With nursing shortages a pressing issue throughout pockets of the country, one branch of nursing could help remedy the solution, says Marcia Faller, PhD, RN, and chief clinical officer of AMN Healthcare. Travel nurses can fill short-term needs while organizations are able to assess, stabilize, and hire permanent nurses without compromising patient care during a staffing shortage.
Faller says travel nurses can help fill the gaps while providing high-quality, reliable care. She points to a study slated for summer publication in the peer-reviewed journal, Nurse Leader, that reveals that patient outcomes for travel nurses and staff nurses are no different. In fact, the study asserts, travel nurses might help ease the staffing burdens and contribute to less error and nurse burnout. Using data sources from Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) and National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators™ (NDNQI®), the study looked at a U.S. hospital to assess patient outcomes when using both core nurses and travel nurses.
According to Faller, most travel nurses work in temporary job assignments of three months at a time. After their rotation is done, they might stay for another three months, sign on for a permanent position, or move on to another assignment in a new location.
“It’s very appealing,” says Faller. It’s a quick and easy way to get a new job and gain both professional experience in a new area while also having the chance to travel. Some nurses want to shift their location for a life event—a child is getting married across the country or has a new baby, for instance. Or a nurse from a smaller community might want to gain experience in a larger academic center, Faller says. Maybe they have a list of places they want to see and travel nursing will help them do that while also working at a job they enjoy.
Travel nurses only account for two percent of all nurses, says Faller, but they offer both a distinct nursing career opportunity and a boon for organizations who need more nurses.
Different organizations find travel nurses help their staffing needs in varied ways, says Faller, and help keep the quality of care high. “Travel nurses give them the ability to fill vacancies where they are finding themselves short staffed,” Faller says.
Organizations can fill the positions while continuing to focus on recruiting. Travel nurses are also especially helpful when it comes to covering non-productive hours, says Faller. For instance, known times when nursing staff members are taking PTO, jury duty, has a leave of absence, or even needs educational time off are all good times for travel nurses to fill in. Travel nurses can also help offset overtime costs and hours. “Those have to get covered somehow,” says Faller, and helping ease up on too much staff overtime can also help offset nurse burnout and eventually retain nurses and keep turnover down.
If an organization is launching a new event, like electronic medical records, travel nurses can help cover staffing while regular staff is undergoing training.
And Faller notes that travel nurses are held to the same high standards as staff nurses. They need to have the same credentials as other nurses for whatever location they are going to, she says. And while approximately 25 states are part of the multi-state contract that allows nurses to use one license for many states, the rest of the states do require independent state licenses. Travel nurses also must pass background checks, drug screening, and any other requirements for hiring. And travel nurses are well-educated, she says, with 64 percent of travel nurses having a BSN or higher.
A nurse with a couple of travel experiences under his or her belt has some valuable skills, says Faller. These nurses are adaptive by nature, learning quickly how an operation is run and how to find what they need to do their jobs well.
As the demographics of the country continue to change and become increasingly diverse, travel nurses can help fill a gap and provide a service that many organizations need. Nurses who speak multiple languages or who fit with the cultural background of the patient population being served are especially valuable, says Faller. “There is a large demand for that cultural matching,” she says, noting that even a familiarity with a certain culture can help organizations align with their patient populations in a way that helps everyone.
Whether you are considering travel nursing for a career move or are an administrator assessing the best way to fill in the gaps, travel nursing is an option that’s both viable and valuable.