Working as a traveling nurse in the early days of the Covid pandemic was exhausting for Reese Brown. She was forced to leave her young daughter with her family to move on to her next job. the patient dies.
“It was very lonely,” said 30-year-old Brown. “I’m a single mom. I just wanted to hug his daughter and see her face, not just on FaceTime.”
But the money was too good to say no. In July 2020, she started earning over her $5,000 a week. That’s almost three times the pre-pandemic salary. It was a year when money was so tempting, and as the pandemic raged, thousands of hospital staff quit their jobs and went on the road as traveling nurses.
Two years later, the Gold Rush is over. Brown lives in Louisiana with his daughter and has turned down his job. Her highest paid travel gig she offered was $2,200 a week, a rate that would have excited her pre-pandemic. But after spending two “traumatic” years caring for Covid patients, she feels it’s not worth it.
“I was literally getting compliments and then two years later the price dropped and I hate it,” she said. “People are still sick, people are still dying.”
Falling wages, however, do not mean that traveling nurses will return to staff jobs. did. A McKinsey & Co. report says the U.S. could face a shortfall of up to 450,000 registered nurses within three years if health care providers and governments don’t take action to recruit new talent. . Nurses are retiring and hospitals are struggling to staff enough to cover their shifts.
Nine nurses across the country, including Brown, told NBC News they were considering alternative career paths, either studying for an advanced degree or quitting the profession altogether. .
“We’re exhausted and nurses are working $2,200 a week,” says Brown. People are leaving the field, she said.
$124.96 per hour
Travel nursing appears to have started as a profession, according to industry experts, and in New Orleans in the late 1970s, hospitals needed additional temporary staff to care for sick tourists during Mardi Gras. was. In the 1980s and his 1990s, staff on maternity leave often covered by his nurse, and 13-week contracts became common.
By 2000, over 100 agencies offered travel contracts, a number that had quadrupled in ten years. Given the generous commissions hospitals pay them, it had become a lucrative business for the agencies. According to a spokeswoman for the American Health Care Association, which represents long-term care providers, talk of a nurse’s 40 percent surcharge on top of her contract salary is not unheard of.
In January 2020, just before the pandemic, there were about 50,000 traveling nurses in the United States, according to Timothy Landhuis, vice president of research at Staffing Industry Analysts, an industry research firm. equivalent to about 1.5% of the As Covid spread, that pool increased in size by at least 100,000, and the actual number at the peak of the pandemic could have been well above that estimate, he says.
By 2021, the average hourly wage for a traveling nurse will be $124.96, according to a research firm. That’s three times his hourly wage for staff nurses, according to federal statistics.
That year, according to the 2022 National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report from Nursing Solutions Inc., a nurse recruitment firm, 2.47% of nurses left hospital staff due to transportation costs available to registered nurses. .
But since then, as Covid-related mortality and hospitalization rates have declined, industry statistics show that the demand for travel nurses has dropped significantly, as have salaries.
Demand fell 42% from January to July this year, according to Aya Healthcare, one of the country’s largest staffing firms.
This does not mean that travel nurses will return to staff work.
Ms Brown said she is now considering leaving the nursing industry entirely and has started her own business. He says he intends to do so, but there are possibilities other than bedside nursing.
Pamela Esmond of northern Illinois, who became a traveling nurse during the pandemic, said she plans to keep working as a traveling nurse because she needs the money to retire by age 65. is currently 59 years old.
“The reality is they don’t pay their staff nurses enough. If they paid their staff nurses enough, this problem wouldn’t happen,” she said. I was. “I would love to go back to work as a nurse, but with a staff job, I can never retire.”
The coronavirus has exacerbated a problem that was already pushing health workers out of the profession, Landhuis said. “Before the pandemic, there was an imminent shortage of nurses,” he said.
According to this year’s Nursing Solutions Staffing Report, nurses are moving out of bedsides “at an alarming rate” due to rising patient volumes, as well as fatigue and burnout among nurses themselves. The average hospital has over 100.5% of its employees over the past five years, and annual turnover is now at 25.9%, higher than any previous survey, according to the report.
According to Aya Healthcare, there are now more than 203,000 registered nurse vacancies nationwide, more than double what they were just before the pandemic in January 2020.
The obvious short-term solution is to continue using a travel nurse. But even with lower salaries, the cost of hiring them is penalizing.
Runnell Weems, executive director of the Mississippi Hospital Association’s Center for Quality and Workers, said hospitals cannot continue to spend as they did during the peak of the pandemic.
“Hospitals cannot continue to pay these exorbitant labor costs,” Weems said. “I want to make sure you understand that what the travel agent charges the hospital is not what the nurse is paid.”
Ultimately, it is the patients, whether staff or gig workers, who will suffer from a shortage of nurses.
Linda Aiken, founding director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania, said:
Nurses across the country told NBC News that they chose the profession because they care about patient safety and wanted to be at the bedside of frontline care.
“People say it’s burnout, but it’s not,” Esmond said of why nurses quit. you can’t take it anymore