Travel nursing has always been a great way to see new places, gain experience, and build your resume while making a higher than average salary.

In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals staffed up in anticipation of large influxes of patients. Travel nurses across the country were in high demand with high-paying crisis contracts to be had for those willing to work in COVID hotspots.

More than 2 million people were infected with COVID-19 and more than 115,000 have died. But as the infection rates slowed in late spring, the economic impact of shutting down normal hospital operations to deal with the pandemic has surfaced.

Even as normal operations slowly resume, hospitals across the nation are laying off staff at rates not seen in years.

So what does this mean for the travel nursing market?

Budget Cuts, Layoffs, and Cancellations

Hospitals now are facing a severe budget crunch due to the loss of normal revenues. Elective surgeries and routine procedures, the bread and butter of hospital budgets, were canceled to focus on COVID response.

Because of this budgetary shortfall, hospitals have cut nurses’ hours, furloughed and fired staff, and canceled travel nursing contracts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in April alone, 1.4 million healthcare workers lost their jobs including more than 134,000 nurses. Recently, Baylor Scott & White in Dallas, TX announced it will lay off around 1,200 employees due to coronavirus.

Impacts on Travel Nursing

Travel nurses are also feeling the bite, reporting:

  • Fewer job openings
  • Canceled contracts
  • Lower offered pay

In videos, comments sections, and blogs across the web, travel nurses are saying that they can’t be picky about assignments as there are fewer jobs available now than in recent memory. They’ve had to apply more, with more agencies, while expanding their search areas.

Crisis contracts that can pay as much as $4 – 5,000 a week are becoming scarce and some contracts are getting canceled after only a couple of weeks. It does need to be mentioned that some nurses have seen the higher paying contracts canceled first.

With the market getting tighter, what does anyone interested in travel nursing do to remain competitive?

Tips For Finding A Job

A tighter job market doesn’t mean you have to give up on travel nursing. It’s still a wonderful option for those with an adventurous spirit and passion for nursing. Here are some tips to help you out if you’re in the market:

  • Have all your paperwork ready

This includes an updated resume, certifications, vaccinations, etc.

  • Don’t be picky

Expand your search to include cities and states you may not have considered before. Don’t be afraid to work in different departments either.

  • Apply with multiple travel nursing agencies and recruiters

Different agencies have access to different hospital systems and geographic areas. Also, the more people you have trying to find you a job, the better.

  • Be ready to start immediately

Some positions will need you ready to go within days. Do some prep work beforehand so you don’t have to do everything last minute.

  • Keep applying

Don’t get discouraged. If you’re serious, keep putting your applications out there and working with your staffing agencies and recruiters.

  • Have a backup plan

Travel nursing contracts can be canceled at any time. Have a backup plan. Put some money aside and stay current with your travel nursing agencies and recruiters.

The best places to find a travel nursing job:

  • Travel nursing agencies and recruiters
  • Facebook travel nursing groups (The Gypsy Nurse, Travel Nursing Newbies, etc.)
  • Travel nursing websites
  • Fellow nurses

Questions to Ask

When you do get an offer for a travel nursing position, you’ll need to ask questions before you dive right in. Here’s a list of commonly asked questions:

  • How does cancellation work?

Usually, you’ll get a two-week notice if your contract is going to be canceled. Can you finish out your contract at lower pay or leave without any penalties?  Make sure to be very clear with your agency/recruiter.

  • What kind of housing is offered?

Will you have a private room or a roommate? Is housing provided or do they offer a housing stipend? How often (and well) is the housing cleaned – especially important in light of COVID. How close is housing to the hospital?

  • What is the PPE situation?

Hospitals are still seeing PPE shortages. Ask about the PPE situation at the offered hospital and if you can bring your own PPE.

  • What has been the hospital’s COVID patient load?

An idea of their patient load will help you understand what you’re getting into.

It’s also a good idea to search the local news in the hospital’s city to see what the COVID rates are and what their response was like.

Don’t Get Cancelled

Even a well-paying contract can get canceled at a moment’s notice. It’s part of a travel nursing assignment. While only management can make that decision, here’s three ways to help prevent or survive a contract cancellation:

  1. Work with multiple recruiters so you have options in case you suddenly get canceled.
  2. Be flexible with job duties if your assignment doesn’t have enough patients or your wing is closed due to no patients – float around, do what they need to you to and be an indispensable team member.
  3. Don’t sign a long housing lease

Future Prospects

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over.

Even though hospitals are slowly resuming normal operations, as of this writing, we’re already seeing a concerning rise in new cases across the Southwest, including Texas, Arizona and Florida.

According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center, 39,972 new cases were reported in June.

There are already calls going out for nurses to accommodate this recent surge. If the second wave of COVID hits, hospitals will need to fill vacancies for these hotspots.

This means opportunities for travel nurses willing to fight on the front lines against COVID-19.

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