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Prof. speaks on travel nurses impact on pandemic

Travel nurses serve as a “Band-Aid” for the current devastation and exhaustion that has struck many U.S. hospitals in recent years, as described by Alex Stow. Stow recently left his previous job working in an intensive care unit in order to help hospitals in need for a period of thirteen weeks, all while tripling his salary. 


At 25 years old, Stow’s truck, camper, flexibility and interest in exploring the country are all he needs to “hit the road.” As someone who was not tied down to a home or a family, this was the ideal role for him and for many others across the country. 


The current health crisis coupled with an aging workforce and lack of replacements has propelled travel nursing towards a peak, in terms of its popularity and salary, according to the article.


The demand for nurses pre-pandemic was already hard enough for hospitals to comfortably handle, and the coronavirus has only exacerbated the need for a large staff. And, as hospitals are now beginning to offer procedures and surgeries that had been canceled within the first year of the pandemic, the pressure on nurses has climbed to new heights. Nurses’ unions firmly hold that shortages would not be as apparent if nurses were more adequately compensated and provided better working conditions.


On top of the heightened demand for more nurses, healthcare and many other industries are experiencing what has been referred to as the “Great Resignation” as a result of the pandemic. In just August 2021, 534 thousand healthcare workers left their jobs, as found by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many people merely quit or retired during this time, as the average age of a nurse is 50 years old; however, some did search elsewhere for jobs. 


Looking for new hires, U.S. hospitals found that replacements were not easy to come by. Akin Demehin, director of policy for the American Hospital Association, attributes this to a shortage of faculty in nursing schools. Additionally, the influx of foreign nurses into the country has been seriously affected by the pandemic with normal numbers nowhere in sight, as found by Chip Kahn, of the Federation of American Hospitals. 


Some hospitals have turned to hiring per-diem nurses and retired nurses during this time, according to the article. When COVID-19 cases spike particularly high, the government has to intervene by dispatching military and public health personnel to assist. 


Travel nurses have become the solution by being willing and able to help short-staffed hospitals, wherever they may be. An independent analyst of the healthcare workforce projected that 2021 would see an additional 40 percent growth in addition to the 35 percent growth seen in 2019. 


Many are attracted to the high salary and the benefits many travel companies offer them, which cannot be matched by staff nurse employers. Some companies also reward nurses with a bonus if they refer others to work for them. 


Stow’s hourly wage tripled after signing on as a travel nurse, reaching $95 an hour. This is not an unusual salary increase either; Stow’s pay is on target with the median amount for critical-care nurses at $99 an hour, according to Barry Asin, president of Staffing Industry Analysts. 


While acknowledging the risk involved with entering “high-covid zones,” Professor Karen Donelan (HS) reasons that “if people can go somewhere else and earn a year’s salary in three or four months, they will.” 


The opportunity to travel, the increased paycheck and the opportunity to help people and places most directly in need convinced over 50 thousand people to work as travel nurses in 2021, according to Asin’s data. This number is projected to grow.

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