Kathleen Gaines, MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines, MSN, RN, BA, CBC
January 15, 2021 - 3 min read

Why Are There More Travel Nurse Positions Now?

While no one can predict how COVID-19 will continue to change travel nursing — especially with the emergency authorization of two vaccines — for now, the need for travel nurses is continuing to grow. There is an unprecedented need and not enough travel nurses to fill the void. Not only are adult ICU nurses needed but so are OR nurses, pediatric nurses, and medical surgical nurses. This is a very big change from less than a year ago.

In March 2020, COVID-19 ravaged states such as New York and Washington and travel nurses flocked to those hard hit areas to fight on the front lines. But with that, travel nurse contracts in other areas of the country were cancelled and thousands of travel nurses were left unemployed and scrambling to find last minute available contracts. Operating room and pediatric travel nurses were the hardest hit, requiring many to take staff positions at location hospitals or work outside their field of expertise.

Another significant change: travel nurses are needed everywhere. New York needs nurses, California desperately needs nurses, and Texas is begging for nurses. In fact, hard hit rural areas like the midwest and smaller towns have found it impossible to increase their staff as there are increasing numbers of staff nurses becoming infected or placed on quarantine, reducing the number of available staff.

Interested in assignments in COVID-impacted areas? Start here.

Travel Nurses In Demand

Hospitals have long relied on travel nurses to fill staffing gaps, some more than others. Early in the pandemic, healthcare systems were competing for personal protection equipment, ventilators, and ICU beds. Now, there is an ongoing race for nurses, especially ICU nurses to care for the thousands of sick COVID patients. Everyday hundreds of new travel nurse contracts are posted to staffing agency websites, but travel nurses are still finding some roadblocks to starting new contracts.

Some of the contracts are labeled as crisis COVID contracts, which have a high rate of cancellation prior to starting the contract. Additionally, these contracts come with a much higher pay than regular travel nurse contracts; therefore, there is stiffer competition for these positions. Hospitals want “COVID chasers.” Dubbed this for their work as COVID nurses throughout the pandemic, these nurses travel across the country caring for patients in the newest hotspot. COVID chasers have worked day in and day out with the sickest of the sick and are emotionally, mentally, and physically ready for the demand required of them.

Unfortunately, crisis contracts are scary despite the extremely high demand. Why are they risky? When a hospital or location needs nurses quickly, they often overhire because they are aware that not everyone hired will complete the requirements prior to the start date. Plus, it is possible that not everyone will test negative for coronavirus. There are no penalties for the hospital when canceling a crisis contract except for a few nominal costs/fees. For that reason, hospitals often will work with multiple agencies in order to secure the appropriate number of nurses. Furthermore, during a crisis, the patient census can change day to day. It’s possible that by the time additional staff arrive, the patient census will not require it. This was mostly seen in New York City at the onset of the pandemic.

Right now, there is a bidding war for certain travel nurses. The reason? There truly aren’t enough travel nurses for all the needs and hospitals want staff that can jump right in. Hospitals want staff that do not need much training, can handle patients with a variety of illnesses, and have flexible availability. Those that had crisis contracts cancelled in the past are not finding the same issue right now. Even travel nurses that do not have the skill set to care for COVID patients are in demand throughout the country.

Speak with a recruiter about available assignments in COVID-impacted areas today.

Shortage of Travel Nurses

With thousands of open travel nurse contracts across the United States, healthcare systems are left wondering how to fill the gaps and where the nurses are. As previously mentioned, at the height of the pandemic many travel nurses actually took staff positions because of the job security including health benefits. A great deal of these nurses have remained staff nurses and left the voids. Other staff nurses are hesitant to become travel nurses because of the uncertainty.

Currently, Aya Healthcare boosts almost 4,000 open Emergency Room nursing positions throughout the country. Travel Nurse Across America staffing agency has requests up over 175% from previous years.

The abundance of travel nursing positions will continue to rise as COVID continues to grapple the nation. Experts do not expect to see relief on the frontlines for months. Travel nurses can expect to have additional opportunities in the upcoming months.

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