The national nursing shortage is taking its toll on hospitals and healthcare facilities as administrators struggle to fill staffing gaps. To address the shortage, many hospitals opt for solutions like international recruiting or travel nursing. In fact, the demand for travel nursing has reached a 20-year high. 

It’s common knowledge that travel nurses on average are paid more by the hour. So it’s reasonable to think that supplemental nurses are an expensive option to address these staffing vacancies. But according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, that’s not quite accurate.

Using longitudinal hospital unit-level data to investigate the cost and cost efficiency of supplemental nurses, the research discovered that hourly personnel costs for supplemental nurses efficiently offset the overtime costs of permanent nurses. More from the study:

Prior research has shown that temporary and contract nurses are just as qualified-through education and experience-as permanent nurses,” said Richard Wahlquist, president and chief executive officer of the American Staffing Association (ASA). “This study shows that supplemental nurses offer the strategic flexibility that hospitals need to augment their workforce during peak times, and to address any interim labor shortages related to leave coverage, vacancies, and expansion of services.”

Overtime for full-time nurses is a real problem according to researcher Linda Aiken, who works for the Center of Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania. She wrote in an ASA statement:

In addition to not being cost-effective, overtime hours performed by permanent nurses may equate to poor nurse and patient satisfaction. Extensive research indicates that overtime work is connected to nurse burnout, turnover, and poor patient outcomes. The use of supplemental nurses can alleviate these risks.

You can read the report on supplemental nurses in its entirety here, or read the National Associations of Traveling Healthcare Organization’s (NATHO’s) article on the report.

The bottom line: don’t believe everything you hear. While it’s true that travel nurses are more expensive by the hour, when all things are taken into consideration, they’re a useful, economic short-term staffing option. For more information on why hospitals are using travel nurses, click the button below.


Why Do So Many Hospitals Use Travel Nurses?