The trials & tribulations of a relief nurse – why should you care?

Greta Webb1, David Schultz2,3

1Aspen Medical

2Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP)

3Health Care Australia


A relief nurse gets off a small plane on an island they have never been to before and walks to the clinic. The handover is “these are the things I have found since I got here a couple of weeks ago, and I am on Thursday’s plane out of here.” The waiting room is full, the Webster packs need to be ordered and a woman in labour after no antenatal care has begun haemorrhaging after delivering.

What is happening?
• A short term relief nurse faces the same challenges as a new nurse – but every few weeks.
• Some orientations are very good but often the reliever is expected to just start working because they are only there for a couple of weeks and often it is another reliever handing over
• Challenges in a new community/workplace
o Where am I?
o Who are you?
o Where do I find …?
o What is the password for …?
• Extra hours/on call because the regulars are exhausted

Why should you care?
• A good reliever can make your life easier
• A good reliever has skills that are very marketable – if you want them to come back you need to make their life a bit easier
• Putting systems in place to help relievers will also help new permanent staff and will make orienting all new staff easier

What can you do?
• A comprehensive, up to date Orientation folder is a valuable resource for all staff, but it needs to be kept up to date.
• Do a quick check of the allocated accommodation – if you wouldn’t want to move in it’s not very welcoming for the reliever
• Don’t take them for granted – a good reliever will happily pitch in and take on the extra to give you a break, but it’s nice to have this recognised


Greta Webb is a Registered Nurse proudly working for Aspen Medical as a member of their Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP), in rural hospitals and remote clinics.

Rural LAP is a part of the Australian Government-funded service that focuses on supporting health professionals, nursing and allied health, working in rural and remote settings. The Rural LAP team recruits highly skilled and experienced locums to enable those health professionals to attend educational requirements to maintain registration and update their skills, and to be able to obtain their hard earned leave.