Travel nurses offer temporary relief to hospitals short on staff: by 2020, nation's permanent worker shortage is expected to expand to 1 million.
Travel nurses who take on 13-week jobs at hospitals around the country and overseas have become a hot commodity in the health care world, where a shortage of full-time nurses continues.
A newly released survey by San Diego-based AMN Healthcare Inc., a large health care staffing agency, found that 70 percent of the 4,000 chief nursing officers surveyed reported an inability to recruit enough permanent staff as a key reason for hiring travel nurses.
And possibly, the demand for travel nurses could be contributing to the nursing shortage by convincing permanent nurses to switch to the travel mode.
"In a shortage situation that we're in, nurses feel comfortable leaving and picking up travel work," said Marcia Faller, AMN's chief clinical nursing officer and executive vice president of operations. "In that sense, our supply (of travel nurses) improves in shortages. Nurses have a lot more power in those situations."
Still, she doesn't see permanent nurses necessarily ready to leave their jobs for travel nurse perks. There are 2.9 million permanent nurses in the United States, and 22,000 travel nurses.
Faller estimates the permanent nursing shortage at 125,000 to 150,000 nationally, and by 2020, that's predicted to balloon to 1 million.
Perks For Travel Nurses
Access Nurses, another San Diego-based agency that specializes in placing travel nurses, gives a briefing of the health care industry niche on its Web site:
"The industry began as nurses wanted to ski the slopes in the winter and sunbathe on California beaches in the summer, while being able to make a living at the same time." It reports that due to a national shortage of permanent nurses, 15,000 to 20,000 traveling nurses are used weekly in U.S. hospitals.
If a travel nurse works 50 weeks a year, reports Access Nurses, it typically translates to an annual salary of $44,000 to $70,000, and possibly more than $100,000 with overtime added in.
Travel nurses can pick where and when they want to work. And standard work rules on mandatory overtime, weekends and holidays don't apply to them.
Alan Braynin, chief executive officer of the 6-year-old Access Nurses, said his company finds pockets around the country where there are occasional nursing surpluses, such as in small Southern towns, or in Minnesota. Access will "reallocate them based on surpluses." But ultimately, "the nurses decide" where they want to work.
"Braynin's company contracts for nurse work with 1,600 hospitals nationwide and figures 65 positions are filled weekly. The travel nurse is cleared for having the proper credentials, then assigned, while the agency pays the nurse's salary, insurance, benefits and housing--typically a one-bedroom apartment--as well as relocation expenses,
After a 13-week stint, they either sign up for an extended assignment at the same place, try another locale, or take a break.
Braynin sees recruiting of travel nurses as a key to his business. He's producing a half-hour TV show featuring travel nurses that he expects will be a cable show in San Diego this year.
Among the perks he touts for the travel nurse is the ability to explore different parts of the country while working three days a week.
San Diego is very popular among travel nurses, said Braynin, "because of its climate and natural beauty."
Braynin sees the demand for travel nurses continuing as a result of the permanent nursing shortage. He also sees it as a way for permanent nurses to find relief from burnout, enabling them to stay in the profession instead of retiring.
"Nursing is a stressful profession," said AMN's Faller. "I like to think of travel nursing as an alternative career option. It takes you to new places."
Faller said the average age of nurses is 48, and as they retire, there aren't enough nurses coming out of schools to fill the gap.
In California, Faller notes, nursing schools are already full and turning away thousands of qualified students every year. And those schools have faculty that are also approaching retirement. "That's another piece of the problem," she said.
Meanwhile, experts are trying to figure out ways to solve shortage-related problems, while hospitals are working closely with nursing schools to get more nurses.
"We need to continue to come up with small solutions," added Faller. Using travel nurses is one of them. For hospitals, "They kind of plug the hole until they do find a permanent nurse."
Scripps Has Permanent Goals
Vic Buzachero, senior vice president of human resources at Scripps Health in San Diego, said because there is more outpatient treatment these days, patients in the hospital tend to be those needing the highest levels of care.
Still, while Scripps has travel nurses on the job daily, Buzachero figures Scripps is now using less of them than three to five years ago.
He credits that to aggressive goals by Scripps to make its workplace more attractive to attract and retain permanent nurses. "Our turnover rate dropped and we're using a few less travelers," said Buzachero.
