News / Periop Café

System VPs Talk Retention and Recruitment During Travel Nurse Boom

March 10, 2022


System VPs Talk Retention and Recruitment During Travel Nurse Boom

Since the pandemic began, many full-time nurses have opted for travel assignments, seeing that they can earn much more doing the same job with a different label. According to the 2021 Nursing Solutions, Inc. Health Care Retention and RN Staffing Report, hourly rates for travel nurses are now as high as $200/hour.  

How are organizations recruiting and retaining staff when the grass appears to be greener on the other side? Whitman Partners’ Perioperative Power List Class of 2022 share their insights and solutions for meeting the challenge of keeping staff on board and maintaining morale. Given why most people choose to nurse—a natural empathy and the desire to care for people in their most vulnerable states—it is not surprising that the answers do not always revolve around a higher paycheck. 

Terri Freguletti, Vice President of Perioperative Services, Hackensack Meridian Health  

“At first, our nurses were not keen on the idea of having travelers come in. [Travelers] were making double or triple their salary, yet they would have to show them where everything is and train them on how to do cases. The way we sold it to them was that travelers would work weekends, nights, and evenings, all the less popular shifts. Travelers would augment what they did so that our team members could continue to have more normal lives in the pandemic world. Our staff had a voice in the decision, and those terms worked for them. It was a win-win for them.” 

Claudine Hoppen, Vice President of Surgical Services, Henry Ford Health System  

“Years ago, if you joined a travel agency, that meant that you actually traveled. That aspect disappeared in the pandemic. You have colleagues working side by side on a Monday; then the following week, one person is making double what the staff person is making because they are now on a travel assignment. Others are just going a couple of miles down the road to another hospital. This is irreparably driving up the costs of care. This is not sustainable. 

We must hold travel agencies to be precisely what they are: travel. What needs to happen long-term is a stipulation that if you are going to join a travel agency, that means traveling outside of a set mile radius or outside the state in which you reside.  

We know that agencies actively recruit, and that is perfectly fine. It is a free market. But we must be able to put up internal controls and guardrails. Right now, they do not exist, and that is a problem.” 

Jeff Hawkins, Vice President of Clinical Services, CoxHealth  

“The traveler demand has crippled us in multiple ways. Number one is staff leaving to travel. We have found that the best thing to do is be supportive and encouraging. The money is ridiculous. I cannot tell them not to go earn $200,000 next year. But when you get tired and are ready to come home, please come home. We want you back. And we are already starting to see one or two people coming back from their hiatus. We are glad to see that. 

The other part of that is when we first started bringing travelers in, there was that disconnect between our staff and the travelers, who became a source of resentment. We tell the team that we are bringing them in to make their work-life more manageable.” 

Stephen Lovern, System Senior Director of Perioperative Services and Quality, Carilion Clinic  

“What will it take to get someone to stay? Why have they stayed this long? For some, traveling is totally a financial decision. But those are the ones where you want to tell them that they have a home here if something changes. They are welcome back anytime. So not only are you talking to them about why they have stayed and how you can get them to stay, but also if they still make that decision to step forward, making sure they know that they have a good place to come back to. We have had a few who went traveling, were gone two weeks, and said, ‘You know, I thought I wanted to do this, but I’m glad I had a place to go back to, and thank you for saying that.’ 

Another way to get people to reconsider is flex time. Maybe work 8 hours a month with us. Any flexibility you can offer people might get them to just hang on a little bit.” 

T.J. Adams, System Vice President of Perioperative Services, North Mississippi Health Services  

“I commend those that choose to travel nurse. There is a need out there, and if they make that decision for their family and that is what is best for them, we try to support those individuals. We leave the door open for those that have left us if they want to come back.  

How have we tried to recruit and retain? One way is being market competitive with our hourly rates for nursing and surgical techs. And as we all know, that is a moving target. But money is not always the solution. It is also the culture and the work environment. We need to hold supervisors, managers, and directors more accountable for how they treat their staff. We can retain our people and recruit new people if we provide a great culture.”