Every year healthcare workers navigate carefully around flu season, caring for sick patients and looking out for themselves. While that part of flu season 2020 is no different, it has been overshadowed by the onset of COVID-19 in the United States. This virus is vicious, and it is bringing a whole new level of concern for populations. It is especially concerning for the healthcare workers who must treat them. Travel nursing and COVID-19 is a tough situation to navigate, but below we’ll try to answer some questions.
First and foremost, we want to say thank you and take a moment to recognize all of the risk and effort you nurses are putting forth during this time.
For travel nurses, you’re experiencing a unique challenge right now as you watch the news. You see various states handling protocols differently and taking new precautions at your work. We know you have a lot of questions and concerns. We also recognize that many of you are swallowing your panic to focus on the betterment of everyone else. Here we’ll try to answer the six most-asked questions about travel nursing and COVID-19.
Six Most-Asked Questions by Travel Nurses During the COVID-19 Pandemic
1. Will hospitals start cancelling contracts?
In the beginning, hospitals really needed all hands on deck, so it was unlikely that your contract would get canceled. However, now that is not the case. As the spread of the virus slows in many states, the crisis positions that were once available for travel nurses are starting to dwindle. That’s not to say that they are gone completely, or that demand for them won’t ebb and flow as the virus does, but we are seeing some contracts being cancelled. This is a terrible time for many nurses, as they often travel very far to take that contract. Arriving in a new city and then finding out that your contract is cancelled and you have no where to live is scary and extremely frustrating. Here are some suggestions to prevent this from or prepare for this happening:
- Investigate your agency. At this point, there are lots of reviews and comments on social media and elsewhere of people complaining or praising agency services.
- Understand the current situation where you are traveling to. Some areas are still in crisis while others are not. If you’re hearing bad things about a certain area such as lack of PPE or a slow down in cases, make sure you consider how that is going to affect your experience there.
- Ask lots of questions. Make sure you ask directly what the chances of your contract being cancelled are, and what policies the agency has in place to help those whose contracts they do cancel.
- Have a back-up plan. Although no one wants to experience the stress and hassle of a cancelled contract, make sure you have a back up plan in case this does happen.
- Be understanding. Keep in mind that the agency is the middle man. They often don’t know until right before you do that your contract is cancelled by the hospital.
2. What do I do if I get COVID-19 while on assignment?
If you get or are exposed to COVID-19 while on assignment, you should absolutely follow proper protocol per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We understand that this can be challenging depending on timing and your temporary housing situation. Immediately contact the travel agency or recruiter you are working with and see what they instruct you to do. Most agencies are actively developing game plans to help their travel nurses through this high-risk time.
3. How do I protect myself during travel nursing and COVID-19?
You should follow all instructions per the CDC on how to protect yourself while on assignment, especially if you are working in a crisis area. We know that resources for nurses to take proper precautions are scarce, so do you what you can to get access to proper gear. Again, it may be a good idea to reach out to your agency or recruiter to see if they have any resources available for you.
4. Will I need additional paperwork to travel?
If you are traveling to a new healthcare facility, you will likely need to get tested for COVID-19 before you are able to start working. It is very important that you do not travel if you have any type of cold-like symptoms. As it is allergy season, this can be tricky to navigate. Pay attention to your body and if you are unsure, stay home. Some jobs may restrict travel for nurses and deny certain vacation requests due to the high risk of traveling during this time.
5. Will this affect my travel rates?
We are seeing travel nurse rates spike right now in places that are considered crisis response areas. Rates in these areas are nearly double because of the risk nurses are taking in going there. However, if you have the heart to help, this is the time to go while the money is good. Keep in mind that if you see exceptionally high rates, the risk is high as well. These jobs may not be as promised, so do your due diligence before getting distracted by those high digits.
6. Is the travel nursing and COVID-19 crisis over?
Many states are dropping their stay at home orders and life across the country is slowly returning to some sort of normalcy. Many hospitals are starting elective surgeries and taking appointments again. Unfortunately, due to shut downs, many people are still without work, including healthcare workers and even nurses. There are reports of contracts being cancelled, as travel nurses are no longer needed where crisis situations are dwindling. Many are asking… is the crisis over? That is really hard to say. For now, yes, it appears to be normalizing except for in very vulnerable populations such as prisons, nursing homes, and Native American reservations. However, as everything opens back up this summer and fall approaches, there could be a resurgence. It’s important to keep an eye out for crisis assignments. However, for the most part, expect to see the travel nurse industry slow back to normal rates and positions.
New Trends For Nursing and COVID-19
Nursing Home Regulations Toughen
One of the hardest hit areas for COVID-19 has been nursing homes. With a population already susceptible to sickness, we’re seeing unfortunate headlines that detail how this virus is impacting entire nursing home facilities. With this alarming trend, the CDC has actually released guidelines for nurses in order to help combat the growing number of those infected. These guidelines cover everything from the proper equipment to always have on hand, to quarantining procedures when it comes to sick patients. Unfortunately, these guidelines have changed numerous times and many states have been slow to respond to the needs of those working and living in nursing homes.
Certain Specialties See Increase in Demand
We’re also seeing growing trends when it comes to which nursing specialties are in demand. It’s no surprise that nursing specialties involving the respiratory system are in high demand right now. As we stated above, those working in these specialties will see even higher pay rates because the need for these specialties is so high. Many sites are specifically highlighting “COVID-19 Jobs” so you may want to consider looking for these.
Unsafe Conditions on the Rise
It’s no surprise that the working conditions have been less than ideal for many nurses. A shortage of PPE in many hospitals and most nursing homes have put healthcare workers in a lot of danger. In fact, some nurses are even suing healthcare recruiting agencies for sending them on an assignment with poor working conditions.
According to one article by Business Insider, “When they got to their assigned hospitals, however, they were surprised that they were given little training, needed to work without protective equipment, and were assigned to areas they didn’t have experience in.” It is easy to be attracted by these increased pay rates, but it’s also important to be aware of what you’re getting into. Keep an eye out for articles and agency and/or hospital reviews before signing a contract. Many nurses are finding an already dangerous job even more threatening as they arrive at unsafe working conditions.
If you want to travel and help with the COVID-19 response, apply today and connect with an agency to get started!
Is there a question we haven’t answered or that you can’t find the answer to? Ask us in the comments below and we’ll reach out to our network of agencies to see if we can get an answer for you!
Stay safe and be sure to use this government-provided resource available to you! Travel nursing and COVID-19 certainly is a stressful combination, but we will continue to provide any important information as soon as we can!