Travel Nursing Changes Recruitment and Retention

As the country returned to a more manageable patient load, travel nursing recruiting slowed. Many hospitals and healthcare leaders are aiming to get them back in their organizations as full-time nurses.

Travel nurses made as much as $10,000 a week during the worst of the pandemic. However, salaries have dropped to $2,662 per week on average in recent months. Travel nurses are having contracts abruptly cancelled while in transit to their new site. Agreed-upon salaries are being renegotiated at lower rates.

While travel nurse salaries have noticeably decreased, they’re still generally higher than the historical average salaries of registered nurses. Although compensation will be top of mind for those considering travel nursing, recruiters should also be prepared to answer additional questions pertaining to career growth and work/life balance.

What travel nurses want from recruiters

When researching and interviewing for a new travel assignment, here are a few questions nurses may ask recruiters before agreeing to move forward.

  1. Security of travel assignments: Does your agency/organization offer continuous assignments? If so, who coordinates the next assignment? The answers to these questions may influence which travel opportunity is the best fit for their career and life. Nurses may consider whether they’re interested in taking one assignment every few months with various organizations like an agency, or steadier assignments with the same organization in which they’re traveling between locations.
  2. Career growth: Does your agency/organization offer career growth opportunities? This question may be geared more towards working with an organization over an agency. Traveling in-house allows for additional career growth and development, as well as the ability to tenure within the organization. Maybe a nurse will find a location they want to settle down in with a permanent position. Organizations may also offer internal growth programs, career coaches, and resources to help you further develop your skill set and explore new career opportunities that nurses might not realize are available.
  3. Work/life balance: Does your agency/organization offer work-life balance? Given the length of most travel assignments, some travelers might not consider work-life balance within their career. To avoid burnout, some agencies/organizations offer well-being programs and resources to help nurses grow, develop, and flourish personally and professionally.

Next in travel nursing

Travel nursing isn’t going away entirely. It can rapidly provide a nursing workforce in times of dire need — and not just because of a pandemic. Some states have severe ongoing nursing shortages. “Travel nurses allow hospitals to address gaps in the full-time permanent nursing workforce, avoiding the inability to respond to the quantity and acuity of patient healthcare needs,” says Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Dean and Bessie Baker Distinguished Professor of the Duke University School of Nursing.

Some nurses travel just until they hit a specific financial goal. After paying off student loans or earning a down payment for a house, some return to their previous jobs. The million-dollar question is: Will most do so? “That’s what a lot of nurse leaders are hoping for,” says Bacon.

Some travel nurses are returning to full-time jobs, but in roles outside the bedside. Others are switching to different settings. Inpatient nurses suffering from burnout may switch to outpatient or ambulatory care, for example. In those settings, says Bacon, “nurses can have more control over their worksites, and more manageable workloads.”

As many nurses left to travel, most of the nurses left behind with you are likely new graduates.

“Particularly in the med/surg floors, there are very few experienced nurses available. If you have two- or three-years’ experience, you’re a veteran,” says Bacon.

Hospitals need travel nurses to return to create a more experienced nursing workforce. They’re coming up with creative ways to lure them back — help with affordable housing, tuition and childcare assistance, and flexible scheduling.

Hospitals also need to retain experienced staff nurses, who may have some additional leverage to negotiate salaries.

Valuing nurses’ needs

Regardless of whether you’re a full-time nurse or a traveler, one thing is clear. “Nationally, nurses are seeking better compensation, working conditions, and flexibility in their work assignments,” says Guilamo-Ramos.

A global pandemic and the many associated complications can make it difficult enough to recruit nurses. Keeping up to date with what nurses need and want can be key to recruiting and retaining a high-quality nursing workforce.

Although the pandemic has caused many difficulties, it has also allowed people to truly understand what is important to them and how their work fits in to that. Healthcare leaders, recruiters, and hiring managers can gain insights from the 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report: For Leaders and Recruiters that can inform your efforts to hire and retain nurses. By understanding what trends are occurring in nurses’ opinions of their roles and their salaries, you can develop strategies that help them feel supported, appreciated, and engaged with your organization.

Download the report here.