PARAMUS, United States: When Jessica Martínez moved away from home in 2020, a temporary contract brought her to New Jersey as a nurse on the front lines of the pandemic. But her profits declined as Covid-19 faded.
Attracted by higher pay and greater flexibility, the 38-year-old is among a growing number of nurses turning to informal work: taking individual shifts on an app as an alternative to month-long contracts or direct employment in a hospital. .
“I have worked only one day a week,” Martínez told AFP.
“I have worked seven days a week, eight-hour shifts. It just depends on what’s going on in my life.”
The availability of gig work comes as U.S. hospitals test new ways to alleviate staffing shortages, drawing comparisons to the convenience associated with apps like Uber.
But critics warn this could impact patient care or fuel tensions within the workforce.
About 100,000 registered nurses left their workplaces due to the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report this year from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
More than 610,000 more intend to leave by 2027 due to stress, burnout or retirement, the study adds.
This represents a significant decline in the workforce: in 2022, the country had around 5.2 million active registered nurses.
There is a “staffing crisis in health care,” said Deborah Visconi, CEO of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, where Martinez works.
“Many people have decided to retire early or change careers,” she said.
Since then, the hospital began working with a platform called CareRev and around 150 professionals have signed up to work at the center.
“In a couple of hours, we’ll be able to get someone on a shift right away,” she said. This group of workers fills around 80% of their vacancies.
Another recruitment services provider, Aya Healthcare, told AFP it saw a 54% increase in the number of shifts covered by nurses in the last year.
Across the country, the total number of appointments available on its app increased 62%, said Sophia Morris, executive vice president of Aya Healthcare.
Martínez considers that informal work is more “lucrative” than being a nurse in a hospital, and estimates that salaries can be “at least 30% more.”
But as an independent contractor, she does not have benefits like health insurance provided by an employer and she relies on her husband’s insurance.
Others, like Chantal Chambers, dedicated themselves to casual work while their studies progressed, taking shifts until the night before.
When the 34-year-old worked shifts in San Diego through Aya Healthcare, she no longer had to worry about shaping her family’s plans around her work schedule.
As a mother of two children, she said this allowed her to better utilize her time and choose to work when her children were in school all day.
Bergen New Bridge Medical Center’s Visconi hopes she will increase the use of concert platforms.
Workers view their workplaces differently than before, seeking the flexibility to stay home at certain times or take on extra work when they need more money, she said.
“We have an aging population demanding more health care services and we are in the middle of a crisis,” said Susan Pasley, chief nursing officer at CareRev. “So (hospitals) are looking for more flexible options.”
‘A lot of tension’
But some warn that an increase in the number of nurses could affect patient care.
“What this will result in is a lack of preparedness, for example not having enough nurses present on site to respond to emergencies or influxes of patients,” said Michelle Mahon of the National Nurses United union.
There could also be unfamiliarity on the job, such as not knowing the location of rescue equipment, she added.
Sarah DeWilde, a Missouri-based registered nurse, said some of this is already happening.
She trains nurses at her hospital, but she said this doesn’t necessarily allow her to evaluate her skills.
Visconi expects these situations to improve as credentialed workers tend to return to the hospital repeatedly to work.
But for now, DeWilde finds herself involved in the work of others.
“What that does is take me away from my patients to help them take care of their patients,” she said.
“I’m already short-staffed, overworked and overwhelmed.”
This can create problems, since collaborating nurses can earn “double the money.”