incivility.

Donna is on a new travel assignment in the Emergency Room of a big city hospital. On her second day, Donna was given 6 patients although the nurse patient ratio was 4:1. She over heard the charge nurse say, “She makes the big bucks. Give her more and give her the worst [patients].”

Tiffany took her first travel assignment at a Level 1 trauma center on a cardiac medsurg unit. Right away Tiffany got the sense that she was an outsider. Nobody welcomed her, talked to her, or relieved her for lunch.  When Tiffany would ask questions, the staff would either sigh and roll their eyes or just walk away.  During her entire 8 weeks, she never met the manager.

Unusual or common practice?

According to a recent study at Careggi University Hospital in Florence, prevalence of workplace incivility among nurses ranged from 68% – 90% while bullying prevalence showed a much broader range from 3% – 81%. However, even though there is a lack of research to identify prevalence of workplace bullying and incivility among travel nurses, if you’re a travel nurse, you don’t need a study to validate that travel nurses are often the targets of nasty behavior.

If you’re a travel nurse, you know…

I’ve heard nurses actually say, “Well, they make the big bucks (travelers/agency), give them the worst patients.”

I’ve heard countless stories of nurses who just because they work for an agency, are treated terribly by other nurses.

  • If someone has to float to another unit, it’s always the travel nurse.
  • They typically work the shifts nobody else wants (holidays and weekends)
  • They get the worst patient assignments, are excluded, ignored

I actually observed an online discussion about bullying towards agency or traveling nursing and was appalled at some of the responses. One nurse said, “Well, they [travel nurses] should expect to get the worst assignments. They know that going into the position.” Another said, “They should get the worst patients. After all, that’s why they get paid the big bucks.”

Disclaimer: Not all nurses treat travel nurses this way but treating them like gum on your shoe is more common than not.

Seriously? Should how much money someone makes determine what assignment they get? It’s ludicrous when you really think about it.

We need to stop treating any nurse, agency or not, big money, less money, etc. with cruelty. The way we treat one of us (all nurses) affects all of us.

If you’re working or thinking of becoming a travel nurse, that’s great!!! It’s an amazing opportunity so I hope this article didn’t discourage you. Like with any new adventure, you need to prepare for the challenges you’ll face along the way.

Tips to prevent and address any incidents of workplace bullying or incivility.


Although you may just want to get through the assignment without ruffling any feathers, it’s important that you address any incidents of disruptive behaviors as they occur.  When we ignore behaviors, we condone them. Here are a few simple ways you can confront disruptive behaviors in an honest and respectful manner.

#1 – Name it

“I just saw you roll your eyes at me.”

“I just heard you tell the charge nurse to give me more patients.”

“You are yelling at me in front of other patients.”

Whatever they are doing – name it.

#2 – Script it

If you’re like me and someone says something really rude, especially in front of other people, you don’t know how to respond. You freeze or worse, say something stupid. But the next day in the shower…you can think of all sorts of things to say!! That’s why scripting is so helpful. Here are a few of my favorites:

Help me to understand…why you’ve assigned me 2 more patients than everyone else

I’ve offended by that comment. Click here to watch a video about this powerful script.

I’m concerned about…

Identify the behavior, choose an appropriate script, and use it in the moment.


If existing staff are treating you poorly, START DOCUMENTING your experiences. Keep a small notebook with you and write down dates, times, witnesses, verbatim comments, and any behaviors you believe constitute bullying or uncivil behavior.


Chances are, if you’re being treated terribly by the existing nurses, they’ve treated other travel nurses before you terribly too. Typically, nobody says anything. They just bide their time until their assignment is over. Thus, perpetuating this as the norm for the next group. Start speaking up!  Tell your employer about how you are being treated and ask them to intervene – not only on your behalf, but on behalf of all travel nurses.

Bullies count on you to be passive – don’t be.

Travel nursing can be an amazing opportunity!! Don’t let a few hatters stop you from enjoying all the benefits of travel nurse adventures. Take action instead.

If you’ve experienced disruptive behaviors as a travel nurse, I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below, or you can email me at [email protected]

Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.

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