Travel nurses are central to the medical staffing industry. For most medical staffing agencies, travel nurses are becoming a bigger profit center, accounting for more and more staff placements. With baby boomers retiring left and right, hospitals have an increasing need for travel nurses. And, these travel nurses are more adept at self-integration than one might think. Read on to learn about the value that travel nurses hold, and why hospitals are now actively seeking them out.

What are Travel Nurses?

Rather than working at one hospital on a full-time, permanent basis, travel nurses move throughout the country. They are employed by a medical staffing agency, which finds vacancies that they are qualified for, and arranges for employment. Typically, the duration of their stay will last approximately 3 months, but this can vary based on their skills and facility needs.

Like permanent nurses, travel nurses also have the degrees and certifications necessary to work in a hospital or healthcare facility. The idea of traveling the country is appealing to many travel nurses, and preferable to staying in a single location.

nurse speaking with doctor

2 Reasons Hospitals Need Travel Nurses

Recently, the demand for qualified professionals in the healthcare industry has skyrocketed. Hospitals have more patients than ever, and simply lack the resources to adequately fulfill these needs. In fact, by 2025, the nursing shortage is expected to grow to 260,000 jobs. There are a few reasons for this.

1. Baby Boomers are Retiring

Once the largest generation in the workforce by a wide margin, baby boomers are beginning to retire. This leaves many positions open, and without the resources to hire qualified employees, hospitals are suffering.

2. Changes from the Affordable Care Act

After the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”, more Americans than ever had access to healthcare. Consequently, there were more patients seeking treatment, at a pace that hospitals simply could not handle.

In order to overcome these two challenges, many hospitals are turning to travel nurses for assistance. And, with the assistance of medical staffing agencies, acquiring qualified employees is simpler and more realistic than ever.

patients waiting in hospital for doctor


5 Questions about Travel Nurses

1. How Are They Qualified to Work in Several States?

To better fulfill the increasing needs of hospitals across the nation, the medical industry needed to improve its infrastructure. Established in 2000, the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) sought to solve that problem by giving qualified nurses the opportunity to work in more healthcare facilities. The NLC now has 25+ states enlisted for compact nursing licensure.

The NLC created a universal standard for nurses, allowing nurses to work in other states that recognize the NLC. Rather than going through the process of receiving many state licenses, the NLC allows nurses to work in many states. The requirements are fairly standard, and comparable to the requirements for a license in any of the included states.

Medical staffing agencies often use the NLC to promote travel nursing as an option for hospitals. Because nurses have the ability to work in several states, it makes sense for hospitals to employ travel nurses on a short-term, as-needed basis.


2. Are Travel Nurses Expensive for Hospitals?

Travel nurses are significantly less costly to hospitals than permanent nurses.

In fact, permanent nurses present many unnecessary costs to healthcare institutions. According to a 2017 KPMG study about the costs of labor in U.S. hospitals, the average permanent nurse costs $89 per hour. Only $43 go toward the base wages, though. $24 is put toward other payroll-related costs alone. Additionally, hospitals must pay for insurance, recruiting, and other costs that are unrelated to productivity.

For travel nurses, the balance is far more favorable. With $83 being the average cost for a travel nurse, only $67 of that amount goes toward the base wages. $15 is put toward other payroll-related costs, and only $1 to other costs. On average, permanent nurses receive about 9 hours of overtime pay per week, while travel nurses receive 7 hours.

nurse speaking to patient in wheelchair

Beyond this data, though, there are more indirect costs associated with permanent nurses. Because they are a fixture in the hospital, permanent nurses spend about 10% of their time performing non-productive tasks. This includes paid training sessions, education costs, and other administrative tasks. Hospitals are also considering lengthy orientations– as well as hiring processes– that they face with permanent nurses.

So, beyond the fact that travel nurses are cheaper to hospitals, the money that they must spend is more directly applied to productivity.


3. What Factors do Hospitals Consider When Hiring Travel Nurses?

Unlike permanent employees, travel nurses are generally hired through a medical staffing agency. These agencies evaluate candidates to determine their skill, expertise, and general compatibility. So, as a medical staffing agency owner, your knowledge of candidates’ experience may aid in forging relationships with hospitals. These are the factors that hospitals consider to be most important when receiving travel nurses:

  • Quality of Care: Above all else, hospitals want to ensure that travel nurses provide high quality care.

  • Cost: Because permanent nurses might be a more lasting solution, travel nurses must be financially viable to serve as an alternative.
  • Experience: To avoid training on the job, and have an immediate impact, travel nurses must be experienced in the field.
  • Flexibility: By being versatile in the hospital, travel nurses provide more value.
  • Specialty: When hospitals need to fill a niche position, travel nurses with suitable skills are key.
  • Time to Hire: Medical staffing agencies that can provide staff promptly are favorable to those that may take a longer amount of time.

While there may be more factors that shape hospitals’ decisions, these dominate the process.


4. Do Patients Receive the Same Level of Care?

Many hospitals are unwilling to compromise the level of care that a patient receives for lower costs.

While many assume that travel nurses provide lower quality care, there is no research to support this. Despite having less familiarity with the particular hospital, studies have shown that travel nurses generally provide the same level of care as permanent nurses. Because these nurses have received the same training as other professionals, they are equally qualified to treat patients well. While their location and particular role may vary, travel nurses demonstrate a consistent commitment to providing great bedside care.


5. Do they Fit into any Organization?

To better incorporate them into their organization, hospitals are eager to please travel nurses. One way hospitals do this is by treating them as an equal member of the team. To help travel nurses feel welcome, many hospitals introduce them to other staff and give them the resources they need. Checking in with travelers regularly to determine if they need additional assistance or questions is helpful as well. Overall, hospitals hope to include travel nurses in meaningful ways.

nurses with doctor
Case Study: J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital

In some hospitals, travel nurses have already contributed to positive growth. Bordering PA and WV, J.W Ruby Memorial Hospital received many patients without health insurance. In 2017, the hospital spent over $10.4 million on travel nurses, triple the amount they spent three years ago.



Travel Nurses Are Here to Stay

As more and more baby boomers retire, hospitals will need high-qualified staff to meet rising healthcare needs. For many hospitals, travel nurses will act as the ideal solution for temporary and long-term staffing needs. At Medical Staffing Consultants, we can help your medical staffing agency to develop and shape a practical business model. Contact us for assistance in starting or growing your medical staffing agency.