Rethinking Agency Nurses

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, November 13, 2012

More states and hospitals are saying no to mandatory nurse overtime, while at the same time, experts are predicting a shortage of registered nurses that's expected to get worse as baby boomers age.

So what's an understaffed, overworked nursing department supposed to do?

At least one solution might come from increasing the use of short-term contract nurses, a group that hasn't traditionally gotten a whole lot of love in the nursing world. Agency nurses are billed as an expensive last resort, inexperienced, unfamiliar with the culture of the health systems where they get assigned, and at worst, detrimental to patient safety.

One nurse manager I spoke with earlier this year boasted that his hospital hadn't used any agency nurses since it started using self-scheduling software. Over the years, HealthLeaders has written about other ways to reduce the use of agency nurses.

But a study in the November issue of Health Affairs paints a different picture. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester School of Nursing and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program, found that RNs who work as contract nurses have similar education levels and, on average, only slightly less work experience than permanent RNs.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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