Rural hospitals have often had difficulty with adequate nurse staffing. Nurses tend to gravitate towards urban hospitals with more specialty care areas and career mobility. For this reason, rural hospitals may need to backfill open nurse positions with travel nurses.

Travel nurses have the luxury of practicing in new environments, working with a wide variety of patients, and yes, even higher-than-average pay. However, rural nurses in general face their own set of unique challenges, which travel nurses need to be prepared for.

One challenge rural travel nurses face is fewer resources. For example, pharmacies might not be available for swing and night shifts, so nurses may need to mix and prepare medications. Rural nurses may also need to perform tasks such as drawing blood samples, administering breathing treatments, and mobilizing their patients as support staff such as lab technicians, respiratory therapists, and mobility techs may not be available. Additionally, discharge planners and social workers may not be readily available when needed. Travel nurses should be prepared to dig way back to their nursing school days as some of the skills learned may need to be dusted off and put to use!

Rural nurses also may need to know a variety of specialties. While larger metropolitan hospitals have many specialty units, rural hospitals are smaller and therefore, specialized departments are not needed. Therefore, a travel nurse working in a rural hospital may need to know how to care for both adults and children and know how to care for a medical, surgical, cardiac, or orthopedic patient. Of course, each rural hospital is different, so travel nurses should get details on their assignment to ensure they work within their comfort and skill level.

Another thing travel nurses should remember when accepting an assignment in a rural hospital is to remain humble. It's true that travel nurses have a great deal of experience and skills under their belt, but they should remember that just because they accept an assignment in a rural hospital doesn't mean they are any more skilled or competent than their rural nurse counterparts. There is always something new in nursing, and being humble and open to new experiences will make starting the new assignment easier. Thankfully, travel nurses usually have an open mindset anyway, but it's still an important reminder.

Rural travel nurses should also be aware that there tends to be more independence and autonomy in a rural hospital. In larger urban hospitals, there are always physicians, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants available, along with managers, directors, and supervisors. Rural hospitals may not have all these resources readily available. The physician may be at home, on-call. Supervisors or nurse managers may not be available, especially during swing or night shifts. While some nurses may find this a refreshing change of pace, they must realize that there may be a delay when patient care or work-related issues arise. Getting assistance from a physician who is in-house is much faster than by phone or pager, not to mention the travel time required for the physician to arrive at the hospital if needed. The upside to this is that there is a lot of trust between physicians and rural nurses.

Because rural hospitals are more difficult to staff, travel nurses are very much welcomed. They provide relief to rural nurses who often work short-staffed, which leads to better patient care outcomes in rural communities.

Amanda Bucceri Androus RN, BSN
Latest posts by Amanda Bucceri Androus RN, BSN

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