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Nurses turning to traveling jobs to make more money, while local hospitals have to recruit

Posted at 10:31 AM, Oct 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-01 11:31:57-04

MILWAUKEE — A recent survey by the Wisconsin Center for Nursing and the School of Nursing at UW Madison shows an impending nursing shortage.

Anywhere from 10-20,000 nurses plan to retire in the next 10 years, and that could cause a crisis for the state. Right now many healthcare companies are finding it hard to staff nurses, so many are offering bonuses and high salaries to professionals from out of town.

Haile Hagen, a critical care nurse that until recently worked at Aurora St. Lukes Medical Center in Milwaukee, said she loved her job and co-workers, but couldn’t turn down the adventure of going somewhere new, and the money now being offered to traveling nurses.

“The money is so good you can’t really say no to it. I wanted to travel, but why not make money while you’re traveling,” said Hagen.

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Haile Hagen

Hagen just started a job in New Jersey as a traveling nurse. She’ll spend 13 weeks there before going on to somewhere else. Before she left her job in Milwaukee, she noticed becoming a traveling nurse was a trend among more experienced workers.

“I think all around, if people continue to travel, every hospital is going to have this issue,” Hagen said.

Jamie Lucas of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals says this is already a trend and affecting markets across the country. Lucas says hospital systems are giving $15,000 starting bonuses and salaries as much as $100/hour in some cases.

“A lot of nurses and other healthcare workers too that are being recruited to travel are having a hard time saying no to that money, especially because conditions are so difficult right now, they are looking for something new anyways,” says Lucas.

Lucas sees it as a vicious cycle that will continue until hospital systems change how they operate. "They are doing nothing to retain people, to make it worth while to stick around, for the people that have been on the front lines for a year and a half," said Lucas.

The one thing traveling nurses aren’t escaping is COVID-19 patients. Hagen says on her first day, she cared for a critically ill COVID-19 patient in New Jersey. But Lucas says while nurses everywhere are dealing with COVID-19 patients, the increased money may be a reason many stay in the business.