Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, pressure was building on human resource departments among healthcare organizations. The aging of the population combined with increasing disease complexities meant a greater need for care. And after the pandemic placed excessive strains on healthcare workers, many decided it was time to leave the industry. Within nursing, some retired early or chose to pursue different jobs and careers. In total, more than 100,000 nurses have left the workforce completely in the U.S. since that time. This has left many hospitals having to seek for innovative nurse staffing solutions. And one such solution that is emerging now involves a variety of apps designed to recruit nursing gig workers.
Since the pandemic, many healthcare organizations have invested in short-term nursing contracts and travel nursing programs. These have helped as a nurse staffing solution in part, but hospitals continue to have unfilled positions. Understanding this, an Uber-like ridesharing strategy offered an interesting approach to the problem on a more immediate basis. Nursing gig workers could sign up for shifts as they appeared with little long-term commitment. Nurses received better pay and greater flexibility while hospitals filled more staffing slots. But is this the ultimate win-win solution that will best address healthcare’s workforce needs. This is where differences of opinion are noteworthy.
“We have an aging population that demands more health care services, and we are in the midst of a crisis. So [hospitals are] looking for more flexible options.” – Susan Pasley, Chief Nursing Officer at CareRev
Becoming a Nursing Gig Worker
In some ways, nursing gig workers aren’t much different that temp or traveling nurses. Each of these positions require some level of credentialling at a place of employment. Likewise, these nurses tend to work in numerous facilities with which they may not be extremely familiar. But the key difference is in the length of the contract and the level of commitment. Just like ridesharing apps, nursing gig apps match a hospital’s staffing needs with the right staff. And instead of going under a contract for two months, the commitment is only for a single shift. Once a nurse is on a list of approved nursing gig workers for a facility, they can pick and choose shifts as they wish. For nurses who enjoy such flexibility, this is a perfect nurse staffing solution.
Of course, this nurse staffing solution appeals to hospitals as well. Rather than having to go through the process of a temporary hire, nursing gig apps allow immediate responses from approved nurses. As soon as a staffing need arises, the hospital puts the opportunity out on the app. And within hours, the shift is often filled. According to some surveys, shift vacancies fill more than 80% of the time using such technologies. This is good news for hospitals since vacancies for shifts have risen more than 60% this year alone. Some of this increase reflects a higher number of nursing gig workers overall and the rising popularity of apps. But it also highlights a growing demand for workers in our current healthcare system.
“What this will result in is the lack of being prepared, for example, not having enough nurses present on site to respond to emergencies or influxes of patients.” – Michelle Mahon, National Nurses United Union
Not Everyone Is on Board
For nurses who have decided to return to school for advanced education, these nursing gig apps can be ideal. The same is true for nurses who have childcare responsibilities or other commitments. The flexibility offered is similar to the perks associated with remote work, which is notably popular as well. But for many in healthcare, including nursing, nursing gig workers raise concerns. Specifically, some worry this could undermine quality patient care. Lack of familiarity of the hospital could result in delayed care or excessive burdens on existing staff. In addition, nursing gig workers tend to receive about 30% more in pay, which could create staff tensions. Such developments could negatively impact the work environment and culture, also leading to reduced quality care.
From a nursing perspective, single shift workers don’t enjoy benefits such as health insurance. For some this may be acceptable if they have other coverage. But those who don’t, this could place them at a clear disadvantage. There are also some worries that working in such a short-term capacity might undermine professional development. Without more of a commitment full-time to nursing, nursing gig workers might fail to stay abreast of the latest advances. Certainly, this is not ideal for patient care. But at the same time, it might reduce nursing skills over time making gig workers less attractive hires. For now, however, nursing gig apps still represent one of the better nurse staffing solutions available.
Nursing Gig Apps Leading the Way
There continues to be several options for nurse staffing solutions, and different hospitals will choose the one best for their needs. But increasingly, partnering with nursing apps that match shifts with staff is becoming popular. One such company is called CareRev whose app helps hospitals quickly fill vacancies as soon as they surface. Another is Aya Healthcare, which offers similar services and has a notable market share. Both companies believe these types of apps and nurse staffing solutions are the future. The real-time matching, the flexibility, and the optimal resource use all favor these digital staffing strategies. These apps won’t be the only option, but they believe these will continue to be a common staffing strategy.
Looking at this from a broader perspective, these app companies may be right. Currently, about 43% of the U.S. population participates in the gig economy in some fashion. This now includes nursing gig workers. Technologies now enable us to better match resources to needs, which is why this represents a viable nurse staffing solution. Certainly, hiring nurses to fulfill one shift at a time isn’t a perfect approach. But in times of a major healthcare workforce shortage, it’s not surprising this reflects a notable nurse staffing solution. Until supply and demand curves for nurses and other providers improve, we can expect these types of apps to persist.