In a study released last month by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, temporary or supplementary nurses could be ‘life savers’ for hospitals experiencing a shortage of nurses. After examining data from more than 1.3 million patients and 40,000 nurses in more than 600 hospitals, researchers from the university concluded that hiring temporary nurses immediately increases the nurse to patient ratio which correlates directly to decreased patient mortality rates.
While this news is not surprising to many of us in the industry, a separate part of the study addressed an argument that has long been debated. Many hospitals and health networks have long attributed supplemental nurses to poor patient outcomes. However, the study found that in no way do supplemental nurses contribute to poor performance and in fact, in many cases supplemental nurses help improve patient care. Poor patient outcomes actually can be attributed to poor working conditions, not temporary help.
At Randstad Healthcare we have long known this to be true. Often times temporary or travel nurses have much deeper and varied experience and expertise levels than nurses who have been in the same hospitals for decades. Overall, there really is no difference in the skills or talent of these nurses because they are the same population, just at a different stage of their career and work life balance choices. The only difference is the work arrangement under which they are currently employed – ie: full time, part time, travel nurse, permanent staff. Their skills do not change because of their work arrangement. In fact, most permanent nurses have worked as temporary nurse at one point, or plan to in the future. Conversely, all temporary nurses have worked as a permanent nurse at one point, and may plan to again in the future.
This different type of work arrangement, whether temporary or travel, is one of the key benefits of the nursing industry and will continue to be one of its greatest assets. It is important to not only create opportunities for nurses like flexible work options but to also empower them. As hospitals continue to see nursing shortages and increasing demand, supplemental nurses will be a key resource to help manage patient care. This flexible work option is available to nurses in an industry with high turnover and burnout, while creating opportunities for nurses to stay in the field longer. Whether it means starting a family, taking a summer off or tending to other responsibilities, temporary nursing allows this key talent to work when they need to and to take time off when they want. In fact, according to our latest Engagement study, employees cited providing flexibility or accommodations for flexible work arrangements as the top tools to engage workers, just under promotions and bonuses.
As nurses expand their roles and responsibilities in response to the changing healthcare landscape, providing a supportive environment and opportunities for them to serve a variety of hospitals around the country will both empower them and also improve patient care. Supplemental nurses save lives but they also help the healthcare industry manage increased demand.
As we head into 2013, hospitals will be focused on efficiency and cost control especially as many continue to work to comply with recent changes in healthcare reform. The temporary nursing industry will be a key strategy for these health networks to increase their supply of talent and new demand without sacrificing top quality care for patients. As this demand grows, a flexible portion of the workforce will also help retain nurses, easing the shortage and increasing positive patient outcomes.