A Travel Nurses Life: Rewards and Risks During the Pandemic

September 11, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce, Recruitment & Volunteers

Last modified September 14, 2020

According to this article from CNN News, the market for travel nursing is expanding, with research from Staffing Industry Analysts showing a 14% jump in revenue from 2019 to 2020. This demand is underscored by the nursing shortage happening in many parts of the country, one that’s only expected to worsen.

“Travelers,” as they’re known in the medical community, don’t fly totally solo. They work with staffing agencies to find placements based on expertise in a particular specialty (nurses with experience in the intensive care unit and emergency room, plus medical-surgery and operating room nurses, are some of the most in-demand caregivers). They’re also placed based on location and salary preferences.

But even travel nurses, used to high-stakes medical environments and changing their lives overnight, weren’t expecting how dramatically things would shift once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Many, like nurse Ryan Cogdill, felt compelled right away to take assignments on the front lines. He headed to Seattle in March, when it was one of the first US cities to experience a spike in confirmed COVID cases. “I felt a responsibility to be here and take care of people,” he explains, adding that he also wanted to relieve fellow healthcare workers battling the virus nonstop.

Other travel nurses found themselves with plans and jobs abruptly upended. In early March, Brittany Greaves, 31, was traveling in South Africa after a two-week medical volunteer trip. When the severity of the pandemic became apparent, she scrambled to get a flight to Los Angeles, not knowing whether the pediatrics job she’d signed a contract for there would pan out amid the crisis.

Hospitals were canceling contracts en masse, as elective procedures and other non-COVID treatments slowed or were paused altogether. Other canceled contracts stemmed from hospitals that overestimated a surge in COVD cases. Travel nurses, “already live in so much uncertainty,” Greaves says — canceled contracts aren’t unheard of in normal times. Travelers often don’t receive paid time off or sick days, but “this was a perfect storm in our world.” After quarantining for two weeks, Greaves was able to start her contract. For months, many of her pediatric travel nurse friends weren’t so lucky. Though she’s seen more non-crisis jobs available recently, because of the pandemic, “it’s slim pickings,” she says.

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