Nurse smiling during her shift

Tips for Creating a Positive Floating Experience

You have just arrived at work and discovered you have been assigned to float to another unit. How you respond to this news can make or break the assignment. Are you the type of nurse who is terrified to float to another unit and expresses displeasure when assigned to float? Do you look at floating as an opportunity for professional growth and happily accept the assignment? Regardless of your reaction, chances are you are going to float anyway, so why not make it the best experience it can be for you, the staff, and the patients on the unit you are floating to?

Floating is a common practice in healthcare facilities. Despite being a common occurrence, it often causes increased stress and concern in the nurse who is floating and the unit they are floating to (Miller-Hoover, 2017). Many facilities have addressed floating in formalized policies and procedures and by requiring nurses to maintain a level of competence in the units they will be floated to.

Competency assessment customarily occurs on an annual basis in healthcare. Nurses are expected to be competent on skills and processes unique to their home unit, as well as a select group of core skills and procedures that occur in every unit in the hospital. These competencies can include:

  • Medication Administration
  • Blood Administration
  • Peripheral vascular access
  • Adverse drug reactions
  • Infusion pumps
  • Impaired skin integrity

(Miller-Hoover, 2017)

Recently, some facilities have added a third group of competencies to the list of annual requirements: Float units.

Most hospitals use one of three floating strategies. Some facilities will float to a lower acuity unit than their home unit. Other facilities will require nurses to select from a list of units where they can float - this comes with the caveat that ICU nurses will float to other high acuity units before nurses from the medical-surgical units (Trossman, 2014). The last floating strategy is where nurses are expected to float to any unit in the facility; typically in critical access facilities.

Regardless of where you float, you must be able to demonstrate the basic competencies of the unit’s core staff (Trossman, 2014). Each unit should have a core set of competencies that all nurses who may float to the must successfully complete. These core competencies are validated during the facility’s annual competency period.

Having the required competencies to float to another unit will help you be successful in managing your patient’s care, but they cannot guarantee you a successful floating experience. For this to happen you must look at floating as an opportunity for growth and not as a necessary evil.

It does not matter if this is your first floating assignment or your 21st floating assignment, consider the following before you arrive at the float unit:

Be prepared

  • Evaluate your skills and competencies
  • Review the competencies of the unit you are floating to
  • Determine if you have the necessary competencies to provide safe patient care
  • If not, talk to your charge nurse or leadership team to negotiate a change of assignment

Arrive at The Float Unit on Time and with a Good Attitude

  • Introduce yourself
  • Ask to be paired with a resource nurse
  • Be prepared to negotiate another assignment if your assignment requires competencies you do not yet have
  • Expect to learn something new

Plan Your Day

  • Conduct a quick survey of the unit to familiarize yourself with where crucial items are located such as code carts, medication rooms, and supply rooms
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • Ask if you can help your colleagues

Conclude Your Shift 

  • Thanking those who helped you
  • Requesting feedback from the charge nurse
    (Miller-Hoover, 2017)

Floating does not have to be stressful, or something to dread. It can be a valuable learning experience if you do your part. Keeping your competencies up to date will work in your favor and increase the likelihood of a successful floating experience. But it doesn’t stop there! Keep a positive attitude, ask for help if you need it, help others when you can and request feedback at the end of the shift. These small steps will increase the likelihood of a successful floating shift.


Miller-Hoover, S. (2017). Critical Thinking: Principles of Floating.

Trossman, S. (2014). On Less Familiar Ground. The American Nurse