The Travel Nurse: An Ally During An Understaffed Shift



If you're interested in a nursing career, but not keen on a static work environment, travel nursing could be ideal. These professionals generally perform the same duties as staff nurses, but on a short term basis. In many cases, they're called upon because of certain specialties that are in high demand in other areas of the country. Necessities like lodging and meals are often paid for by a staffing agency.

The results of a study by the University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing found that although these nurses offer assistance on a temporary basis, the impact they make can be lifesaving, especially in hospitals that are crippled by staffing shortages.

Changing Perceptions

The recent study offers a stark contrast to the common perceptions about travel nurses. Staffing Success magazine ran an article which mentioned how some hospitals had the idea that temporary nurses are actually detrimental to patient safety.

The University of Pennsylvania's study used data from four states compiled from hundreds of hospitals, over a million patients and 13,000 nurses. Linda Aiken, the lead author of the study said that while past studies did play a role in misconceptions about quality, these recent findings showed that any instances of higher mortality rates among patients were likely due to poor working conditions, rather than the competency of travel nurses.

Other Factors Were Nearly Identical

Another study released last year in a publication called Health Affairs found that factors like education levels and amount of experience were almost the same among staff nurses and travel nurses. Travel nurses are also required to keep their credentials updated, just as staff nurses do.

What Can Be Done?

These recent studies suggest that the work environment can play a big part in patient outcomes. Even though travel nurses aren't likely to have long assignments that would enable them to have a hand in changing the characteristics of a work setting, they can still make a positive impact.

By remaining committed to consistently excellent care, particularly during staffing shortages, it's possible for travel nurses to improve patient results without having to worry about working to improve the work environment itself.

Evidence That Risks Increase During Staffing Shortages

A March 2011 study from the New England Journal of Medicine looked at 43 units at one hospital over a three year period and found that patient mortality rates increased when nursing staff levels were more than eight hours below the ideal target.

Although the hospital in the study was able to reach staffing targets over 80 percent of the time, real patient risks emerged in conjunction with staffing shortages. Alarmingly, mortality risks rose by two percent for patients who were directly exposed to staffing shortages, and the risk doubled for shifts that were characterized by high turnover. The study concluded by urging the need to match staffing levels with patient needs.

Understaffed hospital floors are a perpetual problem for hospitals around the country. Fortunately though, recent studies such as the one performed by the University of Pennsylvania, showed that travel nurses can offer competent and necessary help in busy hospitals.

If the idea of a constantly changing environment sounds appealing, consider working as a travel nurse. Although you might have to get used to living out of a suitcase, you can be an instrumental force against healthcare staffing deficiencies.

Eryn Greene is an avid blogger. If you'd like an advanced career in nursing, apply for an and to msn program from the University of San Francisco.

 Photo By: Vladimir Morozov

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