Pandemic: Pre and Post-Pandemic Travel Nursing

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By StaffDNA

February 22, 2023

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Travel Nursing Pre and Post-Pandemic

StaffDNA provided this article.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed almost every aspect of how we live — from working remotely to shopping for groceries online and much more. Nurses and other healthcare workers experienced heightened levels of change and the stress that came with it. As the pandemic continued, travel nurses supported healthcare systems in unprecedented ways, benefitting patients, healthcare facilities, and their fellow nurses alike. 

Now that COVID-19 is slowly receding from the headlines, we should take time to consider how the pandemic affected nursing, specifically travel nursing. What did we learn? What challenges did we face? What will the future hold?

Travel Nursing Before COVID

Since the mid-1930s, the U.S. has had periods with notable nurse shortages that put a strain on the American healthcare system. While nurses have traveled to different areas to help out for over a century — Nightingale and others traveling to Turkey during the Crimean War, for example — the concept of hiring travel nurses began in the 70s, when New Orleans hospitals were overwhelmed with injured Mardi Gras partygoers. During the 80s, travel nursing became an industry of its own, responding to the ongoing regional nursing shortages.

The COVID-19 pandemic shined a bright light on the ongoing shortage — a shortage due in part to nurses retiring, a lack of nurse educators, and an aging patient population living longer with chronic medical conditions.

The shortages have led to nurse burnout, which has played a role in decreasing retention levels. In fact, a study conducted in 2019-2020 (pre-pandemic) by Rachel French, Ph.D., RN, et al. found that over 40% of RNs reported a high level of burnout. But nurse burnout isn’t just a problem for nurses’ personal lives; patient safety also suffers. The good news is that hiring travel nurses can often help.

Travel Nursing During COVID

During the height of the pandemic, the role of nurses also expanded. With “no visitor” policies in place, nurses had to provide an unprecedented level of social care. They often had to work without the personal protection equipment crucial to their health and safety, and some had to quickly change specialties with no prior training — from medical-surgical to COVID ICU, for example. The higher numbers of patients and increased death rates added to their trauma in ways never seen before. Hospital systems had to find a solution, or at least a Band-Aid, for the situation. Travel nursing expanded to alleviate some of these problems.

As the need for travel nurses increased, so did their pay rates. According to HealthAffairs, travel nurses in the past earned approximately $1,400 per week, but as the pandemic continued to surge, some travelers earned up to $10,000 a week.    

While the pay increase was a benefit, traveling comes with its own set of drawbacks. “Working in a new environment; learning new processes, technologies, hospital layouts; and meeting new people are inherently stressful and have been amplified during a crisis like COVID-19,” notes David Morrison, RN, author of Travel Nurse Bible. And staff nurses weren’t always happy about working side-by-side with their peers who made up to six times their salary.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Will Affect the Future of Travel Nursing

The COVID-19 pandemic is all but over, but travel nursing will continue to be a vital part of the healthcare landscape. “When nurses travel and gain control over their work, it will be hard to shut that door,” says Rose Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. Now that health systems have seen the true value in travel nursing, they won’t want to shut that door either.

Though the nursing shortage is far from over, the gold rush for travel nurses is already dwindling. COVID relief funds paid for much of those increased salaries, but as they’ve dried up, hospitals and other facilities are cutting salaries for travelers and moving back toward leaner staff.

We don’t know what the future holds regarding pandemics, social change, and governmental regulation, but we can be sure that travel nursing will continue to be an integral part of healthcare for years to come.

Our job board is a great place to search for your next travel nurse assignment. We have you covered with our housing page if housing is an issue. There you can search for what you are looking for in housing.

If you are a new travel nurse or looking into becoming a travel nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step-by-Step (now offered in a PDF Downloadable version!)

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