Recapping the Fight Against Pay Caps for Travel Nurses
It’s an exciting time to be a travel nurse. Demand for skilled healthcare workers is higher than ever, and facilities across the country have turned to travel nurses to fill the gaps. There’s no shortage of opportunities. Many facilities are even paying a premium to attract travel nurses. But this is catching the attention of industry groups, which in turn are lobbying the government to put a cap on travel nurse pay.
Why pay caps have been proposed
The pandemic brought dramatic changes to the healthcare industry — and to nursing in particular. As the virus affected millions of lives, nurses were on the front lines, and many suffered extreme burnout as a result. High patient to staff ratios, low wages, and more complex responsibilities led many nurses to abandon their permanent positions. Some left the field entirely, while others chose to embrace travel nursing.
This ultimately led to a major supply and demand issue. Facilities need nurses to care for patients, but staff nurses are increasingly hard to come by. Most facilities are coping by hiring more travel nurses, but this spike in demand increased travel nurse pay rates, which led even more staff nurses to make travel-oriented career moves.
Now, some industry groups are taking issue with the pay imbalance between travel and staff nurses. They’ve asked state and federal legislators to investigate the rise in travel nursing wages and potentially enforce a cap on what a staffing agency can charge. Supporters of the movement are concerned about the long-term effects of high travel nurse wages on health systems, patients, and the healthcare industry at large.
Some states are already implementing legislation aimed at capping pay for agency nurses. Minnesota and Massachusetts already have existing wage cap laws; other states, like Pennsylvania, are planning to introduce new legislation.
Travel pay caps are reductive and damaging to the industry
Travel nurses face many of the same challenges as staff nurses, and traveling also comes with its own costs. Travel nurses upend their lives to move to new cities and work in unfamiliar facilities with different standards and unknown coworkers. They often fill in at crisis locations where risks are high, and shortages are dire. They leave their families, friends, and homes to offer care where it’s needed most, and these sacrifices warrant the extra pay travel nurses receive.
Capping or reducing travel nursing pay could disincentivize nurses from taking on these challenging jobs, and nurses aren’t guaranteed to take on staff positions if travel nursing doesn’t pay them what they’re worth. Given the already prevalent nursing shortage, facilities might find themselves with an even bigger problem: not enough nurses to do the work. This hurts everyone — patients most of all.
Travel nursing isn’t the right choice for everyone. There are plenty of nurses who are happy to stay on a facility’s permanent staff. Healthcare systems must find ways to incentivize their full-time nurses and protect their rights and safety instead of pushing for caps on travel nurse wages.