How to Avoid Getting Sick While On Assignment


Last week while working in North Carolina it seemed everyone I worked with was sick.  Obviously, none of them were contagious (or so they said) but they were less productive.  It is that time of year when we see a spike in colds, sinusitis, flu, and viruses.  As a travel nurse illness can be costly financially if you miss work.  Let’s see how to avoid getting sick while on assignment

During these times we seem to create the perfect environment for these illnesses to take up residence in our body.  As nurses, we all know the common tips on staying well but it never hurts to repeat them.

Wash your hands

Sometimes I wonder why this bears repeating.  We are nurses after all.  Remember that hand washing is not just for work.  You should be as obsessive outside of the job as when at work.

Dress appropriately

A travel nurse changes locations frequently.  This week you may be in sunny Florida with a balmy 75 degrees and next week in Minnesota with 4 feet of snow.  Making sure you are dressed for the weather is important.  I have a bad habit of leaving my raincoat at home when I know I should have it on a cloudy day.  We need to remember to cover our head to keep warm and dry when appropriate.

Sleep is necessary

Working 12-hour shifts can take a toll on you if you aren’t getting enough sleep.   Our immune systems depend on us getting rest and sleep.  Moving from one part of the country can affect your sleep pattern as well.  Try to find a schedule that works for you so that your sleep is restful.

Boost your immune system

I take Vitamin C routinely and when I feel like a may be getting sick I double up.  One of the most important ways to help your system is to not drink and not smoke.  Review your eating habits.  The foods you consume can also have either a positive or a negative effect on your health.

Exposure to sick people

As nurses, that’s what we do.  What would it be like if we said sick people can’t come to a healthcare facility?  I had 3 siblings and my mom made sure when one of us got sick (mumps, measles etc..) that we were all exposed.    There is no need to avoid everyone who looks, sounds or claims to be ill.  Unless someone is quarantined or you have an autoimmune disease there is no reason to avoid the ill.  As always use precautions as appropriate.

Don’t go to work sick!

This has been a hard one for me.  Generally, I am never sick enough to call off a shift.   However, there have been times I was not as productive due to symptoms of a mild illness.    You are not doing anyone a favor by showing up to work sick.  Stay home and rest, have chicken soup, take some appropriate medication until you are 100%.

Call the doctor if appropriate

We, nurses, are quick to self medicate with OTC meds.  The other side of that is those of us who feel we need antibiotics for fever and runny nose.  Antibiotic resistance is serious and using them for every respiratory or GI illness only perpetuates the problem.

Do not wait to call your doctor if you are not getting better.   The consequences of waiting could mean a longer illness.  I take a handful of vitamins and supplements daily but I know when to call my PCP for more serious symptoms.

Hair and Face keep them clean

In the “old days” our hair could not touch our collar.  The rules have relaxed a little but it is still best to keep your hair tied back or up.   Whether you are male or female germs do not discriminate they will attach to it and you can’t see them.

You do not have to be told to wash your hands but you may need to be reminded that you should keep your hands off your face.  Communicable diseases travel easily from hands to eyes, nose, and mouth.   As you travel from assignment to assignment remember there is one rule that is constant.  Communicable disease is transferred by hair and hands.

When you show up to your next assignment it is not only about putting your best foot forward but your best self.  Stay well and stay safe.

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Cheryl Roby, RN

Cheryl J. Roby is a Registered Nurse and retired US Army Reserve Nurse Major. She has more than 30 years of nursing experience and 26 years of military experience in the Army Nurse Corp. During her nursing career, she has traveled as part of her military experience visiting many of the 50 states and to South Korea. She was trained as an Army Medic during the Vietnam era and later as an OR tec. She went on to become a Licensed Practical Nurse and then completed her nursing training as a Registered Nurse. She was then commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserves. She appreciated the challenge of working in various specialties and expanding her clinical and professional skill sets. Her time in the Army Reserves and California National Guard gave her the opportunity to travel to most of the 50 states and work in other medical facilities. During her career, she had the opportunity to work in several specialties to include, OR, Occupational Health, Hospice, Sexual Assault Team, Forensic/ Correctional Nurse, Nurse Case Manager for developmental disabilities, Parish Nursing as well as a Nurse Entrepreneur.

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