Travel Nursing Still Bountiful

Travel Nursing Still Bountiful
Jean Cook of Travel Nurse Across America said nurses remain in demand. (Jason Burt)

The travel nurse boom times may be over but high demand can still mean lucrative opportunities for health care workers willing to hit the road.

It has also been lucrative for nurse staffing agencies such as Travel Nurse Across America of Little Rock and TRS Healthcare of Tontitown. TNAA had revenue of $652.5 million in 2021, up from $233.5 million in 2020, and the company said it expects revenue to increase another 60% in 2022.

Staffing Industry Analysts, an industry consulting firm, reported that staffing agencies generated $39.2 billion in revenue in 2021, compared with $17.7 billion in 2020. 

Taylor Faught, the CEO of TRS Healthcare in Tontitown, is well versed in the supply-and-demand complexities of the nursing profession. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, some health care facilities were so desperate for nurses that they offered as much as $7,000 a week in pay packages for temporary-duty help. 

Pay packages for travel nurses, who typically sign 13-week contracts, have declined, hovering in the $3,000 range. That still is a significant increase from the $1,500 a travel nurse could typically earn before COVID, Faught said. 

Faught said there are 15,000 open jobs for travel nurses nationally, about half of what was advertised at the height of COVID. Pre-COVID, there were 6,000 openings. 

“Currently, it has slowed down and the market has shifted,” Faught said. “Rates aren’t as high as they used to be, but there is still high demand in the market. [Openings are] clearly way better than it was pre-pandemic. Things are starting to normalize a little bit.”

Jean Cook of Travel Nurse Across America in North Little Rock agreed that, while demand for temporary nurses is off its pandemic high, it is still inflated. Cook, the COO of TNAA, said demand also fluctuates among different nursing specialties such as pediatric nurses when a respiratory illness begins to sweep through schools. “One of the things that we do all the time is manage to the specialties,” Cook said. “It’s not a nurse is a nurse is a nurse. We are always balancing to that.”

Short All Around

The one sure thing about nursing is that there aren’t enough of them to meet the continual and growing demands of the health care industry.

Cook said many nurses have left the profession because of burnout, and not enough new nurses are entering the profession. Increasing the pipeline is the long-term solution to the shortage, but until that is achieved, travel nurses will always be able to find a willing employer.

“Before the pandemic the hardest part of what we do was finding enough nurses,” Cook said. “There just aren’t enough nurses, and the pandemic made that even more so. That hasn’t changed.” 

Travel nursing may be lucrative but it is no easy fix for the nurse or the health care employer. Travel nurses have to drop into new work environments and work with unknown colleagues in situations where smooth teamwork can be important. And a hospital paying more for travel nurses to cover a workforce gap will have increased expenses and the same shortage after the temporary nurse leaves. 

“It’s all about retention,” Faught said. “For hospitals, it is how do you keep your nurses?”

Faught said he hopes the attention and respect nurses received during the pandemic will encourage more people to enter the profession. But many nursing schools are struggling to find enough educators to train them. 

Cook, who is the president of the National Association of Travel Healthcare Organizations, said shortening the time it takes to earn a nursing license would help, as would finding a way to make teachers out of nurses burned out on working on the front lines. “It’s going to take cooperation between hospitals, industry and government to find all the ways we can find those people,” Cook said.