During the pandemic, many nurses left hospital staff jobs for more lucrative travel jobs. However, many of these nurses are returning to hospitals for full-time positions, especially as travel pay falls and organizations offer new staff benefits, Melanie Evans writes for the Wall Street Journal.
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Hospitals see more nurses return to their positions
During the pandemic, many hospitals struggled with staffing shortages as many nurses left their positions as a result of burnout or for more high-paying travel opportunities. However, many nurses are now returning to staff positions, especially as travel pay declines.
According to Aya Healthcare CEO Alan Braynin, travel nurse pay is now down 28% compared to a year ago. Hospital openings for travel nurses were also down by 51% at the end of April compared to the same time last year.
At HCA Healthcare, the country’s largest publicly traded hospital chain, nurse hiring increased by 19% in the first three months of the year compared to the average across the last four quarters. In addition, turnover levels have almost declined to pre-pandemic levels, and HCA’s travel nurse costs have dropped by 21% in the first quarter of this year compared to 2022.
According to the organization, many nurses who initially left their hospitals during the pandemic are now coming back. Since 2022, around 20% of the 37,000 nurses hired at HCA hospitals previously worked for the company at some point between 2016 and 2022.
Similarly, Houston Methodist has rehired around 60 nurses who initially left during the pandemic. Roberta Schwartz, the chief innovation officer at the health system’s flagship hospital, said these returning nurses have helped the hospital make more beds available and keep up with an 8% increase in demand.
“The boomerang nurses have returned,” said Gail Vozzella, Houston Methodist’s chief nurse.
How hospitals are attracting boomerang nurses
To attract more nurses to staff positions, hospital officials said they are offering higher pay, as well as several new benefits, such as childcare, less demanding work positions, and more flexible schedules.
For example, Suzane Nguyen, who took a teaching job during the pandemic, rejoined Houston Methodist in June 2022 after she was offered a virtual job. In her new position, she collects patient information by video. “The stress doesn’t compare,” she said.
Similarly, Linda Allen, an ED nurse who left to work for a temporary agency during the pandemic, returned to Sentara Healthcare in 2022 after the hospital system increased its wages and offered new, more flexible schedules.
According to Terrie Edwards, Sentara’s regional VP, the organization has increased its nurse wages by around 21% in the last two years and now offers student debt relief up to $10,000, as well as adoption and infertility benefits.
Overall, these changes have helped Sentara hire around 400 boomerang nurses, which has reduced staff overtime and cut its travel nurse expenses in half.
“They really did step up,” said Allen, who became a full-time employee in September 2022 after initially working temporary 13-week contracts.
Outside of these benefits, some nurses are also just ready for more permanent positions after spending the pandemic working in several different hospitals. “There is something to be said for working in the same place every day, consistently,” said Alexis Brockting, an advanced practice nurse at Mercy Hospital South.