The Evolution of Nursing

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Nurses looking at a clipboard in hospital ward

By Jeremy Commisso, CEO, Nurse First

The healthcare industry has been facing a nursing crisis long before the arrival of the COVID-19 virus. For years, nurses and other healthcare professionals have been subjected to exhaustion, ever-changing regulations, and the impending retirement surge. The widespread pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. 

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Specifically in the United States, nursing shortages have speckled various locations since the 1900s. However, according to “Confronting the Nursing Shortage” by Linda L. Workman, the impact of the current shortage, announced in 2012, is greater than any this country has experienced. While her data shows the cyclical nature of healthcare staff shortages, many reports indicate that this one may last longer than expected. The International Council of Nurses predicts that 13 million registered nurses worldwide must enter the workforce by 2030 if we want a fighting chance at closing the gap. Almost four million of those nurses are needed in the U.S. alone, a 28.4% increase from the last prediction.

So what will it take to start plugging such a massive hole in the healthcare system that’s only expected to get bigger? What can address the increasing pressure and demand from facilities that just can’t keep up on their own? 

Travel nursing has become the rising stopgap solution to mitigate the impact of the Great Resignation within healthcare. The needs of both patients and staff have evolved, so the industry must evolve with it, including employing out-of-the-box resolutions like travel nursing.

How Did We Get Here?

The overall essence of the nursing role has not changed: to provide quality care for patients and advocate for their health and wellness. What has changed is the environment in which healthcare professionals are expected to work. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the way healthcare facilities take care of their patients has drastically changed. More and more people require care, especially the larger than ever aging Baby Boomer generation. Keeping up with these demands with understaffed and overworked medical teams while continuously adding more patients to an already overloaded roster has healthcare facilities everywhere between a rock and a hard place.

While not all the data is in yet regarding how the pandemic has fully impacted the nursing shortage, it’s clear that the repercussions of this event may have lasting long-term effects for patients and healthcare organizations alike. The lack of physical and emotional support, intensified poor working conditions, and extreme levels of burnout, exhaustion, and poor mental health among the remaining staff have not made the job easier. Because of these circumstances, many nurses have either left the profession entirely or gone after alternative employment options that provide them with more control over where and when they work—i.e., travel nursing. 

Seasonal staffing and flexibility are just a couple of the reasons travel nursing has grown popular with medical organizations. Travel nursing gained its prominence during the pandemic because of the need for nurses to combat the overwhelming surge of patients nationwide. Travel nursing fills the void for short-staffed hospitals at a higher pay rate depending on the location, specialty, experience, shift, and urgency.

What was born out of necessity has become a lucrative career option for nurses wanting to travel and pursue career development. But how does this impact the healthcare industry long term?

The Challenge

Nurses are so critical to healthcare delivery that any challenge they face impacts us all. With so many healthcare facilities dependent on travel nurses to provide extra aid, the prices they’re willing to pay for the additional services are sky-high, resulting in increased interest in the industry.

Hiring traveling nurses rather than permanent nurses eliminates the need to pay for benefits such as health insurance, retirement, and paid days off, and also reduces recruiting, training, overtime, and payroll costs. The opportunity and publicity given to travel nursing for financial and geographical freedom enticed more people to the industry during the pandemic and even now. 

Still, the sudden influx of travel nurses is starting to plateau as travel nurses experience what the profession is like in a “normal” market and at a time when hospitals are reducing pay during a contract or cutting contracts completely. This industry has also gained a negative perception due to many agencies being criticized for manipulating nurses and confusing contracts. The greedy nature of these select agencies has cast a broad shadow over agencies that actually want to care for their nurses and do their part to get the industry back on track.

My travel nurse agency, Nurse First, aims to do that and more by positively supporting the ongoing evolution of the travel nursing industry. We want our travel nurses to get the most out of their contracts, both monetarily and professionally. The best way to ensure that is by being as transparent as possible and educating travelers on how they can make travel nursing work for them and their families.

The Future of Nursing

Even with the pandemic’s impact on the healthcare landscape, there is still hope for the nursing industry. According to data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), enrollment in nursing programs at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels saw an increase in 2020 despite concerns that the Covid pandemic diminished interest in nursing careers.

Today, healthcare organizations have a few medium and longer-term strategies to consider to continue supporting their workforces. Despite the concerns and challenges surrounding travel nursing, facilities still need nurses, and patients deserve the highest quality of care. Utilizing a workforce willing and readily available to support the growing demand for healthcare makes the most sense for numerous facilities to stay on top of their patients and labor needs.

The pandemic has—and in some ways still is—reshaped the healthcare landscape and how workforces are managed and care is delivered. Providers have created new opportunities in telehealth, remote positions, and roles in the community and public health through technology incorporation, work flexibility and deployment, and rapid reskilling. Travel nursing doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Agencies provide the additional help needed until the broader nursing shortage issue comes to a close.

Healthcare Business Today is a leading online publication that covers the business of healthcare. Our stories are written from those who are entrenched in this field and helping to shape the future of this industry. Healthcare Business Today offers readers access to fresh developments in health, medicine, science, and technology as well as the latest in patient news, with an emphasis on how these developments affect our lives.