Viewpoint: Investments beyond travel staff needed to fix nursing shortage

Travel nursing is not a sustainable solution to the nursing shortage, Bloomberg editors argue in an Oct. 18 editorial. They propose the U.S. instead invest in education programs for foreign and domestic talent. 

Travel nurses have historically been seen as a solution to staffing shortages, according to Bloomberg. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they were in high demand and sometimes could quadruple their pre-pandemic salaries.

However, employing a high concentration of high-paid travel nurses can be dangerous for hospitals. The American Hospital Association found that in January 2022, hospitals spent nearly 40 percent of their total nursing labor costs on travel nurses — compared to just 5 percent in 2019, Bloomberg reports. 

Staff nurses may also demand higher pay to match the travel nurses they work with, and patients' care quality can suffer from high nurse turnover. 

Bloomberg recommends alleviating the issue by funneling more staff nurses into the healthcare system. The editors argue Congress should expand tuition reimbursement for people who commit to work as nurses in short-staffed areas. Additionally, the U.S. should better invest in foreign workers. Thousands of immigrants with undergraduate nursing degrees work below their skill level in assistant-level positions, and making it easier for them to re-credential would expand the talent pool. Also, extending foreign work programs that provide visas to students could help draw foreign talent, the editorial said. 

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