Traveling Nurses Fly in to a Hospital Near You

Written by on August 31, 2012 in Insight - No comments

Nursing shortages, underpaid nurses or labor unrest, whatever the reason, the traveling nurse (TN) grew to become one of the fastest growing segments of the nursing industry. From one hospital to another, these “temporary” nurses really got around.  Its win-win scenario for both hospitals, who were experiencing difficulty in recruiting and hiring permanent staff, and for nurses, who signed with agencies that assist with housing, licensing and a long list of benefits certainly helped to boost those numbers. Then you add the above market wages and possibly even a guaranteed payment plan that provided for the occasional assignment that lost shifts or got cancelled, it’s no wonder that TNs were on the rise – they were paid well and pampered.  However, with hospitals experiencing a decline in revenue, experts say the emphasis is now on cutting costs. Many hospitals have been forced to tighten budgets and freeze positions, including reducing the use of traveling nurses.

The number of traveling nurses nationwide peaked in 2008 at 25,000, and then dropped dramatically to 4,500 in 2009, according to Becky Kahn, senior vice president of client sales and services at AMN Healthcare, one the companies that place the traveling nurses. Companies say the number of positions open to traveling nurses has dropped by about half since the start of the recession at the end of 2007. Some nurses are leaving the traveling nurse industry for permanent positions after spouses lose jobs, and as hospitals cut back on nurses, Kahn and others said.  But those numbers are moving back up to between 9,000 and 10,000 traveling nurses as the economy slowly recovers, Kahn said.

With most expecting these numbers to continue their climb, the competition rages on between the TN staffing agencies, each of them hoping to contract and place these ever-more elusive trained RNs.  Most of the staffing companies negotiating their contracts also offer medical, 401(k) benefits and pay travel, housing and food costs.  Some of the more aggressive agencies float bonus payments, add vacation and sick days, stock investment options and continuing education reimbursements all to attract new personnel and instill company loyalty.  As these benefits continue to stack up and are passed on to the hospitals with their dwindling budgets, the perception has become that the employed RN is less cost prohibitive.  The truth lies behind each hospital doing their own calculations based on their own current salary/benefit structures.

Though the traveling nurse may constitute only about one percent of the nurses employed today, the traveling nurse is in many ways holding one of the most enviable jobs in the healthcare industry.

Lopez, Conrad. “Can Someone Please Explain Travel Nursing?” TheNursetown.com, January 8, 2006. < http://www.nursetown.com/travel_nursing_articles/Travel_Nursing/15/>

by Monica Menezes Irwin, Managing Editor

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