5 Ways To...

Karen Wagner

A 2011 hospital nursing labor cost study by the KPMG Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Institute found that travel nurses are widely used and the trend is growing. Travel nurses offer more flexibility in the census-driven healthcare environment and can help control staffing costs, says Mark Stagen, founder and CEO of Emerald Health Services, Marina del Rey, Calif. Stagen says more hospitals should adhere to the 90/10 permanent to temporary staffing ratio that is considered best practice across industries. Here's how to get started.

Work with a few select travel staffing firms. Select a handful of high-quality, reliable travel nurse staffing firms. Make sure these firms are certified by the Joint Commission and adhere to a rigid code of ethics and professionalism.

Negotiate fair rates. To secure a qualified, experienced travel nurse, hourly rates must be commensurate with pay rates and the cost of living in the hospital's geographical area. Requesting an emergency department nurse with 20 years of experience for a bill rate of $40 an hour is most likely unrealistic. "There's a direct correlation between what you pay a nurse staffing company and the quality of nurse you get," Stagen says.

Do not set the bar too high. Be realistic with expectations regarding qualifications. Do not set standards that are higher than the qualifications of permanent staff. Stagen says one hospital client sought a travel nurse with-among other criteria- a minimum of seven years of experience in the operating room (OR), while only two years of experience were required for permanent OR nursing staff. The hospital was not successful in its search for a travel nurse. "Some hospitals set the quality bar so high that the jobs cannot be filled," he says.

Act fast. Interview a candidate who meets qualifications as quickly as possible. Conduct a phone interview within a few days of receiving a profile followed by an in-person interview a few days later. Make an offer within a day or two if the candidate meets expectations. The job market for nurses is extremely competitive and travel nurses receive offers for positions every month or even week. "They're not going to sit around waiting for you," Stagen says. Do not get hung up on verifying the candidate's qualifications; it is the staffing agency's responsibility to perform the background checks, credentialing, and testing required to ensure clinical knowledge and verify that the candidate is qualified. "The primary issue a hospital should be worried about is personality fit," says Stagen.

Offer longer contracts and more hours. Standard travel nurse contracts are for 36 hours per week for 13 weeks. Hospitals that wish to fill a travel position for an extended period should offer contracts of 48 hours per week for 26 weeks. "Otherwise, nurses get jumpy," Stagen says. "They work at one hospital for three months and then start looking for the next opportunity." Most travel staffing agencies are willing to put cancellation clauses in contracts allowing clients to cancel at 13 weeks with no penalty.

Karen Wagner is a healthcare freelance writer, Forest Lake, Ill., and a member of HFMA's First Illinois Chapter (klw@klw.ms).


Publication Date: Thursday, November 01, 2012

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