Pay in a Travel Post-Pandemic Environment
Travel nurses saw a huge boost in pay during the pandemic as demand exploded across the country. As Omicron wanes and numbers continue to stay down in 2022, those rates are now reverting back to a pre-pandemic norm.
Seasoned travel nurses are worth their weight in gold – we all know that. They move into a short-staffed situation, pick up a job with virtually no orientation, and rock through their shifts as if they had been there forever. For that skill set, they are worth a premium. The question is, how much of a premium? Besides being savvy with their nursing skills, travelers are also experts at negotiating through the world of pay, benefits, housing, and food stipends. In 2022, this world has become a bit murky as reality is not always living up to the expectations of 2020 and 2021.
Supply and Demand
Pandemic-stricken hospitals with patients in the hallways were desperate to bring in nurses – and agencies began offering as much as TWICE nurse’s regular salaries to those willing to fill the need. When it came to taking care of isolated, ventilated COVID patients in adverse conditions, the increased pay seemed more than fair. For many nurses, this was a risk and benefit they were willing to take. Some were dealing with a two-earner household suddenly becoming a single-income family as spouses had to take care of children and many jobs were lost.
Some nurses felt an ingrained duty to do their part in this fight against the invisible enemy. Nurses were touted as heroes, and they definitely earned that title. They worked long hours, fulfilled multiple roles such as respiratory therapy and phlebotomy, and took patient loads that were back-breaking. Supply was down, and demand was up. It seems cold to term such a complex issue in such black-and-white economic terms, but healthcare is a service – although an indispensable one.
January 2022 saw an uproar in the travel nursing community as the pay of travel nurses was put under scrutiny. Several groups, including the American Hospital Association (AHA), the American Health Care Association, the National Center for Assisted Living, and 200 members of Congress have called for an investigation into claims that travel agencies have engaged in “price gouging” hospitals in need of staff. Many nurses are understandably outraged, considering the working conditions and trauma they have experienced during the pandemic years.
The Congressional investigation letter states:
“We urge you to ensure that this issue gets the attention from the federal government it merits to protect patients in dire need of life-saving healthcare treatment and prevent conduct that is exacerbating the shortage of nurses and straining the healthcare system.”
Terminology aside, whether one chooses to call it price gouging or not, the pandemic-level demand for nurses is coming to an end. Many nurses are now worried that these investigations could end up with a cap to their pay. In February, 2022 Modern Healthcare reported on this trend stating that “it is important to note that the AHA has not advocated in any forum for a cap on travel nurse wages”. It seems that the focus of the investigation is more on the allegations of “price collusion” and “anticompetitive activity” by certain travel agencies, some of which have been bought out by private equity firms as profit machines.
Do Nurses Need to Worry?
While the days of the pandemic are in the rearview mirror (fingers crossed!) there will always be nursing demand. The term “nursing shortage” has been in circulation for years, and the aging patient population is not getting younger. Many nurses have even left the field after a rough two years, feeling the need to focus on mental health and take a break, or seek early retirement. Nurse.org reports that the employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030. This equates to approximately 194,500 openings for registered nurses each year, over the decade. Interestingly enough, these numbers are the same as what was predicted prior to the pandemic, so demand may even be more than those original projections.
Returning to “normal”
Also in the same nurse.org report, it was found that the number one reason nurses leave the bedside is - you guessed it – unsafe staffing ratios. I think it is a safe bet that travel nurses will be in demand for a long time, but because of the whole supply-demand shift, rates are edging back down to pre-pandemic pay rates. If you entered travel nursing at the height of the pandemic, these new lower rates may come as a rude surprise, but to the old-timers, they will look more familiar.
Finding the best travel assignment for you is not always about the pay – although we understand it’s a big part. Location, type offacility, cost of living in the area, and your own priorities make a difference when it comes to job satisfaction and total take-home pay.
ExpediteRN spends the time to find the perfect assignment for you, and help you navigate the post-pandemic “normal”(whatever that may be). We seek to obtain competitive rates for all of our nurses, working within the current market for fair compensation. We understand that rates aren’t what they have been the past couple of years for travelers, but as a company formed by nurses – for nurses - we provide the competitive pay and benefits packages that we always have - pre, during, and post pandemic!