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Travel Nursing Work Conflict: Seeking Conflict Resolution

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
August 8, 2022
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As with any nurse specialty, travel nursing has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Travel nursing pays well and offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of a new city and state. Besides learning valuable and marketable skills, you also have flexibility in your schedule. 

Conversely, there are a few disadvantages. Every new assignment requires you to adapt to the unique culture of your host unit. The initial adjustment can be challenging in such a short timeframe. You will inevitably experience work conflict as a travel nurse. The national uptick in workplace violence, especially in healthcare, poses even more cause for concern. Conflicts are unavoidable, but how you handle them matters. In this blog, you'll learn more about the types of conflict you might encounter and some conflict resolution tips you should keep in mind.

Common Forms of Workplace Conflict in Travel Nursing

It is not uncommon to encounter a conflict at your host hospital. Conflict can come from the organization's leadership or within the nursing unit. In addition, situational issues, hospital drama, conflicts of interest, or ethical disagreements can lead to conflict. Whatever the problem, as a professional nurse, you can equip yourself with tools to handle conflict effectively. 

Situational Issues

Lack of community

As a travel nurse, you may experience workplace conflicts on the unit, such as a lack of feeling of community with the hospital staff. As an outsider coming into an established organization and culture, you might have difficulty settling in and working harmoniously with full-time employees. Obviously, this isn't always true. Yet, you can experience intra-group and interpersonal conflict when you haven't established mutual trust with each other. Unit nurses and others may be reluctant to make you feel like a valuable member of the team.

Understaffing

Hospitals rely on you as a travel nurse to fill in care gaps. As a result, organizations are already understaffed when they need help from travel nurses. In addition, your host hospital might have poor nurse retention rates due to low job satisfaction. These conditions are a recipe for understaffing and lead to workplace conflict for travelers. You may also have to work with unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios because of short staffing.

Unfamiliar equipment

As a travel nurse, you may work in different settings and healthcare environments. For example, an assignment can take you from a small community hospital to a large academic medical center. With each new job comes a need to learn or adapt to new or unfamiliar technology. If your unit-specific nursing education is inadequate, you might be unable to do your job efficiently.

Unpreparedness will negatively affect your ability to work seamlessly and cause workplace conflict. In addition, the learning curve may be huge if the organization expects you to learn new technology without proper orientation. As a result, you won't be able to hit the ground running, which is typically what nurse managers expect when they hire travel nurses.

Unfair work assignments

An unfair, heavy work assignment jeopardizes patient outcomes. It also causes interpersonal conflict between travel nurses and nurse managers. As a travel nurse, you may get a heavier workload with higher acuity patients. This type of interpersonal conflict can arise if a unit manager prioritizes their full-time staff needs above yours. Unfortunately, unbalanced staffing, as mentioned before, compromises the safety of your patients and can lead to burnout.

Management support

Lack of support from nurse managers and other unit staff creates conflict for travel nurses. Many travelers work at night when nursing and human resource management leave for the day. If a workplace conflict springs up, you don't have the support to manage conflict in a timely manner.

Hospital Drama

Patients are at risk as a result of workplace conflicts. When hospital drama steals a nurse’s focus, attention to quality care and patient safety can become less of a priority. Organizational problems can also contribute to workplace conflicts if nursing management lacks effective communication and a conflict management system.

You may work with employees who don't pull their weight or take shortcuts in patient care during an assignment.

The drama may arise between you and a staff member who is challenging to work with and purposefully creates friction. Their actions lead to drama and strife. In this type of conflict, goodwill will not be enough to resolve the issue.

Additionally, you may have to deal with nurse managers who do not hold others accountable. If the organization fails to challenge and hold hospital staff responsible, they can continue providing poor patient care. The behavior continues because management fails to take action to remedy the situation.

Drama can also result from an unresponsive healthcare provider. For example, if a patient crashes and you make numerous attempts to contact the attending, and they don't respond- It is unacceptable. Failure to promptly address an issue can result in poor patient outcomes.

Effective management communication can alleviate quality and patient safety issues and create a culture where employees feel empowered to report ongoing hospital drama.

Conflicts of Interest

Research, academia, and pharmaceutical companies are not the only places where conflicts of interest occur. As a travel nurse, you will likely encounter this type of conflict. Competing values or priorities lead to conflicts of interest. Whether caring for patients or interacting with nurses, managers, and other clinicians, you might face this tug of war. 

Conflict of interest policies are usually included in organizations' Codes of Conduct. When all else fails, just remember as a nurse you always abide by a set of ethical standards. Use them to guide your decision-making.

Ethical Disagreements

Similar to conflicts of interest, ethical disagreements occur among nurses, patients, clinicians, and management. Ethics dilemmas are common in the healthcare environment. For example, you may encounter patients who refuse life-saving treatment or care as a travel nurse.

