Pandemic Travel Nurses Get Real About Their Experiences

By TotalMed Staffing

September 28, 2020

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Travel Nurses on the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic Get Real About Their Experiences

This article was provided by TotalMed

TotalMed surveyed 100 travel nurses about their experiences working in hospitals during the current pandemic. They got real with us, sharing their difficulties and the hope that they still have for the future, despite the hard times we’re in. 


Here’s what travel nurses have to say about what it’s really like to be on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’re stressed out, exhausted, and managing uncertainty as best they can.

Over 20% of travel nurses surveyed indicated they are stressed out and exhausted. Working on COVID floors is more stressful than traditional travel nursing, and many nurses are struggling to find time to self-care and to catch their breath. 

Here are some insights some nurses shared with us on their current difficulties:

  • The stress of it all. There is no one thing. It’s a million things all adding up on top of the other.
  • The pandemic is causing higher emotional, mental, and physical stress.
  • The exhaustion is sometimes overwhelming.
  • Everything changes from day to day. From protocols, to medications, to therapies. Everything you ever learned in nursing school goes out the window. It’s exhausting to the absolute core.

They’re struggling with isolation and fear of exposing their family and friends to the virus.

Many travel nurses are social distancing from family and friends and reported feeling isolated, especially when their loved ones struggled to understand the severity of the virus.

“I do not feel safe being around my friends and family due to my constant exposure at the hospital. Many of them don’t think it’s a big deal and get upset with me for not being more involved,” said one interventional radiology travel nurse.  

For those who live with family, they’re often concerned about bringing the virus home. One med-surg nurse says that the biggest struggle is “the panic of taking it home to your children, husband, and loved ones. The stress that comes with that. We are trying, we really are.”

They’ve worked steadily throughout the pandemic.

60% of travel nurses surveyed have worked throughout the entire pandemic, experiencing no periods of unemployment. 

What’s more, over 30% indicate that their salaries have increased due to COVID-19. They chock up this increase in pay to crisis and hazard rates, increased overtime due to staffing shortages, and increased hours. 

Lack of PPE remains a concern.

Over 20% or respondents said that lack of PPE was one of the biggest challenges of their work in 2020. Being under-resourced, having to reuse masks, and not having the equipment they need to feel safe has left many travel nurses feeling stressed and unprotected:

  • As a nurse in the pandemic, we needed more resources and PPE. 
  • The uncertainty is a challenge — between not knowing if we will have adequate PPE/testing to not knowing how the body will react to the disease. 
  • You have to reuse the same mask for months. 
  • We want to be safe and have proper PPE!

They want the public to take COVID-19 seriously . . .

When asked what they wish people outside the healthcare system understood about the pandemic, many travel nurses stressed that COVID-19 is not a virus to take lightly. Here’s a sample of responses underscoring how serious the pandemic is:

  • This isn’t a joke. People don’t understand how easy this virus is to spread. 
  • It’s not a hoax. Yes, free food is greatly appreciated, but staying home or just trying to keep distance and avoid large groups means more than anything to nurses.
  • I wish that people understood that what they see as “their right” to not wear a mask directly impacts us. 
  • I wish people would stop thinking it’s not a real virus and that not wearing a mask won’t make a difference. That they could see how sick these patients are & understand that no one is immune or safe from it. 
  • Take responsibility for your actions, what you do affects others.  Think of someone other than yourself. 

. . . but not to panic.

One ER nurse reflected that the problem in getting adequate treatment for COVID-19 is less about the virus and more about people’s response to the virus, cautioning the public to keep a level head. “Fear and panic is what clogs up the system. That affects the care we’re able to provide to people who really need it vs. your panicked runny nose self who hasn’t even tried taking Tylenol for their fever.”  

They believe we’ll emerge stronger than ever.

Despite all the difficulties, stress, and uncertainty, the majority of travel nurses believe that the nursing profession will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever.

“We have become more valued by the community,” said one travel nurse. “People have a greater appreciation for nurses during the pandemic.” 

One med-surg travel nurse shared her hopes that we will succeed: “We stayed strong, we adapted, we ARE overcoming each challenge.”

“Because after all the trials we’ve gone through one, can only emerge stronger,” said another med-surg travel nurse. “Weakness is not an option. Especially in nursing. We are the strength this country doesn’t realize it has.” 

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