More than six months in with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all learned a lot about living, working, and adapting in a drastically changed world. Travel nursing by its very nature is a demanding calling, but no one could have imagined the personal and professional challenges nurses would face during the nation’s worst pandemic in a hundred years. Now that some of the dust has cleared, our valiant nurses have had time to reflect and report on what they have learned and experienced in the past few months. This post summarizes some of their observations.
Preparing for a COVID-19 Assignment — As a travel nurse, you’ve already mastered the art of preparing for an assignment. You know all about checking out the local features where you’ll be working, packing for the location’s climate, finding free-time recreational opportunities, and so on. To ready yourself to work in a COVID-19 hot spot — and anywhere during the pandemic — you’ll need to check the local precautions and regulations governing testing, public gatherings, mask-wearing, curfews, travel, and so on. Requirements and restrictions vary widely by state, even by county and municipality, so you’ll need to check various regulatory agencies for specific guidance (just Google <state name> health department for a start).
If you’re traveling to your assignment by air, your airline will provide specific instructions for the waiting area and the plane. For state-by-state general information on infection rates and fatalities, the CDC has a useful COVID Data Tracker, and another CDC website offers helpful information on traveling during the pandemic. CNN has compiled a list of state-by-state travel restrictions.
Working in PPE — Swathing yourself in layers of bulky gowns, hair coverings, booties, gloves, masks, and shields, for an entire shift is exhausting — and very, very hot. Of course, each hospital will have its own PPE protocol, so not all items will be required at all times. But staying cool is a must. If possible, start slowly wearing full PPE so your body can gradually adapt to a higher core temperature. If that’s not doable, drink iced fluids before donning your PPE, and drink cold fluids frequently while wearing PPE. Make sure your base clothing is wickable and try wearing reusable cold packs, ice vests, or other cooling materials or products underneath. Here’s an article with some helpful tips on keeping cool.
Caring for Patients Isolated from Families — So many of our nurses have told us how heart-wrenching it is to care for patients who are not only desperately sick, but alone, afraid, and separated from their families during their profound health crisis. These patients need but can’t have things as simple as handholding, smiles, or facial communication, and nurses are frustrated at being unable to provide these most fundamental elements of nursing care. Even more confusing, even frightening to the patient is the anonymity of health care workers all bundled up in their PPE. It must be a very surreal experience for the patient, mind already befuddled by the virus, to be unable to identify a favorite nurse in the ever-changing throng of people bustling around the bed.
Nurses are also in danger of compassion exhaustion from seeing so many patients so ill for so long, and too many dying alone with no loved ones present. On top of the work stresses, nurses may suffer emotional distress because of loneliness from enforced isolation and fear of transmitting the virus to elderly relatives and other family members. If you need tips for coping with the unique challenges of of providing care during the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage you to read this article from Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation.
Staying Healthy (or Getting Sick) —Even our most experienced travel nurses weren’t entirely prepared for the stress and enervation of working in a COVID-19 setting. In the tumult of a hospital in a pandemic, no one can count on regular breaks or meals — even sleep. That means you’ll need to be more attentive than ever to good nutrition and regular exercise, however out of reach both may seem. But it’s well known that physically fit people have greater resistance to infection, more stamina and endurance, and better heat tolerance, so make your personal health a priority too.
Your emotional health is equally important. It’s difficult to see patients in distress at any time, but losing so many so painfully can be devastating to a nurse. That’s why you must make an effort to stay connected to your own emotional support systems, family, friends, colleagues, and of course your advocates at Freedom Healthcare. And if the unthinkable happens and you yourself become ill with COVID-19 while on assignment, we are here for you to provide support to bring you back to health again. You will not be alone.