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The Future of Healthcare Travelers in a Post-Pandemic World

The travel nursing industry made headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The demand for these professionals exploded, as patients filled emergency rooms and ICUs. Many staff nurses took to the road, lured by skyrocketing travel pay rates and the opportunity to make a positive impact during a public health crisis.  

Now that the pandemic has settled to a simmer, has the travel nurse industry also cooled? What does the future hold for travel nurses? Will rates remain higher than pre-pandemic rates?  

We can confidently say that the travel nurse industry is still going strong. The future looks bright, an not just for nurses but for allied health professionals as well. Suffice to say the travel healthcare industry a lucrative choice for many healthcare professionals: opportunities are flooding the market, and flexible schedules and high rates remain perks of the job.

So, let’s look at how travel nurses fared during the pandemic, why travel healthcare professionals are still in demand, and the types of positions open to travelers for the first time.  

How Travel Nurses Coped During the Pandemic 

A travel nurse deal with a lot of stress – it’s part of the job. They enter a new situation with new personalities every two to three months.  

But travel nurses know that each assignment has an end date. If they love the assignment and the people they work with, they may decide to request a contract extension. If they don’t love the assignment, they have the option to take time off to regroup before their next contract begins.  

Travelers have the ability to maximize their take-home pay to help fund their time off, potentially allowing them to work for only 6 to 9 months out of the year. Travelers working more than 50 miles from home earn a non-taxed stipend to pay for housing, meals, and incidentals.  

Choosing lower-cost housing or staying with friends or family can help them deposit more of their non-taxed pay into their bank account. Even if they decide to accept a local assignment, their pay rate will still be higher rate than most staff nurses.  

It’s a Great Time to Be a Travel Nurse 

Many travel nurse positions require two years of experience, but you may be able to get started traveling earlier. Low-acuity facilities, such as vaccine clinics and urgent care centers, will often accept nurses who don’t yet have the experience required for hospital positions.  

A non-hospital travel assignment is still a travel assignment and can help build your resume. Having this varied experience gives you an advantage when your recruiter submits your resume for a hospital position down the road.  

 Let’s look at a few reasons why today a great time is to begin a career as a travel nurse. 

  • Many travelers say they’ve discovered a better quality of life due to higher pay rates and the flexibility to take time off. We’ve spoken to travelers who said they will never return to staff nursing.  
  • Travelers have negotiating power. The demand for nurses is so high right now that travelers have the upper hand in negotiating shifts and days off.  
  • Career growth opportunities are readily available to travelers.  
  • Travelers are typically chosen over staff nurses to float to other units, giving them a chance to gain experience in other areas.  
  • A new trend in travel nurse jobs is management positions, a good choice for candidates with charge nurse experience.  
  • Exposure to different facilities and units allows travelers to develop a broader range of knowledge. Due to the float requirements most travel and local contractors take on, they have the opportunity to gain experience in multiple units within a 2 or 3-month period.  

COVID Changed Travel Nursing, Maybe Forever 

Although healthcare facilities were chronically understaffed before the pandemic hit our shores, COVID-19 highlighted how essential healthcare professionals are to our nation’s infrastructure. Travel nurses kept many hospitals afloat through 2020 and beyond. Facilities now realize how much they depend on travelers to fill staffing gaps. 

Recruiters are seeing a rising demand for travel nurse supervisors in many specialty areas. Filling such an important role with a contract nurse may reflect the healthcare industry’s view of how travel nurses conducted themselves during a major healthcare crisis.  

The pandemic struck a heavy blow on the nation’s collective mental health status, resulting in an increased demand for psychiatric care. As a result, we see many open psychiatric nurse positions, including in management.  

And while registered nurse positions make up the bulk of travel nursing jobs, we are seeing an increased demand for Licensed Practical Nurses. Allied Health Professionals: The New Kid on the Block 

While certified surgical technologist positions have long been part of the travel industry, recruiters are now noticing a surge in postings for other allied health professionals. Through the travel health industry, allied health professionals are recognized as valuable healthcare team members and are well compensated. 

 The range of open travel allied health positions is growing and includes:  

  • Medical Assistants, 
  • Mental Health Counselors/Technicians, 
  • MRI Technologists, 
  • Ultrasound Technologists, 
  • CT Technologists,
  • Phlebotomists, and
  • Certified Nursing Assistants. 

The Recruiter – Traveler Relationship 

Travelers can help their recruiter find them the “right” job by building an open and honest relationship with their recruiter. This relationship, built on trust and open communication, is the foundation of a continued working partnership. The future of travel nursing and allied health is recruiters and healthcare professionals playing on the same team, working toward the same goals, and navigating through different contracts together.  

By Maggie Litton, National Recruiter, Planet Healthcare

Photo Credit: Canva

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