Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee—was the famous fighter talking about boxing or the skills of a float nurse? Float nurses are one of the common types of travel nurses that must be able to switch between departments gracefully and make a meaningful impact on their patient care.
For every hospital or healthcare system, float nurses are a necessity. To deal with staffing shortages and low census, hospitals will move nurses to various units as needed, or rely on a float pool of available nurses. Addressing floating and patient safety often goes hand in hand because it helps facilities maintain the right nurse-to-patient ratios through the following:
- Some hospitals ask permanent nurses to float to different units because of shortages in other departments or internal structural changes.
- Some facilities create float pools of nurses hired exclusively to float between units as needed. That way, hospitals can keep staff turnover low and satisfaction high.
- Some nurses choose to become travel float nurses, which involves temporarily filling nursing positions across different hospitals through an independent staffing agency.
As with everything, the good and bad are often intertwined—there’s always a way to find a pro within a con if you know where to look.
Con: Lack of Control Over Assignment
The very basis of float nursing is that you’ll be assigned wherever you’re needed most. Whether that’s as an ICU nurse, NICU nurse, or serving as a travel nurse, a float position fills a need wherever it is crucial.
Your daily travel assignment can differ drastically depending on whether you’re a float nurse within a specific hospital or a more extensive city-wide network. You might even work for one hospital in the morning and another across town in the afternoon. You don’t always get a say in what specialty, doctor, or location you’ll be assigned to.
However, it’s important to remember that you can always say no to an assignment. If you’re not comfortable in a specific unit, such as med-surg (medical-surgical), the ICU (intensive care unit or critical care unit), or labor and delivery, it’s much safer for everyone involved that you decline the patient assignment rather than risk a patient’s well-being just to prove yourself. Being an ICU float nurse can be especially tricky if you have no prior experience.
Don’t worry about frustrating your nurse manager—they’d be much more upset if something were to go wrong because of your limited experience in that specialty.
Pro: Flexibility in Scheduling
You may not always know where you’re going, but you usually have some say over when you go there. Every facility is different, but many hospitals allow their float nurses to dictate aspects of their schedule—like dates and times—they’re available to work. You might also get to decide which holidays you can take off and whether you take on eight or 12-hour shifts.
The flexibility of your schedule might also depend on which float nursing system you’re working under:
- Full-time or part-time – You’ll be guaranteed a certain number of hours per week and may be placed on a more permanent schedule (for example, always working the same days each week), or it may change from week to week. It’s reassuring to be guaranteed a certain number of hours, but you may have less flexibility.
- Per diem – This means you’ll work “as needed.” You may hardly work at all one week, then work more hours than a full-time nurse the next—it all depends on the hospital(s) you work for. You won’t always know your shifts ahead of time, and that can make it a bit harder to schedule other commitments.
Con: Giving “Bad Assignments” to Floating Nurses
When it comes to hospital staff hierarchy, always being the newest member of the team means you have the least seniority. Because of this, some of the least desirable tasks and patients may be assigned to you.
However, this nursing practice differs from hospital to hospital, and even within each unit based on your nurse manager. In fact, some float positions always receive great assignments. Either way, there’s still the possibility of getting put on the “worst floor” or with the most difficult patient. But making the best of a lousy patient assignment is the mark of a real team player.
Pro: Good Pay For Experienced Nurses
Most downsides in your career field can be remedied, at least a little bit, by more money.
It’s important to note that all hospitals and each healthcare organization has different protocols for float nurses—some value floaters more than others, offering higher pay rates, added benefits, and other incentives to join the float pool. Likewise, becoming a travel float nurse with a reputable agency can earn you bonus perks and benefits. Either way, joining a nursing float pool, especially as a traveler, can have serious financial advantages:
- About 17% of float pool RNs receive higher pay than standard staff nurses
- Float pool nurses that are paid higher rates receive, on average, 15% more than their permanent counterparts
There are unique floating demands—it’s only fair that floaters are compensated for doing what many nurses can’t or won’t.
Con: Unpredictable New Protocol & Practices
When you first start out at any job, there’s a pronounced learning curve, and that’s okay. When you’re float-nursing, it can feel like the end of the curve is nowhere in sight—you’re always starting over at the beginning with each new assignment and location.
