How COVID-19 Has Changed Travel Nursing
COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, has forever changed travel nursing and perhaps not for the best. Travel nurses from coast to coast had contracts canceled without much notice and without any options except for taking extended time off. Some were lucky to grab a handful of the crisis contract in hotspots such as Seattle or New York City. Now, California, Texas, and Florida are the next predicted hotspots but crisis contracts have been even harder to secure the second time around.
Until recently, travel nurses have been able to generally pick their work locations from a plethora of hospitals and negotiate their contracts. It was a “buyers” market and the buyers were travel nurses. Now, with more travelers fighting for a smaller number of contracts, hospitals can choose not to negotiate with a nurse and the agency but instead select a different applicant.
Changes To Available Assignments
Initially, the pandemic closed units and decreased patient censuses in hospitals across the country due to stay-at-home orders but now as the world starts to reopen, travel nurses are still scrounging for contracts. It’s impossible to predict exactly how COVID-19 will continue to change travel nursing but it has already caused the following:
- Decrease in available contracts
- Decrease in contract pay
- Competition for available positions
- Decrease in negotiability of contracts
- Increased need for flexibility
Why the change?
Let’s take a closer look. Imagine there is one ICU position at a well known academic hospital in a major city. Now imagine 100 applicants for that position. Everyone has similar credentials and would be ideal for the position. The first applicant wants to pick their own schedule, the next need specific days off, the third applicant just wants the job. Which one is the hospital going to choose? The third applicant is completely flexible and willing to take the contract with minimal changes.
Hospitals will continue to choose the travel nurses that fit their needs without hesitation or pushback. Hospitals are overwhelmed with other needs and finding travel nurses is generally not high on their priority list. As a result, travel nurse recruiters have to fight for the few available contracts for their nurses. It’s important to have open and good communication with your recruiter for this reason.
This is a prime example of post-COVID travel nursing. Nurses need to understand that with limited contracts; unfortunately, there is not the same flexibility. As hospitals reopen to elective surgeries and census continues to improve, there has been an uptick in the number of available travel nurse contracts. However, the overall number is still lower than previously. With contracts available throughout the country, travel nurses should have their resumes and credentials up to date and ready for submission.
How Travel Nurses Are Responding
These changes have forced some travel nurses to take permanent positions. Unfortunately, job security has become a must for some. Others have temporarily taken non-clinical roles in health departments doing contact tracing or COVID-19 testing. While for most this is a temporary setback it can be a viable option as the uncertainty of the coronavirus continues.
Interestingly, the current spike in new cases could lead to more crisis contracts for ICU and ER nurses but fewer contracts for OR and pediatric nurses. Why is this? During the height of the coronavirus, pediatric hospitals were virtually empty and ORs were closed. It’s possible this could happen again. It truly is impossible to know but regardless, it is very important for travel nurses to be ready for their next assignment.