Burnout and high turnover have been taking a toll on nurse clinicians, resulting in a staffing deficit that will only worsen. According to McKinsey & Company, the U.S. will be short 200,000 to 450,00 registered nurses  for direct patient care by 2025. Research from NCSBN further reports almost 900,000 RNs intend to leave the workforce by 2027.

With this in mind, leaders from our company wanted to examine what could be done to mitigate this growing crisis, one already impacting nearly every healthcare facility daily. So, we surveyed our traveling clinicians to find out what motivates and keeps them in the industry. Analysis of the data revealed the benefits that matter, what they appreciate in a facility, and perhaps more importantly, why they continue taking travel assignments and remain in the profession. Here are a few of the highlights.

Control Leads to Satisfaction 

Over three-quarters of respondents surveyed said they were satisfied with their most recent travel job, whereas only half felt the same about their last permanent staff post. Burnout was a significant factor for staff clinicians due to problematic patient-to-staff ratios, lengthy shifts, and hospital politics. These issues were major influences in prompting clinicians to pursue traveling opportunities.

Not surprisingly, higher compensation and the ability to meet financial goals were the foremost reasons nurses seek traveling opportunities, cited by 84% of respondents. Other motivators included freedom and flexibility at 71%, followed by a sense of adventure (39%), work-life balance (28%), and an “ability to focus on the patient, not hospital politics” at 22%.


Top 5 Motivators for Seeking a Travel Position

Having experienced the freedom and flexibility afforded by traveling, 41% of respondents said they would never return to a staff position. Additionally, after completing their first assignment, data showed work-life balance increased in value by 4%, as did the chance to focus more on patients, not politics.

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Simply put, the opportunity to have greater control over their lives, career journey, and environment resulted in greater satisfaction.

Traveling Nurses: The Value of Pay, Place, and Perks

Pay was the top motivator when selecting a travel assignment at 26%, followed closely by location at 20%. This is supported by what we see internally as many clinicians begin their searches filtering by city and state. Shift structures and the facility came in at 11%, with contract length (10%) and start date (8%).

Travel clinicians are particularly adept at negotiating monetary benefits. That said, we asked them to rank the compensation package features they find most important. The top responses were: Pay rate guarantees (18%), housing stipends (14%), travel reimbursement (12%), paid time off between assignments (8%), licensing and certification reimbursement (7%), affordable healthcare (7%), retirement contributions/401k matching (5%), support while on assignment (5%), scrubs reimbursement (4%), housing coordination and support (4%), and continuing education unit (CEU) reimbursement (3%).

As the data shows, pay, place, and perks are a few of the best ways to retain and attract these talented nurses.

Flexibility and Safety

Every healthcare facility has its processes and systems, ranging from unique float parameters to the type of electronic medical records (EMR) software it uses. When evaluating offers from a specific facility, traveling clinicians cared most about flexible scheduling (14%) and staff-to-patient ratios (13%).

Yet, while patient safety and support are critical, other factors have an impact, including facility reputation (9%), floating frequency (8%), charting systems (7%), opportunity for overtime shifts (7%), ability to request time off (RTO – 7%), thorough onboarding (7%), parking (7%), float parameters (6%), number of unit clinicians (6%), and lunch breaks (5%).

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Interestingly, after completing their first assignment, responses showed some changes in value. “Work-life balance” grew by another four points, as did the ability to focus on the patient, “not the politics.” While still overwhelmingly important, money became somewhat less of a motivator for repeat travelers, dropping eight points.


Top 5 Motivators for Seeing a Travel Position

We also included a body of allied health professionals in our survey, those providing various diagnostic, technical, therapeutic, and support services. Topping their list of essential factors is thorough onboarding (12%), followed closely by the number of clinicians per unit. These healthcare professionals, on the whole, tend to be newer to traveling, likely explaining why they emphasize onboarding and ratios at a facility when considering offers. On a related note, Staffing Industry Analysts project continued growth in this space, with allied health travel jobs increasing by 5% in 2023 and 2024.

Satisfaction Guarantees?

The NCSBN study noted that more than 60% of nurses experienced workload increases during the pandemic. This left many feeling exhausted, emotionally drained, and disillusioned. With healthcare workforce shortages showing no signs of stopping and every indication they will continue to climb, the nursing profession must focus on rebuilding, or tragic consequences may follow.

Retaining talented, tenured RNs and attracting new talent are essential. The traveling nurses in our study have provided vital feedback related to job satisfaction. While there are no guarantees, their insights are important to consider across the industry as we work together to position healthcare for a healthier future.

Please visit the Nomad Health Job Satisfaction Index for additional findings.

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Valerie Gale
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