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Travel Nursing: A Bad Deal for Health Systems and Nurses

Published June 29, 2022
A travel nurse reviewing notes on a tablet

Travel nurses were essential to supplement staffing levels when the patient census surged across the country due to the pandemic. Incentivized by lucrative pay, travel nurses entered high-risk environments where COVID ran rampant.

As the spread of COVID slows, the demand for travel nurses has dropped by about a third. While the nation faces a massive nursing shortage, providers also face uncertainty surrounding travel nurse jobs, leading hospitals to focus instead on recruiting for full-time nurses.

The Problem with Travel Nurses in Health Systems

While hiring travel nurses was a model once successful in filling temporary positions, hospitals and lawmakers argue that travel nursing agencies are now “capitalizing on the current labor shortage to increase their profits.”

Price surges for travel nurses place hospitals in a financial bind. As travel agencies lose COVID-19 funds, travel nursing contracts are being canceled without notice, creating unreliable work circumstances as health systems work to staff their teams.

Contracting through nurse travel agencies can also present legal strains on healthcare facilities. For example, suppose a staffing company faces a lawsuit. In that case, it may also affect hospitals as they carry liability over their workers, further exacerbating the complications of an already highly regulated industry.

The Importance of Full-Time Nurses

While travel nursing may be viable for some, 70% of travel nurses report feeling unappreciated, and 73% feel unsafe at work. According to Nurse.org, travel nurses face a heavier workload due to the high pay they make compared to hospital staff. This leads many travel nurses to burnout as they have shorter breaks and a non-stop demand for care. 

Further, this pay inequity between staff and travel nurses creates a disparity in earnings and a question of ethical pay methods. As one nurse states, “When you’re working next to somebody that’s making quite that much more than you, and you’re doing the exact same job, it feels a little bit dystopic.”

Building nursing teams comprised of full-time nurses can solve this inequity. When staff nurses deal with a constant revolving door of new colleagues, it is challenging to create an uplifting culture and keep team morale elevated.

Quantum Workplace shares that a lack of stability in the workplace can prevent an employee's ability to focus, adapt, and thrive. Not only does this instability create a feeling of physical insecurity, it also plays a psychological role, affecting an employee's ability to trust in an organization's future. This distrust does nothing to help employee retention.

A perfect storm of the surging cost of agencies, travel nurse burnout, and industry labor shortages has placed importance on the need for permanent nursing staff in hospitals.  

Setting the Stage for RPO

Recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) manages various processes to effectively manage talent acquisition for an organization. Before engaging an RPO partner, defining a need to hire can facilitate the development of a recruitment strategy and align efforts to find the most qualified candidates.

Once you've determined that hiring fresh staff is necessary, you may ask how an RPO provider helps. Here’s how:

An RPO will decrease time-to-hire through effective processes and top-tier technology, saving you time and money when building the nursing staff you need.

  • RPO recruiters become an extension of your team and develop a proper understanding of your business and culture, helping to recruit the most qualified nurses that fit your culture.
  • A consultative approach can account for unique needs, like a float pool model to strategically reallocate staff based on departmental needs in your health system.
  • High-volume sourcing offers a robust candidate pool to find the nurses who best represent your culture and values.

  • Topics: 
  • Healthcare,
  • Talent Management