International Travel Nursing: The answer to your workforce woes?

Posted by Mia Foley on 2/7/24 7:06 AM

Topics: Health Care Staffing, travel nursing, Contract Labor, International Nursing

With the nursing shortage showing no signs of slowing, many hospitals and health systems are casting a wider net, and that includes hiring international nurses. While that can be part of a balanced strategy, there are some things to consider before going all in.

The Basics

When it comes time to find nurses, there’s a line waiting to get into the US. In fact, some nurses have waited 10 or more years to start their careers in America. They are required to pass the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam and the NCLEX. Anyone who’s taken a few years of a foreign language in high school knows that you can more easily read a foreign language than speak it; the same is true with international nurses. They may pass their IELTS but struggle to communicate verbally. This is on a case-by-case basis but it’s definitely something to consider during the hiring process.

group nursesInternational workers may or may not bring their family, but either way, adjusting to a new country can be a critical factor in their professional success. If they’re employed in an area that already has a large contingent of international nurses, success is more likely as there’s a built-in sense of community. Adjusting to a new country, new societal norms, renting an apartment and getting a driver’s license all look a lot more confusing when you’re trying to figure it out by yourself.

Lost in Translation

Success also varies according to where the nurse is traveling from and how closely their culture mirrors that of America. Some co-workers & patients may find foreign cultures blunt, outspoken, stubborn or just plain rude. While much of this can be attributed to getting lost in translation, it’s a point worth noting. Remember when Pepsi tried to adapt their slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life” for the Chinese market and it translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life”? If a multibillion-dollar company can make a lost in translation mistake, so can a nurse trying to communicate with native English speakers. Failure to adjust to local social conventions, however, may earn them a trip back home. In a fast-paced hospital environment, there’s little room for miscommunication.                                      

image-60.jpegSince Americans will using anything but the metric system (and there are memes to prove it), foreign nurses may struggle to swap their mental processes from Metric to Imperial. And we honestly don’t blame them. We’re confusing.








What About the Government?

Nursing Visas aren’t given out like Halloween candy. It can take years for the nurse’s home government to release enough visas that the nurse’s name makes it to the top of the list. If something in their situation changes in those years and they’re unable to travel, the process starts all over again, leaving hospitals at the mercy of the government list.

Once the nurse makes it to the US, they are locked into a contract, so that’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You, as a hospital or health system are guaranteed a full-time, qualified nurse for about 3 years, depending on their agency. They become part of the community, their kids start school, their spouse gets a job. If their experience is positive, they are more likely to stay on as a full-time employee, and the hospital enjoys 3 years of a significantly lower bill rate than that of US travel nurses.

Do it Yourself or Hire an International Agency?

While you can do this yourself, you’ll need a team in place to manage not only the onboarding of international nurses, but all of the government paperwork that goes along with EB3 Visas. Agencies that specialize in international nursing can more easily manage issues like a nurse bringing their family or how to deal with US Citizen and Immigration Services, should the nurse be terminated for breach of contract. Is that something that your internal staff is experienced in, or has the bandwidth to take on? If not, a reputable international nurse agency is the way to go.

Are There Alternatives?

Depending on your organizational goals, you may find expense reduction, but the act of hiring international nurses isn’t a silver bullet. Partnering with local nursing schools, prioritizing nurse retention, and using emerging technology can help you build a stronger pipeline & culture than putting all your proverbial eggs in the international basket.

BlueSky’s VMS solution can help your staffing department generate revenue (yes, really) and standardize your processes. Our clients better utilize nurses in their local area, managing credentials for all contract staff, including international nurses. If your goal is to diversify your strategy, we’re here to help. Contact us to learn more.



Mia FoleyMia Foley

Director of Operations, BlueSky Synergy


Mia Foley is the Director of Operations for BlueSky Synergy. Mia began her career in 2018 in the International Nurse Recruitment business. The drive for her Healthcare workforce tenure was to ensure that International families and professionals had an easier time assimilating into American culture. In 2021, Mia transitioned over to the Healthcare Technology space where she leads a team in helping staffing agencies as well as Hospital systems leverage technology. Her passion in building long-term operational strategies by creating efficient workflows has resulted in her team feeling the motivation to create the most effective technology to continue alleviating the contract labor burden.


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