Future of Travel Nursing: Preparing for Transitions After COVID-19

Whether you were on the frontlines when COVID-19 unfolded at unprecedented speeds or in your final year of nursing school, it’s hardly news that the pandemic fundamentally changed the world—including the realm of health care.

Now, in our “post-pandemic” universe (yes, even as the illness continues to pose a threat across the globe), we’re continuing to see how COVID-19 has impacted the medical field and the nurses it employs. Additional PPE is largely required, while telehealth has moved from a niche practice to downright prevalent. Compensation has increased right alongside the demand for nurses—a shortage that has been partly fueled by professional burnout. And last but not least, nurses have become increasingly aware of their utter importance and asking for change.

But will these crucial shifts affect travel nurses in particular, and what does the future hold for travel nurses, period?

The Future of Travel Nursing in 2023

With a lot of strain on our health systems, is health care a good career path? In order to get a better handle on the future of travel nursing after COVID-19, we should first reflect upon the past and examine how the changes in nursing are impacting us today:

  • The demand for travel nurses rose dramatically during the pandemic – Travel nursing has long held widespread appeal for registered nurses searching for flexibility, solid pay, and the opportunity to explore other towns and cities. During the pandemic, the need for travel nurses positively skyrocketed: In 2020, the profession rose 35% from the preceding year. 

This was primarily due to two critical factors: 1) an overall shortage of nurses in various health care settings (keep in mind that there was a nursing shortage even before COVID-19 rocked the world), and 2) professional burnout, with 66% of 5,600 nurses surveyed by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses reporting that they’re considering leaving their profession.

  • Some states waived licensures – Nurse.org reports that, at the height of the pandemic—when a state of emergency was declared—states forewent state licensure to fill nursing staff shortages. Other states accepted temporary licenses. This paved the way for travel nurses to work at different facilities across the nation—and allowed them to provide care during a tremendous “hour” of need.
  • The need for travel nurses will continue to rise – According to some estimates, the need for travel nurses will only continue to escalate—the field is expected to rise another 40% in the future. This bodes extremely well for anyone who is weighing the pros and cons of the future of travel nursing.
  • Wages for travel nurses may escalate even more – COVID-19 may have been an exceptionally distressing time for nurses—before and after vaccines were widely released, with 76% of nurses in the survey quoted above stating that unvaccinated patients “ threatened their mental and physical well-being.”

At the same time, travel nurse pay increased as well. The average travel nurse salary grew by 25% in April 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, with some travel nurses now earning between $5,000 and $10,000 per week.

  • The interest in travel nursing has increased – Flexibility with scheduling, higher pay, the capacity to see different parts of the country, and the excellent benefits afforded by travel nursing agencies—all have motivated people to consider pursuing the profession. According to Indeed, interest in travel nursing roles has continued to ascend; searches for travel nursing positions are roughly five times higher than they were before the pandemic hit.

Lastly, more and more nurses are permanently leaving their positions, in part because of the mental and physical challenges they experienced during the pandemic. This will lead to increased shortages and—you guessed it—a more immediate need for travel nurses to fulfill these empty roles.

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How Has COVID-19 Affected Health Organizations?

Every healthcare organization around the globe was acutely taxed during the pandemic, and its employees felt it. A high level of professional burnout was felt across medical care facilities, from large city hospitals to small community clinics. 

In fact, according to a survey performed at the beginning of the pandemic by American Nurses Foundation, roughly half of nurses reported feelings of angst, overwhelm, and irritability. 

Meaning, nurses were desperately needed, but they were also tested.

Indeed, if there’s one thing that the pandemic has reminded the world, it is this: People in the medical profession are invaluable

Travel nurses may have started bringing in a more lucrative income during the pandemic, but they were also working exceptionally hard: in January of 2022, the number of hours travel nurses put in rose 23% from the previous year.

Now, nurses have become empowered—and are advocating for change and health equity. Typically, nurses are:

  • Exploring new avenues in their field that extend beyond bedside care and into medical research, home care nursing, and telehealth
  • Requesting higher pay
  • Asking for stronger mental health policies
  • Demanding better protection for themselves
  • Petitioning for block booking

And because the need for nurses isn’t going anywhere anytime soon—the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the field will continue to grow by 6%—nurses may be in a better position than ever to receive what they request. 

To this end, many nurses are choosing to work with reliable travel nursing agencies to pair them with places and opportunities that will fulfill their wishes.

How to Adapt as a Travel Nurse

Whether you have just launched a career as a travel nurse intent on capitalizing on the positive wave of change in the profession or have recently started exploring traveling nursing jobs, you may be feeling a tad… daunted by what is ahead of you.

