Special Report: Traveling Nurses Helping Ease Critical Nursing S - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Traveling Nurses Helping Ease Critical Nursing Shortage

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CHARLESTON, WV -

In a state plagued by a shortage of at least 10,000 nurses, both the medical community and state legislators in West Virginia are searching desperately to find a cure.

In the meantime, traveling nurses are serving as a type of treatment - enticing more folks to enter the nursing field and helping to ease a critical shortage statewide, according to local experts in the field.

Still, more needs to be done on several levels to close the nursing gap, those experts say.

13 News decided to dig into the role of traveling nurses - to see how this job is impacting the nursing shortage and to see how we can continue to solve this ongoing problem

WHAT IS A TRAVELING NURSE?

Traveling nurses perform the same tasks as a nurse employed by a hospital.

“I’m doing the same kind of stuff,” said Jessica Easter, a traveling nurse from Charleston. “I still have the same patient assignment, same responsibilities - I just get to go different places.”

Easter says she signs 13-week contracts. She’s already been to Phoenix and Greensboro. Next, she’s heading to Knoxville.

It’s up to the nurse to decide how long they’ll wait to sign a new contract, Easter says. She also says you can renew your contract if you decide you want to stay at one of the hospitals.

Easter says she works for a recruiting agency/travel company which then works with hospitals to get traveling nurses on their floors. Easter then gets a housing and a food stipend on top of her hourly wages.

Duane Napier with the University of Charleston says traveling nurses in West Virginia make around $45-50/hr while nurses employed by the hospital permanently make roughly $25-30/hr.

For traveling nurses like Easter, it’s the ability to explore new places and earn a higher compensation that’s drawing them to the job.

HOW DOES A TRAVELING NURSE AFFECT MY HEALTH CARE?

Napier, who serves as director of the Associate Degree of Science in Nursing at UC, says the health care provided by a traveling nurse is exactly the same as any other nurse.

The difference comes in allegiance to the hospital, Napier says.

“I think travel nurses are a positive if the travel nurse comes into an organization and tries to make themselves familiar - get acclimated with the climate of an organization,” Napier said. “I’ve seen some - they come in, do their 12 hours, they come in take care of their patients, do their necessary paperwork but then they leave there’s no marriage with the university. They’re there, they’re gone.”

Easter says it can be difficult to learn the hospital policies and nurses but - when it comes down to it -

“Nursing is nursing. The hard part is learning the charting just the policies of the hospital itself but nursing and bedside nursing is the same anywhere you go so I don’t think that really changes.”

HOW HAVE TRAVELING NURSES IMPACTED THE NURSING SHORTAGE?

Napier says he believes the idea of becoming a traveling nurse is drawing more people into the field and into the hospitals.

“It’s a positive because they have nurses in the organization to help care of patients, and that’s the point,” Napier said. “Whether they’re their own employees or a travel nurse which is the issue - good, safe, competent care from licensed, qualified nurses.”

HOW CAN I BECOME A TRAVELING NURSE?

To become a traveling nurse, Easter says she earned a nursing degree from an accredited college. She then worked as a nurse employed by a hospital before moving on to become a traveling nurse.

Easter says most agencies like you to have at least 1 year of experience at a hospital before working as a traveling nurse.

HOW IS THIS NURSING SHORTAGE BEING ADDRESSED?

The nursing shortage is a multi-faceted problem, according to Napier. Right now, state legislators are working to address the faculty to student ratio in schools (http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Status/bills_text.cfm?billdoc=hb2504%20intr.htm&yr=2017&sesstype=RS&i=2504), the licensure program (http://www.legis.state.wv.us/legisdocs/chamber/2017/RS/floor_amends/HB2522%20SFAT%20TAKUBO%204-3%20adopted.htm) and school accreditation (http://www.legis.state.wv.us/legisdocs/chamber/2017/RS/com_amends/HB2667%20H%20H_HR%20AM%20_1.htm).

WHAT STILL NEEDS DONE TO FIX THIS SHORTAGE?

Napier says the next step in addressing this nursing shortage is finding ways to get more nursing faculty in schools and universities to teach more future nurses.

Napier says a big part of fixing that issue is increasing their pay.

“We have to address the nursing faculty issue that’s the No. 1 for me,” Napier said. “Are there other things the Board of Nursing can do that they can be the leader for? Are there things the West Virginia Nurses Association can do to promote nursing education and work with nursing schools to find faculty members who want to teach?”

Napier said a big issue is that nursing faculty start out at $32,000, many of whom have nursing degrees. Napier says they can make twice as much as a bedside nurse, which eliminates the incentive for many people to come into nursing education.

In order to fix the nursing shortage, “The legislature is going to have to address the rate of pay for nurses,” Napier said.

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