Travel nursing has always been a lucrative branch of nursing. Sounds like a dream, right? Exotic locations, paid living expenses, and higher pay top the list of reasons why some choose travel nursing. Some nurses, however, prefer to stay home rather than travel because of the strong ties to family, friends, and home. However, the traveling nursing profession has seen a significant rise in 2021 (Press, T.A., 2021).
According to Miranda L. with NBC News (Miranda, L. 2021), Cross Country Healthcare, a medical staffing agency, reported a 50 percent increase in travel nurse orders during the second quarter of 2021.
So what drives nurses from their hometowns and communities?
Is Travel Nursing Compelling Due to Pay?
Karen Lasater, a nursing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that the number of nurses students grow each year. However, vacancies in schedules at local hospitals also grow. Pay likely contributes to the travel nursing boom (Farmer, 2021).
SimpliFi, another medical staffing agency that places travel nurses in hospital facilities, referenced salaries of travel nurses at upwards of $8,000 per week (Tanzi, 2021). While travel nurses typically have higher pay rates than staff nurses, the difference continues to widen.
Alternately, major corporations often offer signing bonuses; for example, Unity Health in Newport, Arkansas, offers a sign-on bonus of $15,000 when a new bedside nurse agrees to work at their facility. Unfortunately, smaller rural hospitals cannot provide these signing bonuses, widening the gap between traveling nurses and bedside nurses and contributing to increasing staffing shortages.
Is it Staffing Ratios?
Most states do not have staffing ratios – meaning that a nurse could be caring for many patients. Lasater states that sometimes, nurses care for 8 to 10 patients at a time. “That’s unsustainable,” she says (Farmer, 2021).
The 2018 Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture performed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) indicated that, out of 382,834 nurses surveyed, only 52 percent of nurses felt that their facilities had safe staffing ratios (Mitchell, n.d.).
Medicare requires an “adequate numbers of licensed registered nurses.” However, they do not specify what constitutes as “adequate.” California remains the only state that regulates the nurse-to-patient ratio (Mitchell, n.d.).
It could be that many nurses leave what they believe to be unsafe working conditions, but help to fill vacancies in severely short areas (Mitchell, n.d.).
Is Travel Nursing Irresistible Due to COVID-19?
Travel nursing has always been an in-demand profession. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for travel nurses has increased.
Many people wonder how hospitals can afford the steep pay of a travel nurse. Reports indicate that several states, such as Texas and Mississippi, use COVID-19 relief dollars to help pay the salaries (Tanzi, 2021).
According to NPR (Press, T.A., 2021), “The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections across the U.S. has caused a shortage of nurses and other front-line staff in virus hot spots that can no longer keep up with the flood of unvaccinated patients and are losing workers to burnout and lucrative out-of-state temporary gigs.”
Other facilities indicate that even without COVID-19, the surgical backlog would have been an issue. Patients had to cancel surgeries during the lockdown, and surgeons had difficulty catching up primarily due to the nursing shortage. Due to the surgical backlog and demand for staff nurses, travel nurses are essential to help fill the gaps (Tanzi, 2021).
The Bottom Line:
Whatever the reason, nurses are quitting their jobs and entering the travel nursing profession in large increments.
The rapid increase of interest in traveling nursing creates unique opportunities for hospitals, nursing homes, and other sites of direct patient care. They have the chance to change the course of nursing during the COVID-19 pandemic by considering better pay and retention opportunities for their healthcare workers.
Krysti Ostermeyer is an RN, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES), and a freelance writer. She enjoys writing about health, wellness, and nursing. She dreams about being a full-time writer when she grows up.
When Krysti isn’t working, she enjoys mountain biking, hiking, taking walks, practicing yoga, reading, and drinking copious amounts of iced coffee.
Farmer, B. (2021, September 7). High pay for traveling nurses a symptom and cause of staff shortages. Marketplace. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.marketplace.org/2021/09/07/high-pay-for-traveling-nurses-a-symptom-and-cause-of-staff-shortages/.
Miranda, L. (2021, September 16). Rural Hospitals losing hundreds of staff to high-paid traveling nurse jobs. NBCNews.com. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/rural-hospitals-losing-hundreds-staff-high-paid-traveling-nurse-jobs-n1279199.
Mitchell, J. (n.d.). How Travel Nurses Impact Safe Nurse Staffing. TravelNursing. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.travelnursing.com/mobile/pages/resourceDetails.aspx/?articleId=4183%E2%80%AF.
Press, T. A. (2021, August 11). Hospitals face a shortage of nurses as covid cases soar. NPR. Retrieved November 7, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/08/10/1026577164/hospitals-face-a-shortage-of-nurses-as-covid-cases-soar%E2%80%AF.
Tanzi, A. (2021, August 31). U.S. Travel Nurses Are Being Offered as Much as $8,000 a Week. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-31/there-s-a-market-for-8k-a-week-nurses-in-u-s-as-delta-spreads%E2%80%AF.