Contract Nurse Work Force Could Offset Impending U.S. Nurse Shortage

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New Study Reports Contract Nurses Have Similar Education Levels, More Flexibility, When Compared to Permanent Nurses

Registered nurses who work on short-term contracts through staffing companies have similar education levels, are typically more diverse than permanent staff, and are more willing to relocate for employment, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Rochester’s School of Nursing. The study’s findings suggest that a temporary nursing work force may be essential to meeting the challenges posed by the projected nationwide nursing shortage, underscoring the advantages of engaging a contract work force during labor shortages.

Published in the November issue of Health Affairs, the study, “Supplemental Nurses Are Just As Educated, Slightly Less Experienced, And More Diverse Compared To Permanent Nurses,” compared data from the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses from 1984 to 2008 for supplemental and permanent nurses.

According to the study’s findings

  • The proportion of supplemental and permanent nurses holding bachelor’s degrees in nursing increased from 1984 to 2008, from 34% to 46% for supplemental nurses and from 33% to 50% for permanent nurses. On average, supplemental nurses had only three years less nursing experience than permanent nurses.
  • Supplemental nurses are more likely to hold nursing licenses in several states simultaneously and more likely to work in a state other than the one in which they reside. During the period surveyed, between 4.4% and 13.7% of supplemental nurses worked in states in which they didn’t reside, compared with 2.6 to 4.5% of permanent nurses.
  • In 2010, temporary and contract staffing sales increased by 21.3%; search and placement sales increased 22.8%
    One-third (33.2%) of supplemental nurses in 2008 were people of color compared with fewer than one in five (17.4%) permanent nurses.
  • “Our industry is committed to providing our clients with work force flexibility and quality talent—especially during times of critical skill shortages,” says Richard Wahlquist, president and chief executive officer of the American Staffing Association. “This study affirms that supplemental nurses are just as qualified as permanent nurses and are increasingly important in providing outstanding patient care outcomes in facilities throughout the country.”

For more information and to access the report, visit the Health Affairs Web site.

Interviews with health care staffing executives are available.


The American Staffing Association is the voice of the U.S. staffing industry. ASA and its affiliated chapters advance the interests of staffing and recruiting firms of all sizes and across all sectors through legal and legislative advocacy, public relations, education, and the promotion of high standards of legal, ethical, and professional practices. ASA members provide the full range of employment and work force services and solutions, including temporary and contract staffing, recruiting and permanent placement, outplacement and outsourcing, training, and human resource consulting.


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