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Rethinking Agency Nurses

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, 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.

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2 comments on "Rethinking Agency Nurses"


shannon (11/14/2012 at 6:45 PM)
So it's not okay to mandate OT but for many nurses that work a full time job and then do agency work often work multiple hours all over the place. So if we really are considered about patient safety maybe we should increase the normal wages and salaries so that we can entice people to enter the profession verse over working nurses to the point of burnout just an idea.

Thomas A. Coss (11/14/2012 at 12:14 PM)
Agency Nurses also enable hospitals to wage discriminate and there by actually saves them money. Additionally, from my years as an Agency RN, I developed a broad base of experience across multiple healthcare systems that has served me well to this day. Excellent piece.