Additionally, you may need to engage and collaborate with people who hold different religious or cultural beliefs from you. No matter the disagreement, you are a professional nurse who must adhere to your nursing code of ethics.That holds true even if you believe something goes against your patient's values and beliefs.

How to Seek Conflict Resolution

Identify your conflict resolution process before moving forward with a resolution. Adopting conflict resolution skills is necessary when dealing with conflict in the workplace. Determine whether you are defensive, compromise-minded, or creative when resolving conflict. Evaluate your approach to resolving conflict and then move towards resolution.

It is common for conflict to have layers upon layers of issues. If this is the case, think back to the people involved when the problem started. Was it a relationship conflict with an individual? Perhaps the organization asks you to complete a process or task in a way that doesn't make sense. By collecting intel on the problem, you can figure out how to proceed and eliminate conflict.

Consider whether the issue is worth your time and effort before approaching the source of your interpersonal conflict. Ask the individual if they are open to discussing the issue in a private and safe environment. Decide if you need a third party to assist, such as human resource management.

Conflict Management Strategies

Conflict management strategies aim to nip conflict in the bud as soon as possible. Conflict in the workplace, especially in healthcare, can affect patient outcomes. Conflict management requires effective communication skills from all parties involved. It is essential to keep in mind that we all have different communication styles.

Make sure you use clear communication when sending your message, so the recipient knows what you mean. The development of effective strategies for solving problems requires good communication.

In conflict management, you can employ several strategies. Then, depending on your circumstances, you can determine which conflict resolution strategy works best.

Avoiding

The problem with this technique is that avoidance doesn’t address the actual conflict at hand. In fact, avoiding conflict is not a solution to it. As long as you ignore the conflict, you cannot solve it.

Withholding or withdrawing

Withdrawing from the conflict removes you from the situation and gives you time to think and figure out how to best work through a conflict resolution process.

Accommodating

In accommodating, you give the other individual or group what they want. This approach may be one of your default conflict resolution strategies as a travel nurse. Instead of making a fuss about a situation, you allow the group to have their way.

Forcing

Nurse managers may use this technique to resolve conflict when multiple staff have a stake in the conflict resolution process. Then, nurse managers present the conflict with possible solutions to the team to vote on.

Competing

In conflict involving two or more people, they compete to have their opinions or needs met at the expense of others. In conflict management, the competing strategy prioritizes the needs of one party over those of others. So, unfortunately, someone gets shortchanged.

Compromising

Compromising can result in a win-win situation for all parties. The resolution benefits each individual in some way. Compromising also puts a lid on the problem, so it doesn't expand further.

Confronting

When you apply confronting as your conflict management strategy, use the first person "I" instead of "you" and keep the exchange fact-based. In the context of conflict, the word "you" sounds accusatory. When confronting, make sure your perspective and point of view are evident.

Collaborating

A collaborative approach to conflict management benefits all parties involved. As part of this strategy, you must listen to other opinions, assess the facts, and work together towards an equitable solution for everyone.

Bargaining and negotiating

The purpose of bargaining and negotiating is to ensure everyone gets something out of the solution. To manage conflict, this method involves having discussions and reaching an agreement. To achieve a favorable conclusion, the conversation is essential.

Problem-solving

One of the most intuitive conflict management approaches is problem-solving. Since nurses are naturally problem-solvers, finding a solution and moving on are your goals.

Mediation

As a last resort, you can use mediation to help resolve conflicts. It may be your last resort if you cannot solve the problem on your own. Both sides of a conflict can work through their differences with the help of a mediator.

All parties involved should agree to schedule a meeting to resolve an intrapersonal or intragroup conflict. To resolve the original problem, determine the issues when you meet with others in great detail.

Develop a Healthy Separation When Needed

It's not worth the energy or effort to resolve some conflicts, especially if someone is defensive and not interested in working together. However, it is okay to leave a volatile interaction.

Sometimes, the best conflict management is to separate yourself from the problem. This may seem like avoiding, and perhaps it is. However, protecting your mental health and livelihood while you are on an assignment is far more critical for you than engaging in fruitless interactions and disagreements.

Conflict can be subjective, so you will have to decide which ones are worthy of your time and energy. Be ready to walk away from the situation, especially if the exchange gets heated. To stop engaging with someone who isn't communicating constructively, remain calm, and walk away. If you decide at a later time to attempt to speak with the person, use the above strategies.  

Nurse science aims to improve patient outcomes. When interpersonal conflict strikes, it can inadvertently impact and cause harm to your patients.

Author Bio

Kimberly Madison MS, BSN, RN

Kimberly Madison is a freelance health writer with over 13 years of experience as a registered nurse. She creates content for hospitals and health care brands.

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