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6 min read

Erica Birtles

Erica Birtles

Group of medical practitioners joining hands

In a healthcare staffing crisis, bridging workforce gaps has become a major challenge, as nurses and other healthcare staff continue to quit. Reasons such as burnout, lower regard for staff wellbeing, and long-covid have contributed to the Great Resignation throughout the industry.

Travel nurses are not restricted by employers or geographical locations and can work where they are required the most. As a result, travel nurses have become increasingly more valuable as a reliable solution to healthcare worker shortages during the coronavirus pandemic. But can it handle the pressure of continued resignations and the threat of a recession? Let’s discuss…

Travel nursing industry during the pandemic

Although travel nursing was prevalent before the pandemic, it gained popularity and demand when hospitals saw an overflow of their ICU wards. This collapse in the medical infrastructure opened more opportunities for travel nurses. These healthcare travelers, as is the nature of their careers, can quickly adapt to new environments, ways of working, and new teams of people. Therefore, they are the best fit solution to filling staffing gaps in hospitals and medical care units.

Travel nursing today

Travel nurses are still proving to be a useful resource at times when a single nurse is looking after multiple patients at once, and patient care is suffering. Particularly, in emergency departments, medical admission wards, and ICUs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revealed earlier this year that the industry requires more than 275,000 additional nurses. What this means is that opportunities for nurses, permanent or contract based, are projected to grow exponentially in the next few years. It also means that now is the right time to begin or transition into travel nursing.

Overall, travel nursing is highly profitable as a result of this demand for skilled healthcare workers. This lifestyle also continues to be a popular choice for those wanting to avoid burnout and have more autonomy in their careers.

What is threatening the travel nursing industry?

The Great Resignation

Healthcare is one of the largest industries affected by the Great Resignation as medical practitioners continue to work on the frontlines of high-pressure environments. Nurses have resigned in droves, and they consistently report feeling under-appreciated and underpaid for the extreme pressure they face at work. Hospitals are still struggling to fill vacancies and this will likely still be an issue as we move into 2023.

An Upcoming Recession

As fears of a recession loom over the economy, hospitals struggle to receive sufficient funding to maintain fully functioning staff at optimum capacity. There have also been budgetary cuts which means that the cost of hiring a travel nurse versus permanent workers is discouraging hospitals to work with travel nurses in their attempts to cut costs. And, as we head into a recession, this may only worsen.

Industry-Wide Price Caps

Since the pandemic, the travel nursing industry has been accused of price gouging and exploiting the funds of medical institutions, which are forced to maintain workers in their hospitals. Some legislators have even suggested introducing price caps for travel nursing. This would not only restrict the demand-supply advantage, but healthcare facilities will also lose out on tapping into a specialized healthcare workers.

Happy travel nurse

However, if the healthcare system fails to support and acquire staff, the vicious cycle of demand for travel nurses in hospitals will continue to drive up the prices for travel nursing to levels that are unsustainable in the long term.

So, what does the future of travel nursing look like?

The need for registered nurses continues to rise, particularly as the US has the highest ever aging population – arguably the portion of society that requires more medical care. As a result, the demand for medical intervention and care also continues to rise. This increasing demand means that travel nurses will continue to be sought after to fill industry gaps. But healthcare travelers shouldn’t take these high salaries for granted, as legislatures look to standardize pay across the industry.

However, if the healthcare system fails to support and acquire staff, the vicious cycle of demand in hospitals will continue to drive up the prices for travel nursing to levels that are unsustainable in the long term.

Therefore, healthcare organizations must reconsider how to embrace and maximize the travel nurse population, in order to remain flexible and cost-effective during a staffing crisis and survive the predicted recession. In the long term, hospitals should aim at building a more sustainable system where worker shortages do not turn into a crisis.

In conclusion

It can be argued that travel nursing is the future of healthcare staffing. But in the coming years, it will be a battle between the healthcare providers trying to fill vacancies while keeping costs down, and travel nurses wanting to be paid what they believe they deserve. This may mean that the pressure on the healthcare system will only worsen as we head into a recession, which will undoubtedly bring more budget cuts.

Nevertheless, what can be said is, like many industries, retaining permanent employees must be a priority to avoid widening the talent gaps within healthcare organizations. Likewise, getting ahead of the recession and making travel nurses a part of your workforce strategy, as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction in times of emergency, may be the only way to successfully manage your costs and workforce needs.