Traveling healthcare professionals have been around in some form or another as long as there have been people with a passion and desire to care for the health and well being of others. However, this blog is focused on the modern supplemental healthcare staffing industry in the United States. Depending on how you define the beginning, it seems fairly typical to place the genesis of this now massive industry sometime in either the 1970s, or 1980s.
Overall background of travel healthcare
If you were to take an all inclusive approach to the industry, then you might begin in the 1970s. According to LocumTenens.com this is when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided the Health System Research Institute (HSRI) with a grant aimed at determining how to get doctors to practice medicine in underserved rural areas. The study found that physicians would be willing to practice in these areas as long as they were assured scheduled time off. As a result, the institute founded a group practice of physicians who were willing to work short term assignments in rural locations as needed, and Locum Tenens sprouted from there.
Travel nursing specific background
If your focus is strictly on travel nursing, then you might begin in the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to Healthcare Traveler magazine, a hospital in New Orleans enlisted the temporary services of a Registered Nurse to meet a census spike resulting from the city’s Mardi Gras celebration. Others took note and when the nation was faced with a serious countrywide nursing shortage in the 1980s, the travel nursing business took off.
Driving forces behind travel healthcare
These two scenarios exemplify two of the main reasons that the travel healthcare industry continues to flourish today. First, there is a nationwide shortage of health care professionals of all types. Even at the peak of the most recent recession in 2009, I was seeing reports that there was a 4% job vacancy rate for Registered Nurses nationwide. The United States Bureau of Labor statistics deemed Nursing the top growth profession in the country between now and 2018, stating that there will be 1 million new and replacement nurses by 2025. There is similar dilemma for physicians, with reports showing that we currently graduate 50% of the number of physicians we’ll need to keep pace with increasing demand. Second, there is still difficulty in getting healthcare professionals to work in underserved rural regions. The shortage compounds this problem, but it would exist in any case.
There are several other reasons for the supplemental staffing need. Healthcare providers prefer to maintain an optimal level of staffing. The optimal level can be disrupted under many circumstances. If an employee goes on maternity leave or sabbatical, hospitals would prefer to utilize supplemental staff. When a hospital experiences seasonal census spikes, they would prefer to use supplemental staff. And if undertaking an Electronic Medical Record conversion that will tie up its staff in training, the hospital would prefer to utilize supplemental staff. Given the demographics of the county’s population and the current trends in health care, it’s safe to say that supplemental healthcare staffing will be in demand for the foreseeable future.