The Future of Contract Nursing

Short-term travel nursing contracts offer nurses a myriad of opportunities to practice in different geographic regions and settings. Not only can these flexible assignments enhance a nurse’s career path, but they are impacting the future of nursing in a number of ways.

Contract nursing includes rapid response assignments, critical staffing or crisis nursing, project-based assignments and other types of travel nurse positions, across a variety of specialties.

The recruiters at AMN Healthcare report that assignments in emergency departments, intensive care units and medical-surgical units remain in high demand, along with labor and delivery, operating room, telemetry and other nurse specialties. These contract nursing jobs can range from three weeks up to 13 weeks.

Why contract nursing is important in healthcare

Travel nurses on temporary contracts fill in when organizations lack sufficient in-house, permanent staff. They keep nursing staff from becoming overburdened and help organizations maintain quality patient care. However, the nursing shortage has deepened in recent years, making staffing issues even more of a challenge.

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Contract nursing addresses the staffing shortage

New research from the 2023 AMN Healthcare Survey of Registered Nurses found 30% of nurses said they were likely to leave their career due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 18% of nurses reported they were likely to retire. Yet, patients are still becoming ill or getting injured and needing care. Without enough nursing staff, they may end up boarding in emergency departments as they wait for an inpatient bed.

Some hospitals have even closed units and operating rooms as a result of staffing issues, according to Time magazine. Facilities have turned to short-term contracts with nurses to temporarily fill those empty positions.

The NCSBN research found 610,388 registered nurses planned to leave the workforce in the next few years. As the shortage of nurses persists, contract nursing will continue to shape the future of nursing.

Flexible staffing in various situations

Contract nurses know what to do and how to care for a variety of patients in any situation. Examples include crisis nursing assignments, which support hospitals during or after a crisis, such as New York City in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, or after a natural disaster. Rapid-response nursing contracts also require nurses to quickly get to work, sometimes with little notice. In these cases, a hospital may be struggling with a high patient census or other urgent issues.

Contract nursing offers both nurses and healthcare organizations flexibility. These short-term contracts allow facilities to secure nursing coverage they need without being locked into a longer contract or full-time staff position.

Maintaining quality patient care

Multiple studies have supported that fully staffed patient units improve patient care, including a May 2022 article in JAMA Health Forum that found nurse workload was associated with 60-day mortality in Medicare beneficiaries who were admitted to an acute care hospital with sepsis.

Landmark research from Linda H. Aiken, PhD, RN, FAAN, and colleagues, reported in The Journal of Nursing Administration, found “higher levels of RNs in direct patient care, whether permanent or nonpermanent nurses, are associated with lower rates of patient adverse events.”

In 2013, Aiken and colleagues reported in Health Services Research that hospitals with a higher proportion of agency-employed supplemental nurses had similar mortality outcomes as those with more hospital-employed nurses.

Nursing compact making travel nursing easier

The NCSBN’s Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) makes traveling across state lines easier and faster for nurses, as compared to obtaining individual nursing licenses in different states. To date, forty jurisdictions have enacted the nursing compact, including Washington State which just signed it into law on April 21, 2023.

“The compact enables nurses to obtain one multistate license with the ability to practice across state lines both in-person and electronically,” said Nicole Livanos, JD, MPP, director of state affairs for the NCSBN. “For many travel nurses, the reality of holding multiple licenses and upkeeping those licenses can be costly and an administrative burden. For those travel nurses whose primary state of residence is a compact jurisdiction, they are eligible to apply for a multistate license that may alleviate all or some of those burdens.”

The compact serves as a tool for nurses, but it also increases access to care for patients, facilitates nurse employment in the growing telehealth field, and enables continuity of care in the modern and mobile healthcare environment, Livanos said.

Benefits for contract nurses

Looking for some freedom and flexibility in your nursing career? Contract nurses can pick their schedules, locations of work, and their positions. They also earn high pay rates, and receive free housing or a stipend, travel reimbursement and other benefits.

Nurses on a travel contract often can extend or renew that contract if the assignment is working out and the facility still needs nurses. Or, they can choose to take some time off or move on to a new location. The choice is up to the nurse.

Working as a contract nurse builds a nurse’s resume. It also is a fabulous way to network with other nurses, make new friends and explore new areas of the country.

Partnering with a staffing agency like AMN Healthcare also gives nurses access to a multi-faceted team that will support them through the job search, the onboarding process and throughout their assignment. Clinical liaisons are available 24/7 to answer nurses’ questions and help problem solve any issues that may arise.

The future outlook for contract nursing

As healthcare organizations strive to continue providing care to the people in their communities, contract nursing enables facilities to keep their doors and units open with skilled professionals ready to deliver quality care. Due to the nursing shortage and the need for flexible staffing options, travel nurses contracts are expected to remain part of the future of nursing.

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