And yet, with some advance planning, you can easily adapt as a travel nurse. Here are a few tips:

  • Embrace (and hone) flexibility – It goes without saying that working as a travel nurse necessitates working in numerous facilities in numerous locations—and each facility will have their own way of running the proverbial ship. 

“Go with the flow” may be overused, but it’s imperative in this particular career. Embracing new policies and adapting to new procedures, knowing that it is part of your role, is key to dodging frustration and becoming a trustworthy, helpful member of any medical team.

  • Consider self-care one of your primary responsibilities – When it comes to nursing, you know that you must put on your own oxygen mask first in order to survive and be of assistance to others. This takes on a new degree of urgency and importance in the travel nursing field. On top of caring for your patients and working with a new staff, you are also adjusting to a new home environment and, in some cases (and at some times), also recovering from traveling. 

This is where, why, and when self-care becomes an absolute necessity for travel nurses. Ensure that you clock in consistent, quality sleep, eat often and nutritiously to maintain your energy levels, hydrate frequently, take adequate breaks, and decompress between assignments.

  • Call upon your communication skills – Adapting to a new environment—and oftentimes environments that operate at a fast pace—is no easy feat and deeply admirable. But one of the golden tickets to ensuring that you make a snag-free transition each and every time is through communicating. Ask questions whenever one arises for you, especially in facilities where management may overlook (or be too pressed for time) to share essential pieces of information with you.
  • Build bonds – You may only be on assignment in a certain facility for six weeks—but that’s still six weeks in which you can develop friendships with others on the staff you’re joining. Having a friend and confidante at your temporary place of employment may bring substantially more satisfaction to your job while partnering up with a local nurse (or another healthcare employee) may introduce you to new parts of the city or town you’re staying in on your assignment.
  • Work with a travel nursing agency – A solid and reputable travel nursing agency can be an indispensable resource. Whether they arrange for your housing, negotiate your contract, optimize your compensation, or provide you with mental health resources to help you avoid that professional burnout we discussed, they may prove to be a superb ally and advocate on your working adventures.

Elevate Your Nursing Career with MAS Medical Staffing

The pandemic radically changed life for countless people across the world—and life for innumerable nurses. Nurses are now in a prime position to ask for what they want and, importantly, deserve. From better, more realistic pay to enhanced protection, they’re speaking up for themselves and increasingly turning to travel nursing jobs to obtain the lifestyle and income they’ve worked so hard to achieve. 

MAS Medical Staffing is the partner to bring along on your foray into travel nursing. As one of the top travel nursing agencies in the country, we work hard on behalf of nurses to place them in desirable positions, all the while helping them make enormous strides in their careers. With terrific benefits and per diem pay, we can help you reach your professional and personal goals while giving you the chance to explore new locales and accrue fresh experiences.

Reach out to us today to start the conversation—and prepare for a rewarding and meaningful time, one in which the future of travel nursing is yours. 

Sources: 

Rasmussen University. COVID-19 and nursing: 6 ways the pandemic has made an impact.

https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/nursing/blog/covid19-and-nursing/

Health Affairs. COVID-19’s impact on nursing shortages, the rise of travel nurses, and price gouging.

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/forefront.20220125.695159

American Association of Critical Care Nurses. Hear us out campaign reports nurses’ COVID-19 reality.

Hear Us Out Campaign Reports Nurses’ COVID-19 Reality – AACN

Advisory Board. Why travel nursing will likely outlast the pandemic.

https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2022/03/18/travel-nursing

Trusted Health. Transition back from crisis: the future for travel nurses after COVID-19.

https://www.trustedhealth.com/blog/transition-back-from-crisis-the-future-for-travel-nurses-after-covid-19

National Nurses United. Nurses call on FTC to investigate hospital contracts that place onerous burden on RN graduates.

https://www.nationalnursesunited.org/press/nurses-call-on-ftc-to-investigate-hospital-contracts

U.S. Bureaus of Labor Statistics. Registered nurses.

 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm

American Nurses Foundation. American Nurses Foundation Releases Comprehensive Survey About Nurses. https://www.nursingworld.org/news/news-releases/2021/american-nurses-foundation-releases-comprehensive-survey-about-nurses/ 

Reviewer Bio

Heidi Lough, Principal Recruiter: Heidi has worked as a recruiter at MAS since September of 2020, right in the middle of the COVID pandemic. She came in and saw our company growing exponentially due to the pandemic which resulted in a severe need for healthcare providers. She is a top performer and loves the hustle of recruiting and helping professionals find their next adventure in their nursing specialty. Outside of work, she enjoys being in nature, being involved at church, and hanging out with her cat, dog, 6 chickens- oh, and husband.

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