When Emergency Strikes: Dealing with a Crisis Situation as a Travel Nurse

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By TotalMed Staffing

September 14, 2018



When Emergency Strikes: Dealing with a Crisis Situation as a Travel Nurse

This article is sponsored by TotalMed Staffing.

If you’re a new nurse, it’s probably one of your worst fears. If you’re a seasoned professional, you’ve probably lived through it. A crisis strikes at work, and you and your team are no longer just playing nurses: you’ve got to be heroes.

Recent statistics show that the threat of emergency is very real.

  • Active shooter incidents in hospitals have increased to a rate of one per month.
  • There are close to 3,000 fires annually in healthcare facilities.
  • Nurses during Hurricane Katrina maintained patient care for days without access to air-conditioning, elevators, lights, or pumps.

Day-to-day nursing is already a brave and difficult job. Crisis situations will put you to the ultimate test.

Whether it’s a natural disaster, a human-made disaster, or a terrorist situation, there’s no denying a crisis will be an extraordinary challenge. You don’t have to be caught off guard, though. With preparation, you can be in a position to act quickly and effectively in the face of crisis. Here’s how.

Learn your hospital’s emergency protocol

When you start a new assignment, take steps to learn about your hospital’s protocol for handling emergencies. This may include several components:

  • Evacuation plans. These plans will give detailed information and instructions regarding procedures to follow during partial or full hospital evacuation.
  • Shelter-in-place information. If evacuation isn’t the safest option, your hospital will offer guidance on where and how to find shelter within the building.
  • Active shooter protocol. Most institutions currently follow a “run, hide, fight” rule for avoiding (and defending yourself from) active shooters. A hospital setting can greatly complicate this, as you’re caring for vulnerable patients. Participate in active shooter response training if it’s offered.
  • Preparation for mass casualties. Natural or human-made disasters cause surges in patients — many of whom will be in a critical state. Your facilities are likely going to be compromised during a disaster, making things even more difficult. Familiarize yourself with how to respond in a mass casualty situation.

Memorize emergency codes for your specific hospital; while some color codes are fairly universal, others can vary from hospital to hospital. Speak with superiors to confirm you’ve gotten all the information you need about crisis response at your hospital.

Complete extra training and educate yourself

While many nursing schools are beginning to incorporate disaster readiness training into the curriculum, it’s not always the rule. A survey of 348 schools from 2003 to 2013 found that only 53% offered training in disaster preparedness. If you feel you could benefit from more education in disaster response, there are many options:

  • The CDC provides a nearly comprehensive list of educational resources applicable to a wide range of emergencies.
  • The National Nurse Emergency Preparedness Initiative offers a free “Nurses on the Front Line” online course prepared by George Washington University. Those who complete the course receive a certificate.

You might also consider volunteering to gain experience.

  • Medical Reserve Corps is a network of local groups of volunteers who build community resiliency, improve emergency response, and more.
  • Look for volunteer opportunities with American Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency to gain firsthand experience in disaster response. In the event of a situation while you’re at work, knowing you’ve been involved in another crisis response can give you confidence.

Speak with seasoned nurses, too, to learn about the experiences they’ve gained during their careers. A fellow nurse can share helpful insights into the “real life” experience of a disaster. That could include the feelings they had, snap judgments they made, or mistakes they wish they’d avoided.

Prepare yourself

So you’ve learned your hospital policies and taken steps to educate yourself on disaster response. The final (and perhaps most fundamental) part of crisis readiness is being prepared personally. So what does that look like?

First, at home and work, make sure you have the items you need in an emergency. Stay stocked up on the essentials and invest in few helpful tools:

  • A portable flashlight. LED lights have greatly improved flashlight staying power. For ten dollars, you can buy a 2” x 1” mini flashlight with 30 hours of battery life. It’s small enough to stow in your bag all the time.
  • An emergency power USB hand crank. Keep this in a closet at home or in your car. You’ll be able to recharge your cell if needed.
  • Work gloves. Earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, and floods can shatter windows, bring down branches, and scatter other sharp objects. Keep a pair of work gloves on hand in the event you’ll need to clean them up.
  • A blanket. Store a heavy blanket in your car trunk. This will keep you warm if the power goes out and can also do double duty as a tarp.
  • Food and water. Store bottled water and canned food at your home or car in case of a natural disaster.

Consider downloading some disaster response apps. FEMA’s app gives you reliable emergency alerts and information, including what to do before, during, and after disasters. Some local areas have even created their own apps, such as Ready NYC and SD Emergency (San Diego).

A few final notes:

  • Remember that in a crisis situation, you and your teammates are going to depend on each other more than ever. Build camaraderie when you can. If you ever find yourself in a high-stress crisis situation, you’ll be glad you’ve built a solid foundation of trust.
  • Keep yourself in good health. Get regular sleep so that you’re physically and mentally prepared to go into high gear. Make sure to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, and keep yourself fueled with healthy foods.
  • If you don’t already practice mindfulness, it’s a good idea to look into that, too. Training your mind to be present and calm will help you stay focused and make good decisions under stress.

It’s true: the world can be scary, and disasters can strike anywhere, at any time. Armed with preparation and knowledge, though, you’ll be empowered to meet any crisis with strength and self-assurance.

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