Travel nurses first began appearing across the United States in the late 1970s and provided a new solution for understaffed hospitals in areas where there was a temporary but high demand for health care workers. Assigning nurses to short-term roles has provided a cost-effective way to deal with staff shortages. For nurses, it was a means to more experience and higher wages. The demand for travel nursing grew throughout the 1980s and remains a particularly vital part of the healthcare system to this day, especially since the advent of Covid-19.

Before the pandemic, staffing agencies were usually seen as an effective and flexible way to fill temporary gaps in staffing needs. Travel nursing grew in popularity as Covid-19 progressed, and nurses were looking for more flexibility in their work, the ability to work in new places or different specialties, and sometimes much higher wages. Many of them were open to temporary assignments that required transportation because suddenly their spouses were working from home and their children were almost educated. Healthcare organizations have been scrambling for staff as they try to anticipate care needs in a suddenly unpredictable world, and staffing agencies have been able to offer a much-needed level of stability and certainty.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an abrupt transition to working from home (or anywhere with an internet connection), employees around the world are experiencing new flexibility in their work. While healthcare workers are typically unable to perform their jobs remotely, nursing professionals have sought to take advantage of their flexibility through staffing agencies that provide the ability to work in a different city or state, try out a different specialty, or even try out a new institution. within their hometown. . Travel nurses were able to have more control over the type of shifts they wanted to work on and where they would go. Many enjoyed filling short-term roles in hospitals which allowed them to work as many shifts as possible, followed by a month or two between assignments. By working in different departments or having the ability to travel to new locations on a whim, employees have expanded their social network and enjoy new experiences, all enabled by their workplace.

However, with the epidemic’s novelty and unpredictability receding, many now fear that agency staff could harm patient care. If the department is staffed with a large density of agency personnel, there may be a lack of knowledge about the organization and its policies or procedures, and the culture of the organization can be attenuated. Something as simple as not knowing where to store items can waste valuable time that should be spent on patient care. Hospitals with already tight operating margins struggle to provide quality, affordable patient care when they have to rely heavily on agency staff.

There is a balance to be struck between making sure that hospitals are well staffed, and making sure that hospitals employ the right staff. In early 2022, the median wage for contract nurses was more than three times the cost of working nurses, according to a study by Kaufman-Hall. In addition, the use of contract labor has more than doubled the pre-pandemic outcomes. While many health care institutions’ expenditures have increased over recent years, labor costs have increased by a greater proportion than others. On average, work as a percentage of expenses per adjusted discharge increased from 46% in 2019 to 49% in 2022. In fact, travel nursing or a nursing agency has become so popular over the past two years that the American Hospital Association has made a statement to The US Senate in early 2022 asked the government to intervene with the health care worker shortage to list nurse recruitment agencies or contract labor as one component that leads to staff shortages and rising labor costs.

Apparently due to the increasing popularity and high cost of contract labor, many large healthcare organizations have now set up their own in-house staffing agencies. To successfully implement an internal recruitment or travel agency that may span across multiple cities or states, organizations need the technology and data available to support this endeavor. Having a view of the staffing needs of the entire organization is important to ensure that employees are deployed in the most efficient manner possible. Once the staff arrives at their new location, which is often temporary, they will likely need some training and education to ensure they are fully empowered to provide optimal patient care. On-demand micro-learning activities that are less leveraged can help the employee feel confident in their work and provide the opportunity to learn at their own pace and when necessary. Adding QR codes to equipment that may vary from site to site and automatically launching training sessions can help an employee be productive on day one and feel supported in their new role.

As the healthcare industry continues to overcome labor shortages expected to worsen, it is important to use technology to support operations and constantly innovate new ways of working. By providing employees with choices about where, when, and how they can work, many of the main reasons employees leave their jobs can be addressed. Considering that today’s employees are looking for different types of flexibility in their working conditions, inbound travel agencies may be a great answer for retaining existing employees and attracting new talent.

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