Life as an ICU RN Amidst COVID-19: A Travel Nurse Perspective

By TNAA

July 28, 2020

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Life as an ICU RN Amidst COVID-19

This article provided by TNAA.

The current healthcare climate has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. While the entire world shuffles redefining normalcy, healthcare workers continue to prove their crisis management skills. So, in the middle of a Global pandemic, what is it like to be an ICU travel nurse? One nurse, Ally F., describes it as being chaotic, and confusing. A time where relying on your team and staffing agency, whom you may have just met, is crucial.

Often times, hearing directly from the source is the easiest way to learn. So, we walked through several questions with Ally; and instead of creating our own version of what was said, we are sharing the answers directly with you.

What is it like working on a COVID-19 unit?

“Many units are different than others, but for the one I currently work in it’s like this: If I have a COVID-19 patient, before I enter the room, I don my respirator, safety glasses, face-shield, plastic gown (that’s like a sauna suit), and two pairs of gloves. I gather everything I might need prior to going in, and usually have a couple arms full of meds or supplies. You also have to be conscious of the supplies you take in, because if the patient happens to code and die, you have to throw away all of the supplies in the room. I wear an N95 with a simple mask covering it every shift, as well as a scrub cap.

Teamwork is what makes the dream work for sure in these units. Especially when in a code situation with limited people entering the room.”

How emotionally draining have the past few months been for you?

“Work is hard, but it’s work. Some days are harder than others. What’s hardest for me is to see the nation not caring about what is going on in hospitals. It’s exhausting trying to educate the community on mask-wearing, hand hygiene, social distancing, and vitamin use. People keep blaming politics or saying it’s their right not to wear a mask and I just think, “What about caring about your neighbor?”

How do you feel like your agency has supported you during COVID-19?

“I had an issue with a hospital that I felt as too unsafe for me to stay at, and after discussing with clinical, the decision was made to put in my two-weeks and terminate a contract early. As soon as we (my husband and I travel together) made the decision, our recruiter was on it trying to find us a new contract. The company has also done some Zoom calls with several travel nurses and part of the company team. It’s nice to feel supported and like someone has our back.”

How do you feel like your agency has supported you in your entire travel nursing career?

“My company is the BEES KNEES!! I’ve had issues in the past where I needed to talk to clinical for guidance or help on leaving a hospital when I felt things were too unsafe. I know going into a hospital that I have a whole team behind me who has my back and will support me and my decisions.

My paychecks are on time and correct. My recruiter is there to listen to me rant and help me find the best job fit for me. A clinical team to keep me safe. Housing to help me find housing when I can’t find it myself. And they have people who help them, help me!”

What is your biggest piece of advice to the travel nurse community?

“Be patient. The industry is going to wax and wane, hospitals aren’t going to be able to keep paying the crazy high crisis rates when they aren’t making money from elective cases. Take advantage of the high-paying jobs when you can, but don’t expect to keep seeing these crazy rates.”

What is your biggest piece of advice to someone wanting to start travel nursing right now?

“If you are looking to quickly pay off some debt now is great; but doing it long-term, prepare for the industry to wax and wane a bit. It will be tough mentally and physically, but I love it. Be flexible, many of these staff are struggling with working overtime so much and may be a bit jaded. If you’re thinking of just doing this for a bit, maybe look at staying PRN at your home hospital or leave yourself in good standing by putting in your two-weeks.

Another piece of advice: Try and travel with a buddy so you at least have one coworker you know and can rely on if you’re close to each other. This is also what happens when you’re with several other travel nurses, it’s an instant family-type connection.”

How has COVID-19 impacted your life, personally and professionally?

“I’m not normally an anxious person, but when I get out in public and see people without face coverings, it causes some real anxiety and makes me nervous. Personally, I miss friends and family. It’s so conflicting when trying to spend time with family outside of work. Luckily, when travel nursing, most of my friends are fellow nurses so it’s not quite so hard.

Professionally, when I was a new nurse, I was taught to NEVER close a door or curtains. Now, pretty much all of the doors are closed to maintain negative pressure. I also always wear an N95 and end up with a DTI at the end of a shift, even with using duoderm to protect my nose. Oh, and the acne! I think we all feel this one with the masks. I feel like my face has reverted back to the teenage years of hitting puberty after wearing my N95 all day.”

What is it currently like as an ICU travel nurse?

“IT’S SO CONFUSING! It’s chaotic, and you have to rely on teamwork. Many perm staff are so burnt out that it can sometimes be hard to find help, or they are so thankful to have you there. The work is hard…mentally and physically. Seeing young patients come in and die from something that we don’t know enough about. While at work previously, I would have my Hydroflask at my desk. Now, I chug 32oz of water on lunch just to keep hydrated. No water breaks or snack breaks to be had, unless it’s at lunch.”

What support do you feel like you need right now?

“I feel like the support I need is from the community to try and do their part to contain this virus as much as possible. I feel supported by my company, family, and friends.”

How do you cope with stress?

“I cope by taking my dog out for walks, hikes, and being outside. I also just started to crochet, so currently making a baby blanket for a friend. My other coping mechanism is just to talk with friends and coworkers. Everyone needs a good vent buddy.”

Travel nursing for any specialty requires a lot of flexibility right now, and that’s hard. Some specialties are seeing a decrease in work, while others are seeing fluctuating rates and critical needs. Contract length can also look different, many are seeing shorter contracts available. All of these changes make it important to communicate with your recruiter, and mentally prepare to be flexible in case a cancelation happens.

Thank you for all you do. No matter your specialty, regardless of if you are currently on assignment or not. You are part of the travel nurse community and you are appreciated.

Are you an ICU travel nurse or a nurse working with Covid patients? If you would like to share some of your experiences in COVID or ICU units comment them below.

Ally is an Arkansas native who has been with TNAA since 2015. Her travel nurse adventures have taken her across the US on 28 assignments, including Nevada, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and California… Ally became a nurse because she loves the opportunity to help others and put a smile on someone’s face even at their worst moments. Ally just spent three months in Maryland, where she had a life-altering experience due to working as an ICU RN during COVID-19. She is headed to California next month to continue working as an ICU RN alongside her husband, Zane, also an ICU RN. Together they have a dog, Tank, who enjoys after-shift cuddles and weekend hikes.

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