VMSs and MSPs: The robots you need to make happy

Before we dive into what VMSs and MSPs are, let’s figure out why they exist in the first place. When you’re talking with recruiters, you may hear the term “direct contract” being tossed around a lot. But what does it mean for travel nurses? Direct = the staffing agency has a direct relationship with the facility or hospital. Most jobs (about 70%) go through a computer system. This means the agencies never get to directly talk to the hospitals with job openings. They have to do all their communication through a computer system and/or the person managing the computer system (we’ll get to that player next).

Travel nurse direct contracts

Direct contracts mean the account manager actually gets to talk directly to the facility or hospital. Why is this important? This helps your company figure out exactly what the facility’s need looks like and how to help them find an awesome travel nurse to fill it.

Typically, agencies that have direct contracts with certain hospitals are the first to hear about their job openings. Another benefit is better communication. If a travel nurse has a question on what color scrubs to wear or what the parking situation looks like, the recruiter can call the hospital directly to get the answer. It’s not that simple with other contracts.

Back in the beginning, almost all contracts were direct. But because hospitals have such limited time, it became increasingly difficult when more staffing agencies started popping up. The hospitals needed something to manage communication with all of the staffing agencies they were working with. And where there is a need, there is usually someone who finds a way to make money off of it. Drum roll please… introducing the VMS!

Travel Nurse VMSs

Who they are: VMS stands for “Vendor Management System.” A VMS is an electronic system that allows hospitals to post open positions for travel jobs that many agencies can see. It also allows recruiters to enter our work histories and credentials to submit us to jobs. The point of them is so the hospital’s hiring manager has one system for all of the staffing agencies to submit us through, as well as standardize and streamline communication.

Who they are not: People. They have no feelings, problem-solving, or understanding. They are pretty much clunky online applications that your recruiters get to input your profile data into. Over and over again.

What they need and do: They are robots, and they are many times gate-keepers, allowing only “qualified” resumes on to the hiring managers. They need data to process. They need your recruiters to put the right data in the right order so they can process it correctly. Many times they “look” for certain words or criteria in order to let you through.

Who they interact with the most: Recruiters use them a lot. Think of a recruiter using a VMS like a travel nurse using EMR (electronic medical records). Just like how hospitals have different EMR, like Epic and Cerner, VMSs are different too. And there are many of them. Similar to our documentation, most VMSs are terribly out-dated and a pain to use. Each agency has to use multiple VMS to find jobs. So have some love for your recruiter for putting all of your information from your resume into many different clunky VMSs repeatedly to submit you!
How to impress them: Think like a robot when you fill out your profile. What words might a human have programmed into a robot/computer to “look” for to show you are qualified? Use lots of them! Make sure your dates are inputted accurately so the robot can see you do have over a year of experience in the relevant fields so you don’t get blocked.

What motivates them: The code that built them. Whatever a human programmed them to do- they do.
What frustrates them: Nothing! They have no feelings. But a poorly written or incomplete profile will have you frustrated when you don’t get many interviews.

Travel Nurse MSPs

There is a ton of information that goes into VMSs. Which means there needs to be a human to manage and sort through all of that information. That job is for an MSP, or “managed service provider.”
Pretend there is a top clinician at a hospital that was reading every single piece of documentation submitted. That person would be the MSP. And the VMS is the computer system they use. The MSP is the person or company chosen by the hospital to review applicants for job openings. They screen them based on their resumes to see if they are a good fit for the position they are applying for.

The pros

These players are really important because they allow staffing agencies to have access to a ton of jobs without having a sales team. In the old days, staffing agencies had to hire sales teams to cold-call hundreds of facilities to try to find ones with needs. Now, thanks to VMSs and the MSPs managing them, staffing agencies can see jobs the day they open. This system benefits hospitals also because it allows them to work with different agencies and have access to more qualified candidates.

The cons

The downside of this system is how not-so-great the technology behind it is. It hurts communication a lot. There’s also not much accountability between the MSP and the hospital they’re working for. The hospitals don’t always do a good job communicating what they need and the MSPs end up doing a lot of guessing, which doesn’t always make for a great situation. Ever heard of a travel nurse showing up for a contract and the hospital didn’t even know they were coming? It really does happen!

The most important things to know about VMSs and MSPs

This system creates a barrier between the staffing agency and the actual hospital. This means it can be really difficult for your recruiter to go all the way up the telephone chain and back down to get a question answered for you about the job. As a travel nurse, it is essential to learn how to ask good questions on the interview with the hiring manager. Your interview may be the only time you have access to someone actually at the facility before you show up for work, day one.

There are many different VMSs and MSPs out there. Your staffing agency will work with a mixture of some VMSs and some direct clients. Some of their jobs will cross over and be the same as another staffing agency and many will not. Some staffing agencies also have better relationships with the VMS and that helps you as the traveler. Working with 3 agencies gives you more opportunities! Make sure you have 3 agencies you trust and like to talk to about jobs in between contracts.

The other players

The VMS/MSP system isn’t the only player in this game. Check out the rest of these people (and the not-people too) and how they’re a part of your travel nurse journey.

  • The hospital or facility – The one who pays for everything else
  • Travel nurse agencies – Your employer & the middle man
  • The account manager – The hospital’s point of contact
  • The recruiter – The most important player for the traveler experience
  • The travel nurse: You! (The talent 😊)


Cheers to the travel nurse game being a win-win for everyone,

xo Laura

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