Dealing With a Nightmare Nursing Assignment


Posted to Nursing, Nursing Jobs, Permanent Placement, Travel Nursing, Travel Nursing

Dealing With a Nightmare Nursing Assignment

What happens when you encounter a nightmare nursing assignment? Whether you are a travel nurse or this is a permanent job, you may not be able to run screaming from the building never to return. So what can you do?

First off, take a deep breath and remember that you are a professional, If possible, leave the building, or at least the unit, for a few minutes to help clear your head. Perhaps the best you can do is retreat to the bathroom. Mentally punch a few walls and then try to decipher what just happened.

The most important thing is to make sure that your own patients are well cared for. If your issue is with another staff member, avoid him/her by spending more time with your patients.

If the issue is with a patient or family member, you can first try killing them with kindness while you make sure their needs are met, and then avoid them by spending more time with your other patients.

Let your nurse manager know what’s going on so that s/he can back you up and isn’t blindsided by complaints. Let him/her know that you’re trying to work this out, but need a little break from the situation. Perhaps s/he can offer some assistance.

Approach the situation using your critical thinking and problem solving skills. Try to step back and not let your emotions take precedence. Use the Nursing Process to assess, diagnose and create a plan to deal with the situation. It may take some time and require small but steady steps to make it work.

Some of the the things you need to consider include:

  • Is this something you can fix by yourself?
  • Do you need some advice, help or support from others to implement your plan or to make it work?
  • Is this a personality conflict?
  • Is this an issue of patient safety or quality of care?
  • Has there been some misunderstanding? How can you clear up the issue?
  • What can you do to avoid this problem in the future?

If this is your permanent job, you should speak to your nurse manager and decide together what can be done to improve the situation. Don’t go to him/her pointing fingers, go seeking assistance in solving a problem.

If you are a travel nurse, you may also need to consider whether the problem stems from being the traveler who “makes the big bucks and has all the perks?” If this is the core of the issue, you need to discuss this with your nurse manager and figure out how to turn this around.

Travel nurses are brought in to help reduce a specific nursing shortage situation and it’s up to the nurse managers in that facility to help permanent staff to understand this and to appreciate the help; not resent it, or to abuse a fellow nurse for accepting this role. Management needs to set the tone.
Travel opportunities are open to all nurses and just because someone does not take that option should not give them reason to resent or mistreat those who do. We all know that that isn’t the way it usually works, but travelers need to stand up for themselves and hold nurse managers and administrators responsible to set a positive tone about using travel nurses in their facilities.

The situation should also be brought to the attention of your recruiter. Hopefully it an be resolved without having to involve the recruiter, but s/he should be aware of the situation and it’s resolution for future reference.

If the situation can’t be resolved, or not to your complete satisfaction, you will just have to complete the assignment and/or make plans to move on as soon as you can. Put your focus on the positive aspects of this and learn something from it.

Understand the situation and look for something where you can avoid this situation in the future. Also count down the days left so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Remain professional and continue to provide the best possible care for your patients.

By Kathy Quan RN BSN. Kathy is the author of The Everything New Nurse Book and owner/author of

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