Germantown-based O.R. Nurses Nationwide provides flexible schedules for nurses who love to travel

O.R. Nurses Nationwide, a temporary staffing agency founded in 1988, has seen it all from the unexpected death of a founding partner and embezzlement, to sustained growth and two mergers with a multi-state presence. 

Pam Brown used to have to decide between two loves in her life: traveling the world and nursing. In the beginning of her nursing career she chose full-time contracted hospital work and sacrificed schedule flexibility to do the job she loves in a work setting she could depend on for steady hours. Her grueling nurse schedule hardly allowed for regular vacation time, nevertheless world travels.

Fortunately, the advent of the travel nurse profession fixed this problem for Brown.

Since 2015, Brown has split her time globetrotting and working through O.R. Nurses Nationwide, a temporary nurse-staffing agency based in Germantown with branches in Houston and Dallas. As one of the only local temporary nurse-staffing agencies for hospitals, O.R. Nurses connects experienced nurses to hospitals for limited-contracted work.

The company gives nurses like Brown, who has been a nurse for 30 years, the ability to be flexible in their intense work schedules. OR Nurses staffs over 580 nurse clients per year.

“I like the autonomy of being able to work when I want to and that is what O.R. Nurses allows me to do,” said Brown.  

Brown is one of many. Across the nation thousands of licensed nurses login into their computers and choose were they want to work for the next couple of days, weeks or months. Many of them travel across the nation like Brown does to hospitals that are looking for experienced, temporary staff. Some work locally and prefer more control over their schedules and the diversity of experience they gain from working in different settings across the Mid-South.

Pam Brown, a traveling nurse with O.R. Nurses Nationwide since 2015. In the past, it was commonplace for nurses to remain in the hospital where they finished their nurse residency until retirement.

Today, the face of nursing is changing as more nurses decide to travel and use staffing agencies for work. The future looks good for companies like O.R. Nurses Nationwide who, early on, put a large stake in nurse staffing as they realized the value of offering an alternative way of nursing.

Creating a new model

Like Brown, Memphis nurse Denise Barnett Stewart had a different mindset than most nurses when she began O.R. Nurses Nationwide with her friend and fellow nurse Carol Paterson in 1988. Both highly-experienced nurses craved more flexibility in their hours, yet they wanted quality work, not just making-ends-meet work.

That year the two women began hatching an entrepreneurial plan that would become one of the first Memphis-founded businesses to provided local, regional and national operating rooms and surgical centers with temporary and permanent nurse staff.

At the time, Paterson saw a deficit in the field of nurse staffing. Part-time nurse work usually meant working undependable hours in a ward that didn’t necessarily line up with the nurse’s area of expertise. As the last person on the totem pole, temporary nurse staff could be laid off or moved around at the hospital’s whim.

Additionally, most nurse staffing companies at the time were national companies working in Memphis with little knowledge of the city or area hospitals. Experienced nurses looking for flexible or part-time work like Stewart were often given the short end of the stick, something Paterson was also familiar with.

Stewart and Paterson saw an opportunity for a Memphis company to step in and provide quality nurses profitable and career-enhancing employment opportunities. Additionally, Stewart and Paterson wanted to be a company run by nurses for nurses.

The future looks good for companies like O.R. Nurses Nationwide who, early on, put a large stake in nurse staffing as they realized the value of offering an alternative way of nursing.

Since then, O.R. Nurses Nationwide has expanded to staff all areas of the hospital and includes a travel division. O.R. Nurses branches are now in Houston and Dallas and the company is hoping to invite its first business acquisition to the team in the next couple of years.

O.R. Nurses has seen it all in the last two decades: the death of Paterson from Ovarian Cancer a year after founding the business, the discovery of theft from a trusted partner in 2012 that ultimately led the company to the brink of bankruptcy, the total recoup from bankruptcy in 2014, and now, feeling stronger and better than it ever has, the company’s drive to expand even further nationally and provide O.R. Nurses quality staffing across the U.S.

In 1988, Stewart’s family moved around quite a bit for her husband’s work. Stewart said she got used to adapting quickly to new cities but looking for temporary nurse jobs in a field where most nurses were locked into longstanding work contracts with a hospital was never easy.

Additionally, Stewart also wanted to cut down her hours to spend more time at home with her two sons and family. After finding a part-time nursing position locally, she quickly found herself laid-off due to hospital budget cuts.

She was back to square one and figuring out her next step.

When she heard of a local temporary nurse staffing agency in town, she eagerly signed up excited to control her work hours and still support her family. She joined the agency and met her future O.R. Nurse co-founder and friend R.N. Carol Paterson at the hospital she was staffed in.

Paterson eventually convinced Stewart that they could create a better temporary nurse-staffing agency for operating rooms and surgical centers that would staff locally, regionally and nationally.

