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Transition Back from Crisis: The Future For Travel Nurses After COVID-19

Amanda Marten NP-C, MSN
August 4, 2022
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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted and continues to impact everyone worldwide. It’s no surprise that healthcare systems and travel nurses still are being impacted and experiencing significant changes. But how has the pandemic changed the world of travel nursing? Let’s discuss the state of travel nursing during the pandemic, the future of travel nursing, and ways to transition for travel nurses.

The State of Travel Nursing During COVID-19

Travel nursing has always been a high-in-demand field. During the pandemic, the state of travel nursing changed worldwide. Let’s explore how the pandemic affected the state of travel nursing.

Demand For Travel Nurses

The demand for travel nursing during the COVID-19 pandemic exploded. The average hours that travel nurses worked increased to over 23% in January 2022. This number reflects the total number of travel nursing hours worked as a percentage worked by nurses in hospitals. This is a tremendous increase compared to less than 4% hours pre-pandemic numbers.

Hospitals were experiencing and continue to experience nursing shortages due to a variety of reasons. Reasons include staff nurses contracting COVID-19, patients needing a higher acuity of care, or a lack of safe nurse-to-patient ratios. Also, a large number of staff nurses left their full-time jobs. Staff nurses were seeking higher wages, scheduling flexibility, and the opportunity to travel, all of which travel nursing offers.

Changes to Safety Protocols

Safety protocols have also changed during the pandemic. Nurses have always needed to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Pre-pandemic, PPE most of the time included only surgical masks and gloves. However, since COVID-19 is an airborne illness, this changed PPE and safety protocols worldwide. Travel nurses now additionally wear surgical gowns and N-95 masks or respirators, which protect against airborne droplets.

Sick leave protocols changed because of the pandemic as well. If nurses were experiencing any flu-like symptoms or had a mild headache, they called out sick. This is because COVID-19 symptoms present differently in everyone. Nurses were required to receive a negative COVID-19 PCR test before returning to work. These return-to-work protocols are still changing and vary per healthcare system.

In addition to COVID-19 testing, hospitals have been more lenient on sick time for nurses. Before the pandemic, it was more often than not that travel nurses worked when they were sick. Now, it has become more accepted that it’s ok to not go to work when you are sick-even if it’s not with COVID-19.

👉 Read more: Trusted Benefits

Changes in Pay and Incentives

Travel nurses made approximately $1,673 per week before the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, travel nurses saw an increase in hourly wages. Sometimes wages were up to three times their pre-pandemic salary. They were also offered sign-on and assignment completion bonuses. Travel nurses were willing to work longer hours due to better benefits and hourly pay. This helped fill the gap with hospital staff nursing shortages.

👉 Read more: Trusted Guide to Nurse Pay

Adaptations To Work and Living Conditions

Travel nurses also had to learn to quickly adapt to the ever-changing work conditions. Early pandemic safety protocols were changing daily, which travel nurses had to keep up with.

Most travel nurses were afraid to visit or go home to family members and friends. This is because, in the early stages of the pandemic, much was still unknown about safety and transmission. Many travel nurses opted to not return home or waited 14 days in quarantine after completing their assignments for fear of transmission to loved ones. 

Many travel nurses have worsening stress levels and burnout rates. Nursing can be a stressful career, but COVID-19 added another layer of stress. Many nurses are seeking counseling from mental health professionals.

👉 Read more: The State of Mental Health in Nursing in 2022

How Will Travel Nursing Change as We Move To a Post-pandemic World?

Now that it appears the pandemic is winding down, it continues to impact the future of travel nursing. There are several ways travel nursing will change as we move post-pandemic.

For instance, healthcare systems are now transitioning back to hiring permanent, full-time nurses, instead of travel nurses. Some travel nursing contracts are being canceled. During the pandemic, many travel nurses were asked to extend their contracts. Now, it’s becoming rarer that healthcare facilities are asking for contract extensions.

Pay rates for travel nurses are starting to decline as well and are returning closer to pre-pandemic numbers. While the demand for travel nursing will decrease, travel nursing contracts will still exist. Many travel nurses will likely return to permanent, full-time positions for more stability. However, they may ask for higher wages, sign-on bonuses, and benefits.

Most likely, healthcare facility and mask safety protocols will not change. While masks are optional outside of healthcare facilities, it’s unlikely this will change inside hospitals for quite some time, if ever.

