Staff Nurses, Registry, Travelers--Can't We All Get Along?


Staff Nurses, Registry, Travelers--Can't We All Get Along?

By Lisa Gonzales, RN
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It was about 3 a.m., right before what I refer to as the point of no return, also known as 4 am. It was a fairly slow night; very rare in nursing to have six RNs and 18 patients on a med-surg floor, that’s a 3-1 ratio, almost unheard of. In any case, I was sitting around the nurses’ station with my fellow nurses when I realized that I didn’t even know their names. I did know that four out of six of us were traveling nurses, one of us was a registry nurse, and only one was a regular staff nurse.

From what I hear, this scenario is not uncommon in today’s healthcare world. This present environment leads the inquisitive type, namely me, to ask the question: How does this plethora of nurses affect patient care and the workplace environment? I took it upon myself to investigate. I decided to speak to the staff nurses first.

What the Staff Nurse Said

The setting is a large county hospital in a major metropolitan area. Historically, staff nurses at county facilities enjoy above average wages and good benefits. However, the staff nurse I spoke with told me her salary and that of her RN coworkers is below average. This includes the benefit package. She believes this is precisely why her hospital is having such a difficult time recruiting nurses. At the same time, this staff nurse, who, by the way, is very pleasant and helpful with all the travelers and registry staff, can’t help but notice the hypocrisy of it all. I asked

She said that while on one hand her hospital is not paying staff nurses competitive wages, it is spending hundreds of thousands each month for traveling/registry nurses who make on average 25 percent more than their staff counterparts.

Some travelers make over $40 per hour, and get benefits, housing, and travel allowances. This is not a secret to any of the staffers. As a result, the perception of many staff nurses is that travelers and registry nurses are not only paid better but in some cases treated better. This understanding may cause tension among fellow nurses. Kudos to the staff at this hospital. Despite what they feel, they have treated the travelers with respect and kindness. Their professionalism should be applauded.

Viewpoint of the Travelers

I next turned my attention to the traveling nurses, who for the most part are an eclectic group. Many of us are paid top dollar and also given housing and travel allowances. Often times we are put up in luxury digs in the nicest and hippest parts of town. I am a local traveler who just refuses to swear allegiance to any hospital. Some travelers want just that, to travel and experience life as a nurse in a different city or state. In speaking to these nurses, I can say that most travelers are in it for the money. I decided to pick the brain of a traveler whom I work with, a nice gentleman from Louisiana.

I asked this travel nurse the question of the hour. How do you feel overall about the working relationship between travelers, registry, and staff nurses? He smirked, and said, “The staff nurses seem nice enough, yet sometimes I feel as if I am pulling a knife out of my back.” I asked him to be more specific. “Well,” he went on, “let me put it this way. The other night my kitchen sink was stopped up, and I had to call a plumber. When he arrived, I was pleasant only because I needed his services, but under my breath, I was cursing the fact that I had to call him. This is how I feel about being in this hospital as a traveler. They need me and that is why they are pleasant. In other words, I am reluctantly tolerated.”

An excellent analogy, I thought. As a traveler, I have definitely felt the same way at times. However, I do empathize with the frustration staff nurses must feel when they are constantly fighting for better salaries and working conditions, and at the same time having to witness travel nurses being wooed with top pay and accommodations. From one standpoint, it does not seem fair. However, due to the high turnover rate in nursing, travel nurses are a necessary evil in many hospitals.

The Registry Nurse's Turn

Finally, it was the registry nurses’ turn. Registry nurses are an interesting and independent breed. I spent seven years as a registry nurse and I’ll say this: on more than one occasion I wanted to do an aboutf ace and run back to my car after encountering the attitude of the staff nurses at many a hospital where I have worked. I liken walking onto the nurses’ station as a registry nurse to entering a lion’s den. Many times, after completing a shift as a registry nurse, I felt as if I had been chewed up and spit out. In speaking with other registry nurses, the overwhelming feeling is that they are mistreated and underappreciated.

One registry nurse told me she felt as if she was at the bottom of the totem pole. I probed her; I really wanted to understand why she felt this way. Her answer was well thought out and genuine. “You know,” she said, “I have been coming to this hospital for years, I have seen staff come and go and travelers come and go. I never received an orientation, I was not even told where the restroom was. Traveling nurses that came on board were not only given lengthy orientations, they were coddled and treated far better than us lowly registry nurses.”

This particular registry nurse seemed deeply saddened and affected by what she perceived as mistreatment by the hospital and staff that she was there to help. Her last comment was a sorrowful one: “Sure, I get paid more than these staff nurses, but on the other hand, I have no benefits and absolutely no job security. I am here to help, I will never understand why I have been treated so badly.”

We're All in it Together--if just for one shift

Clearly, the relationship between staff, travelers, and registry nurses can be an icy one, even in the best of times. However, in this current nursing shortage, we all have to understand that hospitals are going to draw from whatever source they can in order to meet their staffing needs. I believe it is incumbent on the individual nurses to treat each other with respect and cooperation in order to create a more cohesive work environment. Can’t we all just get along? Sure we can. We are in the same boat.

As nurses, the world is our oyster. If, as a staff nurse, you are unhappy with the pay and working conditions, look into traveling or registry work. If as a traveler or registry nurse, you are looking for more stability and a place to call your own, apply to be a staff nurse. Either way, if you choose to stay in your present situation, look at the nurse you are working side-by-side with not as a traveler, a staffer, or a registry nurse. Look at him or her as a nurse, introduce yourself as a nurse, and develop a common ground based on respect and team work. Even if it’s just for one shift.

Lisa Gonzales, RN is President of Absolute Nurses. She has worked as a nurse in ED, home health, hospice, recovery, and urgent care. Lisa is an officer in the Army Reserve where she is a training officer for nurses and medical corpsmen.

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