Insights from a Clinical Supervisor

As a Clinical Supervisor for Clinisight, LLC, I regularly speak with travelers who are on assignment and for one reason or another, they need someone to reach out to them; coach them through a difficult incident or help them weigh the pros and cons of leaving an assignment where they are being treated poorly. I hear comments almost every time I talk to a travel nurse or C.N.A that another nurse or staff member has made an unfriendly and uninformed comment about their wages. “Travelers make way more than we do”, “You’re making all the money, so you should have to take the hardest patients and earn it”. These are just examples of comments made. Sadly, many of the comments I wouldn’t put into print as they are just too unprofessional or unkind. Does a traveler making more money really mean they should be treated differently or poorly?

I’ve never understood this unfriendly attitude or lack of understanding on the part of permanent staff members. Travelers are accepting assignments at facilities to HELP permanent staff. They fill in the gaps on the schedule where permanent staff are lacking. They allow permanent staff to have manageable nurse/patient ratios rather than being overwhelmed. They work any and all shifts, extra shifts, are floated to different units, often take more patients than permanent staff, are often treated poorly and are given the most difficult patients.
As a previous hospital Director of Nursing, I know the pains of being short staffed. I also know the pains of having to justify the extra money needed in the capital budget for the cost of travel staff. The real truth is that healthcare facilities NEVER want to have to utilize travelers. It is extremely costly and forces facilities to often go over budget and have to cut or shift budget dollars from other departments or projects to cover the cost of travel staff. Healthcare facilities hire travelers as a last resort, as a patient safety measure to ensure patients continue to be cared for and as a way to support their permanent staff.

The lack of understanding of the travel industry by permanent staff is frustrating. Frustrating that hospital and facility leaders don’t do a better job of explaining to their supervisors and staff how lucky they are to have people willing to travel from far and wide to help. Travelers are expected to start a job with minimal orientation and training, no knowledge of the facility or staff and be independently working within days. As a healthcare profession, we need to do a better job of educating our permanent staff and of making our travel colleagues feel appreciated and valued.

I digressed. Let’s get back to the original comments about travelers making more money than permanent staff. Do travelers really make more money than a regular staff member would? Yes. However, it is not as much as you might believe. Travelers make comparable hourly wages to permanent staff. They however do get stipends for housing and travel. Travelers are essentially incentivized for their flexibility and for their willingness to uproot and travel to a new assignment every 3-6 months. They have to pay for and maintain licensure or certifications in multiple states and pay for the required CEU’s in multiple states. There is stress in regards to job security and questions about whether or not the facility still needs them when their contract is up. Pay rates may also have extreme variations. An assignment in California may pay as much as $10 an hour more than Oklahoma for the same required skills and patient acuities so their income may be variable. Tax rates are different and tax returns may have to be filed in multiple states. There are no benefits such as PTO, retirement contributions, 401K’s, employer subsidized health insurance. While most travel companies do offer health insurance, it is very costly, has high deductibles and no longer provides coverage once the assignment ends or is canceled. They are always the new girl or guy and sadly aren’t always treated well or equitably.

I realize some will say that “it’s their choice to travel” and it absolutely is. But it isn’t their choice to be treated poorly or with little respect. No one should ever be treated this way in any work setting.

As the world around us changes, becomes more aware of the need for equality and appreciates diversity, let’s too change the way that travel staff are viewed and treated. Healthcare facilities survived the COVID pandemic and are still surviving thanks to travel staff. Hospital leaders have an opportunity to lead by example and express appreciation and gratitude. Educate friends, colleagues and permanent staff on the real value of travel staff. It’s time for a change, it’s worth the effort.

Lalah Landers, BSN, RN
Clinical Nurse Supervisor
Clinisight, LLC