Why ‘boomerang’ nurses are ditching contract work for hospital staff positions

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.

How Allegheny Health Network re-recruits experienced RNs

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.

The silent killer — toxic ambiguity

One of the most overlooked, yet lethal forms of organizational rot is toxic ambiguity. Basically, killing people with fog, Jim VandeHei writes.

Why it matters: 

Think of all the time wasted, relationships ruined, budgets missed and moods fouled by leaders or managers offering hazy direction.

  • Ambiguity is a silent killer — like a slow natural-gas leak. You don’t realize until it’s too late that you have a massive, spreading issue.

Gallup developed a workplace survey system for companies to track engagement and performance. We use it at Axios to spot pockets of emerging staff issues.

  • We often score lower than I’d like on the first question — whether “I know what is expected of me at work.” This drives me nuts: How can any person at any level not know what their damn job is?
  • Turns out, this is common. Many people feel foggy, even if leaders feel they’re being crystal clear.

The toxicity comes when the ambiguity is so thick others can exploit the cloudiness, or suffer from it. Here are some common manifestations to watch for:

  1. Fuzzy strategy. In an ideal world, any person under you should be able to jump out of bed at a moment’s notice and recite the three most important things you’re doing as a company or organization. If they can’t, how can they guide others or prioritize? The only remedy for this is constant, clear repetition of what matters most.
  2. Fuzzy thinking. If you’re a leader and you can’t articulate those three things with precision and certainty, you’re screwed. It means you didn’t sharpen your own thinking before trying to sharpen the thinking of others. This is why I constantly write down what matters most so I can stress-test my own clarity.
  3. Fuzzy communications. You might have strong, concrete thoughts — but not explain them clearly. That’s akin to having the perfect, delicious recipe, but not following it — and then wondering why people don’t love your dish. Your ideas might be brilliant. But if you don’t find strong, memorable words to express them, they will be lost.
  4. Fuzzy accountability. This one often trips me up. People don’t know they own something unless explicitly told and empowered. And others don’t know whom to listen to unless you make it clear who’s the decider. Little gets done right without clear accountability, dictated and announced in advance.
  5. Fuzzy feedback. Few things cripple individuals, teams and companies more than foggy feedback. Many managers are afraid to be direct, and hide what they mean by over-talking or over-complimenting. This leaves people confused about their standing and what they need to do better.

💡 What you can do: If you’re unsure what’s expected of you, that’s on you!

  • Ask your boss: “What’s the No. 1 thing I’ll be judged on?” or “What is Job 1 for me — the biggest specific thing I need to do for the team?”
  • If you get a foggy response, push for clarity. It’s tough to crush a performance review if you don’t know what’ll be reviewed.

The big picture: 

Clarity and candor are tough but essential — especially in anxious or uncertain times.

National Hospital Flash Report: April 2023


Hospital margins continued to stabilize in March with a slight improvement over February, according to data from Kaufman Hall’s National Hospital Flash Report. However, margins remain below pre-pandemic levels, leaving hospitals in a vulnerable position should a recession or a new public health emergency materialize.

For provider practices, physician productivity increased but the increased revenues could not keep pace expenses, according to the quarterly Physician Flash Report

While things appear relatively calm at the moment, there remain significant challenges—specifically labor shortages and diminished margins—that could quickly reach the surface if hospitals and health systems are faced with another crisis. 

Kaufman Hall experts are seeing increased reliance on advanced practice providers (APPs)—e.g. Nurse Practitioners and Physician Associates—and note that those that hire, retain and deploy this critical workforce most effectively will see more success in the long term.