Still, Scripps uses travel nurses more when seasonal patient demand is high, typically in winter flu season months. Scripps employs almost 3,000 nurses, and Buzachero estimates that travel nurses make up 5 percent to 10 percent of its staff, depending on demand for care.( source )
Travel nursing may be a foreign concept to RNs who have held permanent jobs for decades. But travel nursing can offer lifestyle and career enhancement to a workforce that experiences high burnout. Employment studies indicate that roughly 40 percent of the RN workforce is expected to be at least age 50 by 2010. For these seasoned professionals, 50 States Staffing offers travel nursing jobs all across America.
"We give experienced career nurses access to a way of life they never thought possible: self-scheduling, flex-time, and freedom from overtime and exhaustion," said 50 States Information Technology Manager Sue Higgins. "We're focused on continued success and personal fulfillment. Healthcare travel is perfect for the nurse in the advanced career stage."
Travel nursing fits well into the baby boomer nurse paradigm, said Higgins. It empowers the nurse candidate to exercise control over working practices and lifestyle, and to find facilities where unit design, equipment, and technology are optimized to ease patient handling. Hospitals that promote stress-relief through yoga and meditation and whose fitness regimens boost energy and improve stamina are common among magnet hospitals and other travel nurse employers .
50 States Staffing CEO Robert Bok said today's nurse expects more from their later career lifestyle than generations before. In addition to professional development and credentialing, there's a compelling need to pursue a heightened sense of wellness and spirituality.
"Although travel nursing might not be right for everyone it's an ideal career for '50-something' RNs who want to stay the path to physical and emotional health," said Bok.
Bok said travel nursing is perfect for the experienced RN who wants to continue nursing but is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the physical and emotional demands of the job.
"And in terms of retirement planning," said the CEO, "50 States Staffing has a company-matched 401(k) plan and a lucrative earnings package supplemented by free housing and health insurance, bonuses, reimbursements, and perquisites."
Web-based technology at 50 States Staffing enables the travel nurse to manage credentials and assignment details online. Access to available positions has never been easier for this technology savvy organization.
"Later career nurses love this benefit because it enables them to plan around travel activities, sign-up for shifts from home, and maintain documentation and licensure," said firm Manager Valerie Podwill. "It's our way of giving back to nurses who have dedicated their lives to patient care and recovery."
About 50 States Staffing
With years of experience providing hospital staffing opportunities to healthcare professionals, JCAHO certified Fifty States Staffing provides travel nursing jobs, per diem nursing jobs, and permanent jobs to healthcare professionals in prestigious hospitals nationwide. They offer high salaries, free private housing, and top benefits to traveling nurses , physical therapists, respiratory and occupational therapists, and technologists all across the U.S.( source )
The ongoing nurse shortage, coupled with a heightened interest in travel nursing, has afforded nurses a boost in earnings and more opportunities in 2008, says travel nurse leader 50 States Staffing . As a result, more staff nurses are choosing to travel.
More than half of the nurse respondents in a recent Medical News Today survey said that travel nursing is more rewarding than working as a permanent nurse , with an overwhelming percentage rating flexibility and pay as the primary reasons for travel nursing.
"Salaries for permanent positions have flat lined due to the cooling economy," said Debbie Bacurin, Clinical Resource Manager for 50 States Staffing. "In order to boost earnings, nurses are shifting to travel nursing, which often pays up to 20 percent more than staff work and includes benefits such as free private housing, free health insurance, flexible scheduling and time off."
Other high-ranking reasons nurses give for making the switch to travel include fewer hospital politics and the spontaneity and excitement of meeting new people and experiencing new destinations.
"I've never had to miss a wedding and always spend Christmas with family and friends," said travel RN, Nicole Gohring. "I planned to travel nurse for only a year at first, but it's going on five now and the perks and flexibility are tough to beat."
"With the noticeable uptick in travel nursing jobs comes the flexibility to renew 13 week assignments, opt for a new location or return home," said Mary Kay Hull, Vice President of Recruitment for traveling nurse agency American Traveler. "This flexibility has more permanent position nurses calling and requesting traveling nurse assignments in high paying healthcare markets such as Seattle, Washington State and Northern California, where we have an increase of 32 percent in travel nurse job postings."
"As the travel nursing profession attracts more talented and experienced staff nurses, hospitals turn to travel nurse agencies such as 50 States Staffing for more qualified candidates," said Hospital Marketing Director, Dennis Urbanski. "Once a cottage industry, travel nursing now plays an integral role in strengthening the healthcare community and providing quality patient care." ( source )