The History of Travel Nursing

The History of Travel Nursing

Travel nursing has certainly become “trendy” with a larger percentage of the nursing population in the past couple of years.  Many nurses have left their staff jobs to become a part of this industry. Some because of the increased pay that has happened since 2020. This put the spotlight on a career path that has been around for the last 40 years.

In the Beginning…

The first idea of travel nursing really goes back to Florence Nightingale and the 37 other volunteer nurses that traveled to Turkey to assist wounded English soldiers during the Crimean War. Just a few years after that, nurse Clara Barton, “the angel on the battlefield,” was distributing supplies for the Union Army during the Civil War. She went from location to location to treat wounded soldiers on both sides. This gave people the idea that nurses can travel and work in different locations.

Travel Nursing in Modern History

In the late 70’s, a Boston businessman was attending a cocktail party. He overheard some local healthcare professionals discussing the nursing shortage.  He went back to his office and decided to place a newspaper ad for nurses who wanted to travel.  His first order happened because of the increased patient load hospitals were experiencing during Mardi Gras. This was followed by travel nurses working in Arizona and Florida as many retirees and vacationers went to these locations in the winter months.  As a nursing shortage started and continued to grow, it wasn’t long before travelers could be found throughout the United States.

Filling a Need

Travel nurses are never used to replace a staff nurse or as a permanent fill for an open position. They are there to fill a void until a facility hires and trains a permanent staff person. Hospitals have learned that the use of travel nurses is a cost-effective way to handle their staffing needs as census levels can change rapidly and staffing levels do not always coincide when that happens.

While the travel industry was spreading throughout the United States, in Central Illinois there was an unmet need.  Home care companies were providing CNAs and nurses at nursing homes and hospitals when their workers didn’t have a case assignment that day.  Unfortunately, this was not fair to the nursing homes and hospitals and it sure wasn’t fair to the residents or patients that they served.

This is where/when Fidelity On Call started (1994) with a vision to strictly put qualified, experienced CNAs and nurses into nursing homes. It wasn’t long before Fidelity On Call was in demand throughout Central Illinois. Then hospitals started calling. They were experiencing the same problem: for example, a home care company had allowed one of their nursing home experienced nurses to sign up to work in their Cardiac Cath Lab!  How could we help?  Once again, we did it by supplying the hospital with the properly skilled nurse for the hospital floor they would be working on.

Throughout this time, Fidelity On Call had worked on a PRN (as needed) basis. One day, when we picked up the phone, we had a hospital customer saying they wanted to work with us not only on a PRN basis, but they wanted contract RNs as well.

That phone call changed a lot of things for us and it put us on solid ground.  When a company is operating on a PRN basis, staff members can be cancelled.  With a contract, our RNs are guaranteed 36-40 hours a week.  We not only offer our RNs competitive wages, but we offer group insurance, 401k and many other employee benefits which made us a popular choice for nurses looking to travel.   As 2008-2009 rolled around, our company shifted gears completely to travel nursing contracts.

Another Industry Forms in Healthcare Staffing

While nursing agencies have popped up across the country (last count over 2000), another industry formed in healthcare staffing in the early 2000s – vendor management. Instead of using one agency directly or several to fill their needs, a hospital contracted with one vendor management company who then subcontracted nursing agencies to fill the needs at a hospital/hospital healthcare system.

The purpose of the vendor management company was to streamline the way for hospitals to get their staffing needs filled. Fidelity On Call works with those vendor management companies that share our commitment to quality and we pass on ones that don’t.  Additionally, when a hospital decides to work with a vendor management company, they sacrifice direct communication with us and the 24-hour/7-day a week service we offer. Hospital costs rise as they pay a fee to the vendor management company and have an increased cost for the healthcare worker provided.

Travel nursing has a rich history that dates back four decades. The evolution of this industry is truly one of service and need. We look forward to being part of what this industry brings while continuing to bring only the best to those we serve.