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 staffing placements.

What are Travel Nurses?

Rather than working at one hospital on a full-time, permanent basis, travel nurses’ positions are short-term assignments at various facilities throughout the country. Travel nurses are employed by medical staffing agencies who arrange for their assignments; the typical length of an assignment is approximately three months but can be longer if the facility in is dire need of their specific skill-set.  Travel nurses hold the same degrees and professional certifications as permanent-placement nurses.

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2 Reasons Hospitals Need Travel Nurses

Recently, the demand for qualified professionals in the healthcare industry has skyrocketed. Hospitals have more patients than ever, but the resources to adequately fulfill patient needs. By 2025, the nursing shortage is expected to result in a need for medical facilities to fill 260,000 positions.  Travel nurses are needed for two main reasons: (1) Baby Boomers, once the largest percentage of the workforce, are retiring, creating many job vacancies.  Without the resources to hire qualified employees, hospitals are suffering.  (2) The establishment of the Affordable Care Act, aka ‘Obamacare’ gave more Americans access to healthcare than previously had access.  Consequently, more patients are 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.

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 the infrastructure’s problem by giving qualified nurses the opportunity to work in more healthcare facilities.  The Nurse Licensure Compact created a universal standard for nurses, allowing them to work in all states that recognize the compact. The requirements are standard and comparable to the requirements for a nursing license in any of the states.  The NLC now has more than twenty-five states enlisted for compact nursing licensure.  Medical staffing agencies often use the Nurse Licensure Compact to promote travel nursing as an option for hospitals. Because nurses can 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? nurses with doctor

Travel nurses are significantly less costly to hospitals than permanent placement nurses.  In fact, permanent placement nurses create many unnecessary costs for healthcare institutions. According to a 2017 KPMG study about the costs of labor in U.S. hospitals, the average wage for a permanent placement nurse $89.00 per hour. Of that $89.00, only $43.00 goes toward the base wage, though $24.00 is put toward other payroll-related costs. Additionally, hospitals must pay for insurance, recruiting, and other costs unrelated to work productivity.

The cost to hospitals for travel nurses far more favorable. The average wage for a travel nurse is $83.00 per hour.  Of that $83.00, only $67.00 goes toward the base wage, though $15.00 is put toward other payroll-related costs, and only $1.00 goes toward non-payroll related costs. On average, permanent placement nurses receive approximately nine hours of overtime pay per week, while travel nurses receive seven hours of overtime pay per week.

In addition to the data, there are other indirect costs associated with permanent placement nurses. Because they are a fixture in the hospitals, permanent placement nurses spend about 10% of their time performing non-productive tasks including paid training sessions, education costs, and other administrative tasks. Hospitals are also considering lengthy orientations and hiring processes which they face with permanent placement nurses.  Overall, not only are travel nurses less costly for hospitals, but the money spent on hiring travel nurses is applied directly to hospital productivity.


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

Unlike permanent employees, travel nurses are generally hired through a medical staffing agency. The staffing agencies evaluate candidates to determine their skill levels, areas of expertise, and overall compatibility with specific facilities. As a medical staffing agency owner, your knowledge of candidates’ experiences may aid in building relationships with hospitals.

Hospitals consider the following important factors when considering hiring travel nurses:

  • Cost: Because permanent placement nurses are a long-term solution, travel nurses must be a viable financial alternative.
  • Quality of Care: Hospitals want to ensure that travel nurses provide high-quality care.
  • Experience: Travel nurses must have previous experience in their specific field.
  • Flexibility: Travel nurses are more valuable because they are versatile.
  • Specialty: Travel nurses with specific skills are key to filling niche positions.
  • Time to Hire: Medical staffing agencies able to provide prompt staffing are favorable.


4. Do Patients Receive the Same Level of Care?

Many hospitals are unwilling to compromise the level of care patients receive for lower costs.  Despite having less familiarity with the hospital, studies have shown that travel nurses generally provide the same level of care as permanent placement nurses because they receive the same training and are, therefore, equally qualified to treat patients. Travel nurses demonstrate a consistent commitment to providing excellent patient care.


5. Do they Fit into any Organization?

To better incorporate them into their organization, hospitals are eager to please travel nurses. Hospital personnel treat travel nurses as an equal member of the team and provide them with the necessary resources for success. Hospital personnel also communicate regularly with travel to determine whether their needs are being met. Overall, hospitals work to include travel nurses in meaningful ways.

Case Study: J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital

Travel nurses contribute to hospital growth. Bordering Pennsylvania and West Virginia, 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 in 2014.


Travel Nurses Are Here to Stay

As more and more baby boomers retire, hospitals will need highly qualified staff to meet the rising needs within the healthcare industry. For many hospitals, travel nurses are the ideal solution for temporary, long-term staffing needs.