Why Hospitals Value Travel Nurses


By Megan M. Krischke, contributor

Travel nursing has a number of benefits for the travelers on assignment, but the facilities also benefit from this flexible staffing option and the professionalism and skill set that each nurse brings to his or her unit.  From large academic medical centers to small, rural hospitals, more and more hospitals are placing a high value on travel nurses.

Stanford Hospital and Clinics in Palo Alto, Calif., for example, recognizes travel nurses as key members of the health care team.

“When the overall staffing environment became more difficult a few years ago, AMN Healthcare, through its nursing brand American Mobile Healthcare, worked closely in partnership with Stanford to come up with new ideas to fill positions--and it worked,” stated Geoff Pridham, manager of nursing administration services at Stanford.  The health system has continued to use travel nurses over the last several years.

“Stanford travel nurses go through the same orientation as any full-time staff member,” explained Pridham. “In fact, one of our greatest successes is the seamless way our travel nurses interact with our staff, our patients and their families.”

He points out that working alongside travelers benefits his full-time staff because it helps them to see what Stanford has to offer and to view the hospital in a new light.

“Travelers are welcomed into the Stanford setting,” Pridham said, emphasizing the importance of quality nurses and the broader skill level that travelers bring to Stanford.

“The quality of the AMN nurses and the value of having a partner you can trust to deliver on its promises--well that’s magic, and we count on it!”

When a travel nurse arrives for an assignment at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center (PHKMC), he or she is welcomed at the airport by a member of the hospital staff. The leaders and staff members at this critical access hospital in Ketchikan, Alaska, have a deep appreciation for the 40 to 50 travel nurses that serve their facility each year.

“We don’t accept a temporary attitude and we don’t label people as temporary.” began Patrick Branco, MHA, Ketchikan’s chief executive officer. “We want all of our staff to be pledged to the commitment of servicing this patient population to the best of their ability.”

“Not only are our travelers invited to social events, they are also invited to participate in our planning, quality and decision making and self-governance meetings,” Branco continued. “The input from travelers in these meetings is so valuable because they often have a rich background on what other facilities have attempted and where they have found success. We especially appreciate the warnings about what doesn’t work.”

After extending a warm welcome to travelers, PHKMC continues to treat them like permanent employees, partly because they hope many will eventually consider joining their permanent staff.

Kendall Sawa, RN, BSHA, vice president of patient services and director of nursing, originally came to PHKMC as a traveler.

“It is a common story. Nurses come seeking adventure and they are going to spend 12 weeks or maybe six months--and now they are in their second decade of living in Ketchikan,” Sawa noted.

Travelers are a key part of the hospital’s staffing and recruitment strategy, according to Blanco.  “A traveler may keep coming back every summer for four years, but may eventually decide to settle down here. We get that rarest opportunity to work together and get to know each other without a long-term commitment.”

Located on an island in southeast Alaska, Ketchikan Medical Center is responsible not only for the medical care of the 15,000 island residents, but for an additional 15,000 people spread over 4,000 square miles. The hospital is 700 miles away from the nearest tertiary care facility.

Lanetta Lundberg, PHR, BSHA, the medical center’s vice president of culture and people, explained, “Ninety percent of what we see is predictable, but we have to have very skilled clinicians to care for that other 10 percent until they can get to a higher level of care.”

“Because of our geography, we can’t access nurse sharing with a phone call. Agency nursing provides us with the ability to fulfill our commitment with the right mix of skills,” reflected Sawa.

“We will always need travel nurses,” added Lundberg.

To help ensure a successful assignment for both the nurse and the organization, PHKMC does a two-prong screening in which the traveler is interviewed by someone from human resources and a nurse manager.  Both interviews focus on mission, vision and values over technical questions.

“We have a culture we are proud of and we are stringent about maintaining that,” said Sawa. “The focus on fit in our interview has made certain we have the right people.”

Sawa describes a successful assignment as one in which the travel nurse falls in love with at least some part of the Ketchikan community. “That shows in your work and your commitment to the community. I am always impressed with people who come in and become part of the community.”

“Travel nurses are a part of us and we hope we give them a great opportunity to live, learn and practice nursing,” Branco concluded.



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