The Wall Street Journal had an article about the falling use of travel nurses. At the peak of the pandemic nurses willing to travel from one hot spot to another could sometimes earn as much as $10,000 per week.
Hospitals across the U.S. have had to dig deep to treat patients during the Covid-19 pandemic as some of the most lucrative parts of their business, elective surgeries, were constantly postponed. The flip side of that has been a bonanza for the companies that helped them keep staffing levels adequate as well as for the brave and flexible people who filled those positions.
By contrast, nurses who stayed in their regular jobs often found themselves working mandatory overtime in understaffed hospitals filled to the brim with Covid patients. When they complained about too many hours, low wages and a lack of personal protection equipment their complaints were often dismissed.
[Claire Tripeny] remembers her employers telling her and her colleagues to “suck it up” as they struggled to care for six patients each and patched their protective gear with tape until it fully fell apart. The $800 or so a week she took home no longer felt worth it.
Ms. Tripeny joined thousands of other nurses who quit their jobs for more lucrative travel assignments.
According to Kaiser Health News at the height of the pandemic nurse staffing agencies were often paid as much as $175 an hour for nurses willing to work flexible jobs. Grady Memorial, a large public hospital in Atlanta paid even more on one occasion:
Last October, at the height of the pandemic’s delta surge, Grady Memorial Hospital did something it had never done before: It paid $222 per hour to fill an empty nursing slot.
The price, paid to an agency that specializes in placing “travel nurses” in hospitals where there’s desperate need, was triple the normal rate for a temp worker in that position. But nurses were so scarce that Grady had no choice.
The falling demand for travel nurses was reported earlier by Kaiser Health News. By last Spring hourly rates had fallen to $100 an hour and have since fallen farther.
Yet, for all the talk about travel nurses slowing down all the experts say temporary nurse staffing agencies are not going away. There is a nursing shortage in the U.S. Nurses willing to take on a little additional risk and are flexible about their schedules can earn far more than nurses who want safe, stable work arrangements.
Many nurses who accepted travel assignments found they enjoyed the thrill of new job sites and much higher pay. Furthermore, in large cities nurses don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to different states to benefit from staffing agencies. They can often move from one local hospital assignment to another. Sometimes their schedule changes from one week to the next. Sometimes their assignment only changes from one hospital floor to another floor at the same hospital a week later.
When I worked in a hospital we use staffing agencies, who supplied respiratory therapists, nurses and physical therapists who worked nearly the same schedule for months and months. For all intents and purposes they were treated like employees except they made a lot more money than the hospital employees they worked beside. In a nursing shortage it’s far easier to work for a temp agency because you can expect full time work with few short work weeks. The only downside is your schedule may be weekends one week, evenings the next week and maybe working across town a week later. Now that thousands of nurses have gotten a taste of higher pay and varied work assignments, many don’t want to give it up. If enough are unwilling to take full time employment with hospitals, the hospitals will have no choice but to pay the agencies’ rates.