Demand for travel nurses helps fuel pandemic’s national nursing shortage

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Common signs of nursing burnout

As the nursing shortage increases during the pandemic, the demand for travel nurses to fill shortages has grown.

Travel nurses are among the highest-paid professions in the medical industry, sometimes making more money than surgeons according to Insider.

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Taking a toll

As the omicron variant becomes rampant, increasing hospitalizations, the nursing shortage can be felt throughout hospitals all across the nation. Nurses have been leaving their positions to pursue higher-paying jobs as travel nurses or they’re leaving the profession altogether. Each time a nurse leaves their position, the remaining hospital staff find themselves further stretched.

Hiring travel nurses is becoming unaffordable for some hospitals, according to Health Care Advisory Board, which helps health care leaders make strategic decisions.

To keep staffed nurses from leaving, hospitals have been adding perks such as offering loan forgiveness, signing bonuses and tuition assistance, NPR reported.

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How travel nursing impacts the shortage

While travel nurses can serve as a quick fix, the long-term effects of relying on travel nurses can exacerbate the nursing shortage.

Travel nurses often have to be trained by other staff members, and they are not at the hospital long enough to build relationships with patients. As hospitals lose their staff, they rely on travel nurses to fill positions.

“The travel nursing situation has essentially created a bidding war between hospitals,” Phillip Coule, VP and CMO at Augusta University Health System, told Advisory Board. “A nurse can leave a facility, go on a ‘travel contract’ for a facility across the street, and earn more than double what they were making, while still living at home.”

Additionally, constantly working in new environments can be stressful for travel nurses, increasing burnout. While adapting to changing environments, travel nurses cannot always be sure that they have been given an adequate amount of protection and personal protective equipment to fight COVID-19. According to Kaiser Health News, some travel nurses have reported that their agencies haven’t provided them with any personal protective equipment.

In Texas, a group of travel nurses is pursuing a class-action lawsuit against Krucial Staffing, a healthcare staffing agency, for unsafe housing conditions. Travel nurses often felt hesitant to speak out about their lack of access to personal protective equipment and unsafe conditions in the risk of losing their job. These conditions make it tougher for travel nurses to do their job, and to do it safely.

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Money isn’t everything

The lucrative pay lures staffed nurses to quit their jobs at hospitals and take on travel nursing positions. However, for some travel nurses, the pay isn’t just enough.

“I don’t ever see myself not being a nurse, but I don’t know how long a body can sustain the work that we do at the bedside for 12 hours a day,” travel nurse Tayler Oakes told Insider.

“How long your emotional and mental health can maintain seeing people die all the time from preventable things?”

According to a Trusted Health survey, 67% of nurses have felt that their mental health and well-being are not a priority for the healthcare industry. Travel nurses are often placed in unfamiliar settings, leaving behind their support network and making them feel a sense of loneliness. This is on top of their self-isolation to protect others from COVID-19.

“We’re tired — emotionally, physically, mentally tired,” Melanie Mead, an emergency department nurse told the Washington Post. “We’re all showing up, day after day. In the beginning, nurses were heroes. Today, we’re almost an afterthought.”

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