Are travelers like strike workers: undermining staff wages?

This is definitely a question with an edge. We believe just the opposite to be true. Although it may seem counterintuitive, travelers represent a powerful force to raise wages of healthcare workers nationwide.

Some staff members have a belief similar to the one this title would suggest. It is human nature to resent a system which allows someone with less seniority to receive an apparently higher wage than you for the same work. Travelers fit this description. Since hiring travelers is expensive, the practice is legitimately believed to be diverting funds that could be spent to hire needed full time staff or give the existing staff a pay raise. However, that is not the whole story.

Just to take the edge off the perception that travelers are higher paid, consider the following. When the value of the superior benefits that full time staff nurses enjoy is taken into account - such as paid vacation, holidays, good health insurance, retirement accounts, and PTO - real compensation may actually be higher for staff. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for staff and other observers such as the media to focus on a single factor such as hourly pay, or "free" housing.

What is true is that even when traveler compensation is lower than full time staff, the additional agency overhead always means employing travelers is more expensive for a hospital than hiring permanent staff. For this reason, travelers have a positive effect on retention, recruiting and pay practices. Recent large increases in nurse wages in California are due in no small part to hospital administrators desperately trying to avoid paying a premium price for travelers. Thus, rather than siphoning money away from staff’s wages, we tend to elevate their wages.

This effect of elevating wages is magnified when you consider the multi-state practice of most travelers. Supply and demand predicts that travelers will go where the needs are greatest and the pay is highest. Hospitals in low paying areas of the country must compete with distant hospitals to both attract the travelers they need and to retain their existing staff. This tends to raise staff pay levels across the board nationwide.

Just as the travel industry tends to equalize regional disparities for permanent staff, we play a similar role at individual hospitals. The more staffing issues a hospital has, the more travelers they will employ - and the more rapidly wages for permanent staff will improve. Travelers serve a healthy and positive role in hospitals to improve staff wages.


Published May 29, 2007 by the editorial staff of PanTravelers.

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