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Why rural hospitals should consider international nurses

The pandemic has brought much attention to the national nursing shortage. Hospitals have felt the pressure of limited resources to maintain safe staffing ratios while combating the devastating effects on patients and weary full-time nurses. Concurrently, the cost of travel nurses has risen sharply due to higher hourly rates demanded by companies that ration their clinical workforce to the highest bidder.

Embracing an international recruiting strategy not only opens up a channel to bring in nursing talent but also significantly reduces costs and brings stability back into the organization. As the fog of the pandemic lifts, now is the time to explore making international nurses a permanent component of long-term recruitment strategies.

Why many rural hospitals are going international  

While the fundamental drivers of the nursing shortage have always been present, seasonal and geographic fluctuations in patient volumes have historically allowed for a dynamic approach to variable capacity staffing. Simply put, not every hospital in the country needs extra nurses at the same time. When one region experiences a slowdown in volumes, excess capacity could be redeployed either by design or market influencers, such as companies that move travel nurses around the country every 13 weeks. 

The pandemic has accelerated the exit of staff nurses from bedside care. Others have left their full-time jobs at hospitals to join a travel nurse company for significantly higher pay. This has resulted in higher vacancy rates at rural hospitals that have little choice but to use more expensive staffing options. The only way to break this cycle is to bring core staff back and supplement with variable capacity staffing models, such as internal resource pools, per diem solutions, and even travel nurses for limited and predictable short-term periods. The most effective strategy to stabilize core staff is to engage an international nurse recruitment company.

Two models that differ significantly

An international staffing agency benefits by filling contract jobs with internationally trained nurses for three-year assignments before allowing those nurses to go on staff. These nurses arrive in the US with their green cards and can technically leave their assignments at any time to take a higher-paying job with another company. They have not assimilated into the local community and are more apt to relocate to higher-paying markets quickly.

The second model is the direct hire solution, which recruits nurses from English-speaking countries to become full-time, permanent members of a hospital’s clinical team. The nurses become part of the local community, often bringing their families with them to start a new life in the US, with assistance for finding housing, establishing banking relationships, and even purchasing a car through a special immigrant loan program. These nurses view their new job as the first step to the life-changing experience of relocating from their home country. They become part of the hospital family from day one, and they are grateful, loyal, hardworking, and dedicated to the patients they serve.

The most effective way to recruit full-time nursing staff that will be incremental to a rural market’s pool is to welcome international nurses that have the desire and commitment to become permanent, full-time employees. Temporary solutions to the long-term nursing shortage problem are unsustainable, costly, and detrimental to the core mission of providing quality bedside care. 

When hospitals opt for short-term solutions, they are purchasing labor at a price point that is neither sustainable nor in the best interest of patient care. Now is the time to consider international nurses as a strategy for long-term staff stability.

NRHA adapted the above piece from Visa Solutions Healthcare, a trusted NRHA partner, for publication within the Association’s Rural Health Voices blog

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