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Float Nurse: An uplifting remedy or a sinking solution for manpower?

Have you experienced floating to other units because they lack manpower and your unit has a low patient census? You walked to that station; clueless of your companions, clueless of what’s going on, and clueless of your patient assignments. Scary right?

According to the Medical Dictionary, float nurse is available for assignment to duty on an ad hoc basis, usually to assist in times of unusually heavy workloads or to assume the duties of absent nursing personnel. The float nurse is recruited from a group of nurses called a float pool.

Floating has been a culture to most hospitals across the globe. Supervisors and managers designed floating to develop the skills of nurses and be exposed in every unit of the hospital. It will allow the nurses to grasp on what is happening in different areas. It is also a cost-effective solution in providing manpower. So, for the management side, floating is a win-win solution.

However, not all nurse floaters are happily hopping around from unit to another. There are several concerns that nurse floaters experience:


If you are assigned to a new area, you may feel lonely and isolated. The staff of that unit has been a team for years and you are alien to their station. So what if you are assigned to different areas every day? Imagine how that feels. You have to adjust to new people and new stations every shift. It adds to the stress of working not to mention your patient care assignment.

A feeling of incompetence and uselessness

According to an article in Minority Nurse, nurses feel less productive when floating as their time is spent searching for supplies or seeking help from nurses on the unit. This is very true! I experience floating and I’m intimidated every time I ask anything from one nurse to another. I feel like I am more a liability than an asset in the station. I feel like dragging other nurses because of my ignorance.

Inequality of patient assignments

Nurses who float to unfamiliar units can get stuck either with less challenging patients or with the most difficult cases. Regular staff on that station may have the tendency to be a bias of giving patient care assignments to the nurse floaters.


Characteristics such as confusion may add to the complexity of care of patients. Recognizing this information may provide opportunities for recommendations of quality improvement projects related to patient care (MedSurg Nursing).

The risk for errors and patient falls

Obviously, when you are unfamiliar with the routine of the unit, you are more vulnerable to medication errors and patient falls. There are so many things that are going on in your mind and you can’t concentrate on your responsibility as a nurse.

Job dissatisfaction

For floor nurses who must take float assignments when their unit’s census is low or to fill staffing shortages across the hospital due to absences, vacancies, or high-acuity levels, floating can be a major source of job dissatisfaction (Minority Nurse, 2014).

In conclusion, floating to other stations is less satisfying for most nurses. Nurses may feel anxious, isolated, and confused adding up to the stress in the workplace. There are risks and benefits about nurse floating. I guess thorough research should be done regarding the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of nurse floating as a solution for manpower.


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