“Nurses have finally learned what they are worth”

For at least three decades, hospitals across the United States have followed a model that aims to precisely match nurses to the number of occupied beds. It’s a guessing game in which charge nurses do daily tallies and hospital administrators anticipate seasonal movements of illnesses and people – winter flus and retired migrants. Many hospitals do not offer nurses clear paths to career advancement or salary increases. Depending on demand, they can exchange nurses between units. In the event of a hospital-wide shortage, they will send out emails and text messages asking nurses to come in and take an extra 12-hour shift. And when shortages are too great, hospitals turn to travelers.

Even before the pandemic, there were plenty of reasons to hire travelers. Nurses would be brought in for a season, maternity leave, or the opening of a new department. This type of on-demand work has become increasingly common, and from 2009 to 2019, according to data from personnel industry analysts, travel industry revenues tripled, reflecting a workforce work already in motion. There are hundreds of recruitment agencies in the United States – national agencies, regional agencies, agencies that specialize in recruiting nurses from other countries, agencies that send American nurses abroad. As of mid-March 2020, there were over 12,000 job openings for traveling nurses, more than double the number in 2019.

Then, as the coronavirus spread, demand came from all corners. As of December 2020, there were over 30,000 open positions for travellers. And with the help of federal dollars — relief funds from CARES Act providers and the U.S. bailout — their wages have started to climb. Job postings in Fargo, ND advertised positions for $8,000 per week. In New York, travelers could earn $10,000 or more. The average salary for a nurse in Texas is around $75,000; a traveler could do that in months.

Nurses often refer to their work as a calling – a calling that is not, at its core, about money. At the same time, nurses have spent years protesting their long hours and nurse-patient ratios. In 2018 alone, protests took place in California, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and several other states. When the pandemic hit and travel positions opened up in hospitals across the country, nurses suddenly had more options than ever. They could continue to serve patients, continue to work grueling hours in frantic conditions, but they would be well paid for it. Travelers were appreciated. Their work was in demand. The money would be enough so that after a few weeks or months of work, they could go home and recuperate.

Hospital associations were already beginning to see the high costs of these workers, but they had little choice in the matter. The shortages were too severe and they would only get worse. In July 2020, Texas implemented a statewide emergency staffing system coordinated by select regional advisory councils. The state invested $7 billion in relief funds to supplement staffing, allowing hospitals like Northwest to attract traveling nurses without bearing the full cost. “The problem is that their salaries were so much higher than the salaries of our employees,” said Brian Weis, Northwest’s chief medical officer. “Our employed nurses were doing the same job, but they’re like, ‘Why are we being paid a fraction of what these nurses are?’ »

The following year demand for travel nurses broke away from Covid. In April and May 2021, as the number of cases declined, hospital demands for travel nurses only increased exponentially. “They now know what pent-up demand is doing to a healthcare system, and that’s not healthy,” said April Hansen, group president at Aya Healthcare, one of the world’s largest nurse providers. country trip. “If you look at our demand today, it looks like our pre-Covid demand in terms of specialties: medical surge, telemetry, intensive care, emergency room, surgery. It is just the volume that is required in each specialty.

It’s not just the traveling nurse boom that has transformed the market. There are also more job opportunities beyond the bedside than ever before. Nurse practitioners treat patients in doctors’ offices; insurance companies employ thousands of nurses; Microsoft and Amazon have hundreds of nursing jobs open. Today, only 54% of the nation’s registered nurses work in hospitals. “There was competition for talent before the pandemic,” Hansen said. “But the pandemic took a little crack and made it as wide as the Grand Canyon.”