ACA, better economy spark surge in use of traveling nurses

An improving U.S. economy and an uptick in the number of Americans who have health coverage have increased demand for healthcare, which in turn has racheted up employment opportunities for traveling nurses, Kaiser Health News reports.

Demand for experienced, temporary nursing staff has reached a 20-year high, and it's slated to increase another 10 percent this year as the number of hospital admissions rises, research firm Staffing Industry Analysts reports. Medicaid expansion may also drive the trend, as it has largely boosted hospitals' bottom lines, making them more apt to seek traveling nurses to cover staffing gaps.

Even before the recent rise in demand, traveling nurses have long helped hospitals keep pace with seasonal admissions surges, particularly in areas where large numbers of retirees stay during winter months, according to the article. Today, in addition to the traditional Southeastern states, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington, Oregon and California also are popular destinations for traveling nurses, Leslie Brown, branch manager of healthcare staffing company Aureus Medical Group, said in a statement.

High-demand specialties for traveling nurses include intensive care units, emergency departments, operating rooms, and labor and delivery, Brown said, adding that it's vital that nurses become "lifelong learners" in regard to electronic health record systems in order to remain marketable for these jobs. 

In regard to patient safety, research has shown that not only is there no link between use of travel nurses and patient mortality, but also that "hiring temporary nurses can alleviate shortages that could produce higher patient mortality," Linda Aiken, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, told KHN.

However, traveling nurses do have one main drawback--their cost. Though they do help patch up staffing shortages, traveling nurses often make significantly more per hour than their permanent counterparts, which is why Northside Hospital in Atlanta has a "love-hate" relationship with them even as it has increased their ranks by 52 percent since last year, human resources manager David Votta told KHN. Yet previous research has indicated that the use of temporary nursing staff can actually save hospitals money, FierceHealthFinance has reported.

To learn more:
- read the KHN article
- here's the Aureus Medical Group statement

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