Travel nurse demand falls as pandemic eases in U.S.

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As COVID-19 vaccinations climb and cases fall in the U.S., the once “desperate” need for travel nurses to care for the country’s sick has waned.

“Some of that desperate need for staff that we saw in the latter part of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 has shifted as our population has increased the vaccination rate,” said Susan Whitman, executive vice president and co-founder of Freedom Healthcare Staffing.

Yet demand remains high, as providers deal with postponed surgeries, delayed care and exhausted staff.

“Large increases for clinicians in surgery and surgery-dependent specialties are on the rise as hospitals and health systems move quickly to book elective surgeries that have been delayed for months,” said Joel Tremblay, COO of Medical Solutions.

Areas that had the highest demand during the pandemic — ICU and medical surge units — are seeing sustained demand as systems give burnt out staff time off and fill gaps made by those either leaving the profession or becoming travelers themselves, Tremblay said.

“Hospitals are seeing their own staff leaving for good or taking a well-earned leave of absence to recharge. It’s obviously no secret front-line workers have been through pandemic horrors,” Whitman said.

Whitman expects demand to remain high through the end of the year as hospital staff take delayed vacations.

But the urgency for staff has changed.

When COVID-19 was at its peak, Fusion Medical Staffing could submit a candidate to a healthcare provider and have an answer within the hour, said the staffing firm’s director of nursing, Angie Casey. Now, it takes two to three days for approval.

Some of the state licensing rules that had been relaxed are being reimposed, making it harder for travelers to work in different states, she said.

One of the biggest changes is that pay rates, which had, in some cases, doubled during the height of the pandemic have started to fall, Casey said.

“With large swings in demand for contingent labor, so too are the expectations for what a clinician should be paid. From working in COVID units or crisis staffing environments, clinicians saw an increase in their income and certainly deserved it,” Tremblay said.

The long-term effects of the pandemic on the travel industry will take years to understand, Tremblay said. Even within the travel industry, workers are leaving the profession.

“While the pandemic has brought a number of new clinicians to the travel industry, there have been as many, if not more, leaving the profession altogether,” he said. “Those who have worked on the front lines of the pandemic are exhausted, drained and have been pushed to their mental and emotional limits in the face of this crisis.”

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