Stewart and Paterson went on to open O.R. Nurses Nationwide with only a $5,000 loan and began offering Mid-South hospitals experienced temporary nurses. For the first time, nurses could get trusted, dependable temporary nurse staffing work from a Memphis-rooted company run by nurses.

On the flip side, O.R. Nurses was one of the first local companies to provide hospitals and surgical centers the ability to hire experienced nurse for temporary staffing situations. All nurses staffed by O.R. Nurses most have at least one year of experience in their field of specialty. The O.R. Nurses team makes sure their nurses are placed in jobs that enhance their careers in the way the nurse is looking for.

Unseen tragedy 

The company continues to set itself a part from the other emerging nurse staffing agencies out there by committing to understanding the area they are located in. Stewart herself is still a licensed nurse and she feels this is important to continuing the O.R. Nurses' mission of providing work that she has done and would do herself.

Some nurses have stayed with O.R. for fifteen years, which is unusual for a temporary staffing agency.

The business grew quickly as more and more nurses joined the agency as well as major clients like Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and Baptist Memorial Hospital. Stewart and Paterson became known for their knowledgeable and qualified staff.

Tragedy struck when Paterson revealed she had stage four Ovarian Cancer and passed away in August 1990.

Stewart said, “After her death, there was a lot of motivation to kick it up a notch. At the time, I thought, ‘Let’s do this and let Carol see how great this company can be.’ This is what she would have wanted and this is what she dreamed of. There was a lot of motivation to keep going and create a successful business that helped people.”

While O.R. Nurses has expanded beyond the operating room to staff all parts of the hospital, the company still retains the passion Stewart and Paterson had for providing hospitals with talented healthcare profressions as well as giving nurses the freedom to dictate their own work schedules. It is clearly working. Some nurses have stayed with O.R. for fifteen years, which is unusual for a temporary staffing agency.

O.R. Nurses now includes offices in Germantown, Houston, Dallas as well as a travel division located in Germantown.

The rise of the internet, home computers and personal smart devices have also changed the way nurses are recruited and staffed by O.R. Nurses.

Instead of candidates coming into a physical office for interviews, screenings and training, nurses are now able do everything online. The freedom of choosing your own schedule and the opportunity to see the world at your job attracts many talented nurses to the travel nurse profession.

“A lot of the nurses don’t want to stay in one place. The younger generation is very mobile,” Stewart said. “They are in control of their career so they go to one hospital for 13 weeks or maybe 26 if their stay is extended. When their time is up, they take that experience and take it to their next assignment.”

Brown has used her freedom as a traveling nurse to travel all over the world, including Italy, Dubai and Paris. She left her full-time hospital career after feeling burnt out as she approached her third year of nursing.

Overall, Brown said she has been extremely happy with the schedule O.R. Nurses allows her to have. While she admitted temporary staff work may not be for everyone, especially those who need structure and familiarity, she has more than enjoyed her time at O.R. Nurses. For her, being a traveling nurse and staff agency client breaks up the monotony of working in the same place everyday.

Investing in Memphis

Stewart pointed out that the O.R. Nurses brings medical professionals from all over the world to Memphis, many of whom choose to stay in the city, making Memphis their home and increasing revenue and workers in the city.

Of O.R. Nurses’ total revenue for last year, 56 percent of it originated in the Mid-South and national travel division. Of the 555 healthcare professionals who worked for the company, 310 were brought in to serve Mid-South clients.

Not everything has gone as planned for O.R. Nurses business. In 2012 the business discovered that a trusted merger partner was stealing from the business.

O.R. Nurses is committed to using local resources to support the city’s economy, choosing to use local vendors such as Data Facts and Lipscomb & Pitts Insurance over national vendors.

Not everything has gone as planned for O.R. Nurses business. In 2012 the business discovered that a trusted merger partner was stealing from the business. Stewart noted that this crisis taught her the importance of growth and adaptation in business.

While she was counseled to declare bankruptcy, Stewart declined and instead paid off the debt with plenty of hard work and dedication. 

"So, we struggled and worked very hard and by 2015 all the debt we had been burdened with by the actions of others, was paid in full," Stewart said. 

"We re-grew organically just as we had grown in the beginning. There is always room for growth,” she added.

As for the future of O.R. Nurses, Stewart said there is much on the horizon including taking on its first acquisition company to add to the O.R. Nurses family.

Specifically, Stewart said the company is searching to bring someone else into their travel arm of staffing.

“Everything O.R. Nurses has done, it was done organically. There comes a time when you look around and it’s the right time to acquire and build. We are approaching that point,” Stewart commented.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that O.R. Nurses Nationwide declared bankruptcy in 2012, which is incorrect. The company was counseled to declare bankruptcy but instead paid off the debts in 2015. 

Read more articles by Rachel Warren.

Rachel Warren is a freelance writer whose writing has appeared in RSVP Magazine and Focus Magazine in Memphis. She is a sales associate at the Peddler Bike Shop. Rachel likes riding bikes, playing roller derby, watching scary movies and writing about Memphis. 
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