Maintaining the Right To Work as Independent Nursing Professionals Is a Fight for Equality

Maintaining the Right To Work as Independent Nursing Professionals Is a Fight for Equality
Maintaining the Right To Work as Independent Nursing Professionals Is a Fight for Equality

Patient care is my passion. But it also made me crash and burn.

Anybody who knows a nurse has an idea of how difficult the job has become. The pandemic was rife with horror stories from the hospital, tales of too few nurses treating too many patients, of working long, consecutive shifts while our families waited anxiously for us to return home. But the issues that plague most nurses today – issues that now have as many as 90% of nurses considering abandoning the field altogether – have been present for years.

Nurses like me are desperate for ways to reclaim our lives. A few of us are lucky to find them. Two years ago, I was working in a long-term care facility. I found I couldn’t deliver the level of care I was trained and wanted to provide. As my life became my job and I began burning out, my passion for patient care began to wither away. I was missing critical time with my kids. I missed track meets, orchestra concerts, and family dinners. Making time to see a doctor was nearly impossible with my schedule.

If I wanted to reclaim my life, I needed flexibility. I left my full-time job and began working as an independent nurse. Today, I schedule shifts around my life instead of scheduling my life around my shifts. It has made a world of difference for me and my family. I coach my daughter’s track team, I make every orchestra concert, and in the process, I’ve restored my passion for caregiving.

While there are many nurses who continue working in full time positions, I know that it is not for me. I love the flexibility I have in my schedule, I love the hospitals where I pick up shifts every week, I love my colleagues.

But lately, nurse staffing agencies have been working overtime to foment uncertainty around the ability of hospitals to rely on independent professionals like me. These agencies claim that hiring independent nurse professionals as 1099 contractors, instead of W-2 employees, is a gross misclassification that limits nurses from receiving “fair” treatment and compensation. I hear it in the halls of the hospital, see it on nurse Facebook groups. It’s a conversation that has made its way into mainstream media. These efforts are making hospitals reluctant to maintain relationships with nurses in their own backyards who rely on their right to work as independent nurses in their own communities. Staffing agencies are convincing hospitals that it is dangerous to hire nurses like me, telling them that us independent nurses are not equipped to provide quality patient care, and that hiring independent nurses could open the door for legal ramifications.

I don’t understand the purpose. Why are we chasing high-quality, passionate nurses like me out of the workforce and exacerbating the nursing shortage? We want to work, but we want the right to do so on our terms, and on our schedule. Hospitals across the country are already struggling to secure enough skilled talent to fill the nursing roles they have available. It’s placing undue burden on existing staff and fueling a vicious burnout cycle.

But there’s something even more perplexing. Whether they are aware of it or not, these business interests are promoting a regressive and discriminatory policy that unjustly excludes people from opportunities to work. Doing so would not only leave hospitals hamstrung in the midst of a workforce crisis – it would foster inequality in a field dominated by women.

Excluding independent nursing professionals is an equality issue

Nursing is one of a few fields not dominated by White men. Today, approximately 90% of the nursing workforce identify as women, and approximately 20% identify as a race or ethnicity besides white. That’s a far cry from the number of physicians who identify as women, with the exception of pediatricians and obstetricians.

Yet, physicians are able to take full advantage of being able to work as independent professionals. They do so in urgent care clinics and emergency rooms, as locum tenens with private practices and health systems, and as consultants. Doctors have the freedom to choose where they work, when they work, and what they work on. They have professional autonomy – the same level of freedom many nurses desire. As of right now, nurses have this right in most states, as well. But that could change.

So why target nurses’ right to work independently? There is a part of me that wonders if they simply want to take advantage of a profession that’s mostly female. More likely, they’re setting their sights on healthcare’s gig economy out of a desire to centralize power. But it’s clear they’ve not considered the impacts of the policies they’re pushing besides those that improve their bottom line.

Without a doubt, excluding nurses from working as independent professionals would further isolate marginalized communities who have already suffered decades of discrimination. There are myriad reasons why nurses – especially minority nurses – have flocked to healthcare’s gig economy in recent years. Nurses with disabilities are already struggling to secure full-time opportunities, facing discrimination in hiring processes and harassment in the workplace. The flexibility inherent to the gig economy allows them to work in ways that work for them.

Severing nurses from our ability to work for ourselves as independent professionals is an incompetent, socially regressive action to take in the midst of a workforce crisis. At the end of the day, my family – my children – have become accustomed to me making my job work for our lives. To have that taken away would chase independent nurses like me out of the field for good. We’re available because we’re doing what works for us to be able to work, to support ourselves and our families, and to fulfill our passion for patient care. To deny that will make nurses seriously reconsider whether or not they want to continue working in this field at all. Hospitals need as many of us as they can get.

Photo: gpointstudio, Getty Images

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