In our recent COVID-19 Travel Nursing Pulse Survey Report, we found that one of the biggest challenges that frontline travel nurses face during the pandemic is uncertainty and constant change.
Even nine months into the pandemic, travel nurses are facing constant policy changes, ever-developing best practices, and daily adjustments to safety protocols.
And though there’s more help for relief in the near future, travel nurses still have a long road ahead before the end of the pandemic. Cases continue to rise across the country, overburdening the healthcare system. Political deadlock can impact how information reaches healthcare workers. And the vaccine, when it comes, though it will bring hope and relief, will also bring a lot of big question marks in terms of distribution.
So, we put together this guide of collected advice from travel nurses, healthcare experts, and other thought leaders on how to best cope with the constant uncertainty and change in travel nursing right now.
1. Accept the uncertainty.
As a travel nurse, you are likely well-versed in a lot of uncertainty, even before the pandemic. You have practice — going to new places, meeting new patient populations, following the less-certain path than your staff nurse peers.
So you likely have experienced this yourself in less trying times: if you fight against the uncertainty, try to fill in the answers that just aren’t knowable, you’ll find yourself struggling.
Studies show that, when presented with the option between a predictable shock and an unpredictable shock, lab rats consistently chose the predictable shock. That means that the animals would rather reliably be shocked than face the uncertainty of possibly being shocked.
The same can be true of our anxious minds. Rather than choosing the risks of accepting uncertainty, our minds often pick the reliable shocks: worrying, attempting to predict the future, and anticipating the worst-case scenarios.
So, accepting uncertainty isn’t easy, but it is possible. And effective: a recent study found that doctors who were more tolerant of uncertainty were less likely to experience workplace stress. Jack Nitschke, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, describes now neuroscience gives us a clue on how to reach acceptance:
“The idea here is to link uncertainty to acceptance rather than to danger,” Nitschke says. When you think of uncertainty as a danger, you build up neural connections that support this association, he says. The better thing to do is build neural connections that help you associate uncertainty with an “acceptance that the future is unknowable, sometimes bringing good outcomes and sometimes bad, which we generally can’t do much about and usually get through.”
2. Focus on what you can control.
Though a lot is out of your hands as a travel nurse, there’s also plenty you can control. Focusing on the places where you do have agency — and can make a difference — can help build resilience in facing the stress, demands, and fatigue of nursing during the pandemic.
It can be helpful to list the things you can’t control and the things you can control. For example, you can’t control the weather, policy changes at the hospital, or other people’s health decisions. You can control your thoughts, your actions, and your behaviors.
3. Establish a self-care routine.
Travel Nurse Jennifer Klein says that working too much is a recipe for burnout. “In our career, it’s really important to decompress. If you’re just working and going back home and going back to work, you’re going to get burned out.”
The American Psychological Association agrees — they suggest establishing a routine, even within the pandemic chaos. “Focus on the things that are within your control, even if it’s as simple as weekly meal planning or laying out your clothes the night before a stressful day. Establish routines to give your days and weeks some comforting structure.”
Though you may not be able to structure your workday in predictable ways, you can anchor your time on the floor with healthy routines at home.
4. Reach out.
In the pandemic, even when you are working with other people day in and day out, it’s easy to think that you’re alone. You may rush through your day in a series of obligations and emergencies, without ever really checking in with people who care about you. And now more than ever, many nurses are isolated from their friends and families, quarantining for safety and doing in on their own.
The strangeness of the pandemic has brought people’s walls down, so it’s also a great opportunity to expand your support network, make new friends online, and reach out to people you might never have before.
“Connect with other nurses,” said Klein. “Facebook has different travel nursing groups based on area . . . I’ve met complete strangers and made lifelong friendships.”
Looking for more on how to make it through the pandemic as a travel nurse? Check out our COVID-19 Travel Nursing Pulse Survey Report.