Trends and Challenges in Traveling Nurse Staffing
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Trends and Challenges in Traveling Nurse Staffing

Our travel nursing expert indicated that bill rates are currently trending down from their peaks. The expectation moving forward is that the average hourly bill rate for an ICU nurse (Staffing Industry Analysis compiled industry data) dropped to $130 this past May/June from the peak of $185 seen during the Omicron surge in January.

Our expert anticipates that publicly published bill rates for August/September may increase to $135 per hour. Contingent upon a severe flu season, our SME believes that bill rates could rise further by the end of 2022. Conversely, without a flu-related surge, they foresee a slow decline in bill rates through the end of 2022. Even if average bill rates for ICU nurses moderate from current levels to $120 per hour by 2022, that rate would still represent a premium over the pre-pandemic rate of $85-90 per hour.

Elevated bill rates over pre-pandemic levels for general nursing may be attributed to burnout and the uncertainty behind whether the permanent nursing workforce will return to an average level. In terms of job placements, our specialist observed that the industry experienced placement peaks in January of 2022. Posts have since declined 25% week over week in the spring, and while industry observers have seen a pickup in August, job placements still sit 20% below their peak levels.

Despite the financial attractiveness of the temporary nurse staffing market, a rush of new market entrants has not happened. According to our industry leader, it has become increasingly costly for agencies to cover workers' compensation and general liability insurance for their nurse workforce. The lack of affordable insurance has elevated the barriers to entry for the temp nurse staffing market.

According to our expert, the industry saw hospitals' contract cancellations and intra-contract rate changes peak during this past spring. This activity appears to have moderated. Our SME described how demand for OR physicians and pediatric nurses has picked up while demand for ICU and ER nurses has remained stable. Consistent with the commentary from public staffing names, our expert indicated that industry gross margins have risen as the pressure on the bill/pay spread has eased.

@A. J. Rice