“Frequent Flyers” is a favorite nursing term of mine. I suppose the definition is rather self-evident. These are the patients that you take care of repeatedly. Inpatient medicine floors are chock-full of frequent flyers. This could be a young person with Cystic Fibrosis or Sickle Cell or perhaps an elderly patient with COPD* or ESRD.** On a surgical floor this could be a patient with non-healing wounds.
I like this term because it’s a pretty benign “label.” The patients are not “the chronically ill” or “sick.” They are just normal people that happen to frequent the hospital.
Personally, I like taking care of frequent flyers. They know the ropes. They also know that they will be seeing a lot of the nursing staff so it makes sense to treat us respectfully. You just have to be careful that the familiarity doesn’t destroy the professionalism of the relationship. I had one nursing friend who “fell in love” with a frequent flyer. Four months later they broke up but he continued to receive his care on our floor. Awkward all around. However, caring, lasting relationships with pleasant frequent flyers can really bring joy to your day, and your career.
The down side to frequent flyers is also that they know the ropes. While the vast majority of my patients are wonderful people, there are always a few bad eggs. The naughty frequent flyers know how to play the staff against one another so stay on your toes! As soon as you hear, “But last time the nurse let me …” or “But the docs always give me more pain medicine than…” you can be pretty sure you have a naughty frequent flyer! As always, treat them respectfully but draw boundaries and stick to your guns!
I enjoy a challenge so if a particularly difficult frequent flyer shows up, I often offer to take the patient. With the right mix of warmth and boundaries you can convert a naughty frequent flyer to a satisfied and pleasant frequent flyer. And the icing on the cake? Now your co-workers owe you one!
*Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (emphysema or chronic bronchitis)
** End Stage Renal Disease (kidney failure)