Skip to main content

Nursing Float Pool: Ready to Answer the Call

With adaptability and skill, Duke’s nursing float pool team members provide patient care, support

Duke's front line healthcare workers, such as those in the nursing float pool, rose to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image courtesy of Duke Health.
Duke's front line healthcare workers, such as those in the nursing float pool, rose to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image courtesy of Duke Health.

All of Tonya Durham’s workdays start the same way with a 6 a.m. call to the Duke Health Clinical Staffing Department’s employee hotline to hear that day’s assignment.

From there, her day – like everyone else’s in the department often called the nursing “float pool” – becomes its own, unique journey.

Tonya Durham, behavioral health technician with Duke University Health System’s float pool, appreciates the breadth of experiences her role provides. Photo by Stephen Schramm. “I can go anywhere, and I have,” said Durham, who, since joining the float pool in 2016, has worked alongside nurses in Duke University Hospital’s Emergency Department, assisted with treatments at Duke Cancer Center, and sat with patients at Duke HomeCare and Hospice. “I feel like I’ve seen it all. I love having the freedom to help everywhere.”

Made up of roughly 535 clinical nurses, certified nursing assistants, behavioral health technicians and patient attendants, the float pool is where Duke University Health System’s three hospitals and many hospital-based clinics turn to fill temporary staffing needs.

“That’s what we do,” said Susan Bryson, assistant nurse manager for the Duke Clinical Staff Department’s Ambulatory/Procedural Division. “We to do whatever it takes to keep operations going.”

With the need to adjust daily to new environments, colleagues and challenges, the float pool is home to some of the most adaptable and resilient employees at Duke.

“It takes a very particular kind of person to do what we do,” said Vanhphenh Kenmanivong, the Clinical Staffing Department’s operations director. “There are skills you can teach, but we also need things like strong communication and interpersonal skills, and being able to go with the flow.”

Formed in 2015 by merging separate float pools of Duke’s individual hospitals, the Clinical Staffing Department was a response to the growing volume and complexity of staffing needs at Duke University Health System. Now, managers contact the department when they know a team member might miss a shift, or 
if a spike in patient flow will require extra help.

“By building our internal resources, we can be sure to have the expertise and flexibility to move people around the system when they’re needed,” said Sylvia Alston, Duke University Health System’s assistant vice president for nursing who helped create the department.

Jolly Ravi, a longtime float pool nurse, appreciates the variety of work she sees in her role. Photo courtesy of Jolly Ravi.When the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique staffing challenges, the float pool rose to the occasion with members helping to run testing and vaccination sites and more.

As a longtime clinical nurse with the float pool, Jolly Ravi embraced the challenge of working during the pandemic with the same spirit of her shifts. To Ravi, and the float pool colleagues who share her perspective, each unpredictable day represents an opportunity to serve patients in new ways.

“I love this kind of work, it’s something new every day,” Ravi said. “I get to learn new things all the time. And I’m the kind of person who never wants to stop learning.”

Send story ideas, shout-outs and photographs through our story idea form or write