If you’re always working within one or two hospitals, it can help to visit floors or units you’ve never encountered before during downtime or at the end of a shift. You might also encounter different ways that each hospital conducts nurse charting or different approaches to patient care. When you eventually float up there, you’ll at least have a basic understanding of how the wing operates.
No matter what, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Your fellow nurses or float pool staff know you’re new to the wing, unit, specialty, hospital, and even city or country if you are travel nursing. Embracing the learning period rather than pretending it doesn’t exist can go a long way—you’ll learn the ins and outs faster, and your fellow nurses will appreciate the honesty.
Pro: New People, Places, & Things (Oh My!)
Some nurses are invigorated by the prospect of meeting new people, learning new things, and seeing new places—this last one is especially true of traveling float nurses.
The new places available to travelers are vast and unique. There’s always something exciting to look forward to when accepting a new placement, even if it means a few hiccups in your daily nursing shifts.
Plus, with each new location, you’ll pick up new skills faster and faster each time. Once you’ve settled into the swing of things, you’ll be able to make it through a double shift without struggling to recall where the IV tubes are.
Con: Less Specialized Experience
When you’re constantly moving between roles and units, you don’t have the opportunity to hone in on a specific skill set and become highly experienced in that area.
This can be frustrating when you aren’t as confident in certain skills as you’d like to be and can make the transition from float nursing to a permanent position a bit more challenging.
However, the desirable float nurse skills you will have offset the lack of specialization.
Pro: Become A Jack (or Jill) of All Trades
In place of that specialized training, you’ll experience the full breadth of nursing units. This can be helpful for a few different reasons:
- Find your passion – Working in various units and hospitals can help you fall in love with a specific field in nursing that you hadn’t even considered before.
- Learn new skills – No matter what specialty area you end up in, there are always skills and tricks from other disciplines that become vitally useful. Plus, ongoing learning keeps the brain sharp and makes everyday life exciting.
- Show you’re a team player – The qualities of a float nurse extend beyond hands-on skill and experience. Hiring managers are impressed by time spent as a float nurse because it shows that you can learn on the go and rise to a variety of challenges.
Con: Limited Relationships & Nursing Community
Always hopping between units and facilities can leave float nurses feeling like outsiders. Without a permanent “home,” it can be challenging to forge meaningful relationships with fellow nurses and feel like you belong in the hospital’s community.
However, you may also find yourself uniquely able to relate to other float nurses from a similar or different unit. If you treat everyone with a friendly, open spirit—even when you know it’s only temporary—they’ll welcome you back with open arms. You might even make a lasting friend or two.
Pro: Staying Out of “Office” Politics
This may seem a bit frivolous in comparison to the other benefits of float nursing, but sometimes hospital politics can take on a life of their own—just think of all the drama on Grey’s Anatomy or House, except you’re living it instead of watching it.
When you encounter a nurse manager who doesn’t value you properly or a nursing staff that won’t make an effort to help you in your first few days, just know that you won’t be there forever. On the other hand, if you click with your fellow nurses, you’ll be in for a treat if you rotate back onto their floor.
Bonus Pro: Becoming A Travel Nurse With Host Healthcare
The life of a float nurse isn’t always the most glamorous. Still, if you’re open to a little adventure, a lot of valuable experience, and added benefits that make travel nursing even better than ever, Host Healthcare is for you. In addition to the ample pros available to any float nurse, our travelers receive:
- Day one medical, dental, and vision benefits.
- Some of the highest wages in the field.
- Complimentary deluxe housing, suited to your needs—including accommodations for your partner and children, lodging in your preferred area, and assistance with utilities, furniture, and the move-in process.
- The opportunity of a lifetime.
Nurses are like superheroes—you can handle anything, especially a few cons when they’re accompanied by so many pros. If you’re ready to embrace the benefits of travel float nursing or looking to weigh your options a little more in the area of travel healthcare companies before taking the plunge, contact us today.
Article Reviewed by Adam Francis
Title: President, CEO
Home Town: San Diego, CA
Alma Mater: University of Notre Dame
Random Fact: Prior to starting Host, I was pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy.
Why Host Healthcare: Our team members in the office are champions in the industry and we only work with the best travelers who are dedicated to their field of work. These two factors combined make me excited to come into work every day to build a company dedicated to creating great experiences for everyone we encounter.View All Posts by Adam Francis