Call-out and sick protocols have also been impacted by the pandemic. If travel nurses are sick, it requires a negative COVID-19 test to return to work. If they are positive for COVID-19, an isolation period is required before returning to work. Due to the high transmission rate, this protocol will unlikely change in the years to come.

How Can Travel Nurses Adapt to This Transition

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted travel nurses pre- and post-pandemic. During the pandemic, travel nurses have overcome unforeseen challenges. Now that we are slowly transitioning into a post-pandemic workplace, let’s review how travel nurses can adapt to this transition and the future of travel nursing.

ways to adapt to the transition

Prepare For Financial Impacts

The need for travel nurses will never completely go away. However, travel nursing contacts are beginning to decline when compared to mid-pandemic numbers. This can have a large impact on travel nurses financially. While salaries are still higher than pre-pandemic numbers, travel nurses should expect to receive less pay.

To prepare, make sure you are saving at least six months of living expenses. 

Another way to prepare is to accept a lower-paying contract that is guaranteed for a longer time frame. This way, it may help you financially prepare and give you a long time to find another contract after your current one ends. Always have a backup contract in mind and voice this to your travel nursing recruiter. Voice your concerns for financial stability to your Nurse Advocate, and most likely, they will help you create a backup plan in case something goes sour.

Lastly, see if your travel nursing agency offers local assignments. As most local assignments have a 50-mile minimum radius, this will allow you to work closer to home. The pay and stipends may be slightly lower than a true travel nursing assignment. But your wages will still be higher than accepting a permanent staff nurse position. Also, if you work closer to home, then you may be able to work another part-time job or find another local assignment.

Update Your Resume

Since some travel nursing contracts are being canceled, it’s also a good idea to start updating your resume. There are several resume writing companies that specialize in travel nursing that can help you update it.

Consider adding new skills to your resume. For example, maybe you are a medical-surgical nurse but floated to the cardiac step-down unit several times. Make sure to add that you cared for COVID-19 patients. Including these shows versatility, commitment to nursing, and learning new skills. 

Also, consider obtaining certifications for your nursing specialty. Certifications will make you stand out amongst other travel nursing candidates. It shows commitment to and advancement in your field of nursing.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

During the pandemic, mental health declined and burnout rates increased amongst travel nurses. Since we are transitioning to life after a pandemic, remember that it’s important to take care of your mental and physical health. Set aside time for self-care activities that you enjoy, such as reading, getting a massage, or meditation. Promoting self-care can improve your mental health and stress levels. 

Since the pandemic, many have reflected on the importance of interactions with family and friends. Talk and plan events with your friends and family to help boost your mental health. If you have a busy schedule, plan phone dates with family and friends. Maintaining healthy relationships can help provide a strong support system. Strong support systems are often needed amongst travel nurses since you’re often far away from home.

If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health, seek support from a licensed therapist or counselor. They can listen to your concerns and improve your mental health. If you feel like you don’t have time to see a mental health professional, there is also Telemedicine. Telemedicine connects you with mental health professionals via smartphone apps.

Take Care of Your Physical Health

It’s also important to take care of your physical health. It can be difficult to take breaks while on shift, making it that much more imperative to take care of your physical well-being. Make sure you are eating healthy. Consume the required amount of vitamins and nutrients in your diet to boost your immunity. Exercise at least 30 minutes five times a week to boost your cardiovascular health. Try activities like walking, riding a bike, or doing yoga.

Remain Flexible

Travel nurses are prime examples of flexibility. It’s crucial to remain and communicate your flexibility when considering nursing assignments. Remaining flexible may help you land your next travel nursing assignment over other candidates. While floating to other areas of the hospital is not always ideal, still, be open to the idea. 

Stay Positive

It’s also imperative to keep a positive attitude. Staying positive can help boost your mood and the moods of those around you. If your travel nursing contract isn’t going as planned, remember that it’s only a few weeks. You will get through it!

Practicing gratitude is another great way to stay positive. Remember that a lot of coworkers and travel nurses are under the same pressures as you. Express your gratitude to them whenever possible by writing them a thank you note or offering to pay for their lunch. A little gratitude goes a long way!

Trusted Health is here to help you navigate the future of travel nursing

If you’re looking for your first or next travel nursing assignment, try Trusted Health. They offer many travel nursing resources, guides, and articles. Trusted Health’s many job listings and travel nursing recruiters will help you navigate the post-pandemic future of travel nursing.

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