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The travel nurse gold rush has ended. Now, some are joining other nurses in leaving the profession altogether.

Working as a travel nurse in the first days of the Covid pandemic was emotionally exhausting for Reese Brown she was forced to leave her young daughter with her family as she moved in one gig to another, and she watched way too many of her intensive care patients die.

It had been plenty of loneliness, Brown, 30, said. Im an individual mom, I simply wished to have my daughter, her hugs, and see her face and not simply through FaceTime.

However the money was too good to state no. In July 2020, she had started earning $5,000 or even more weekly, almost triple her pre-pandemic pay. That has been the year the amount of money was so enticing that a large number of hospital staffers quit their jobs and hit the street as travel nurses because the pandemic raged.

Image: Reese Brown
Reese Brown on a travel nurse assignment in NJ in-may 2020.Courtesy Reese Brown

2 yrs later, the gold rush has ended. Brown is home in Louisiana with her daughter and turning down work. The best paid travel gigs shes offered are $2,200 weekly, an interest rate that could have thrilled her pre-pandemic. But after two “traumatic” years of maintaining Covid patients, she said, it doesnt feel worthwhile.

I believe its disgusting because we went from being praised to literally, 2 yrs later, our rates dropped, she said. Folks are still sick, and folks remain dying.

The drop in pay doesnt mean, however, that travel nurses are likely to return to staff jobs. The short-lived travel nurse boom was a temporary fix for a long-term decline out there that predates the pandemic. In accordance with a written report from McKinsey & Co., america could see a shortage as high as 450,000 registered nurses within 3 years barring aggressive action by healthcare providers and the federal government to recruit new people. Nurses are quitting, and hospitals are struggling to field enough staff to cover shifts.

Nine nurses round the country, including Brown, told NBC News they’re considering alternate career paths, studying for advanced degrees or exiting the profession altogether.

Were burned out, tired nurses doing work for $2,200 weekly, Brown said. Folks are leaving the field, she said, because theres no point in residing in nursing if were expendable.

$124.96 one hour

Travel nursing appears to have started as an occupation, skillfully developed say, in the late 1970s in New Orleans, where hospitals had a need to add temporary staff to look after sick tourists during Mardi Gras. In the 1980s and the 1990s, travel nurses were often covering for staff nurses who have been on maternity leave, and therefore 13-week contracts become common.

By 2000, over 100 agencies provided travel contracts, lots that quadrupled by the finish of the decade. It had turn into a lucrative business for the agencies, given the generous commissions that hospitals pay them.A fee of 40 percentalong with the nurses contracted salary isn’t unheard of, in accordance with a spokesperson for theAmerican HEALTHCARE Association, which represents long-term care providers.

Right before the pandemic, in January 2020, there have been about 50,000 travel nurses in the U.S., or around 1.5 percent of the country’s registered nurses, in accordance with Timothy Landhuis, vice president of research at Staffing Industry Analysts, a business research firm. That pool doubled in proportions to at the very least 100,000 as Covid spread, and he says the specific number at the peak of the pandemic could have far exceeded that estimate.

By 2021, travel nurses were earning typically $124.96 one hour, based on the research firm 3 x the hourly rate of staff nurses, in accordance with federal statistics.

That year, based on the 2022 National HEALTHCARE Retention & RN Staffing Report from Nursing Solutions Inc., a nurse recruiting firm, the travel pay open to registered nurses contributed to 2.47% of these leaving hospital staff jobs.

But, because the rate of deaths and hospitalizations from Covid waned, the demand for travel nurses fell hard, in accordance with industry statistics, as did the pay.

Demand dropped 42 percent from January to July this season, in accordance with Aya Healthcare,among the largest staffing firms in the united kingdom.

That doesnt mean the travel nurses ‘re going back again to staff jobs.

Brown said shes now considering leaving the nursing field altogether and contains started her very own business. Natalie Smith of Michigan, who became a travel nurse through the pandemic, says she intends to pursue a sophisticated degree in nursing but possibly beyond bedside nursing.

Pamela Esmond of northern Illinois, who also became a travel nurse through the pandemic, said shell keep working as a travel nurse, but only because she needs the amount of money to retire by 65. Shes now 59.

Pamela Esmond on a travel nursing assignment in August 2022.
Pamela Esmond on a travel nursing assignment in August 2022.Courtesy Pamela Esmond

The truth is they dont pay staff nurses enough, and when they might pay staff nurses enough, we wouldnt have this issue, she said. I’d love to get back to staff nursing, but on my staff job, I’d never have the ability to retire.

The coronavirus exacerbated conditions that were already driving healthcare workers out of these professions, Landhuis said.A nursing shortage was coming prior to the pandemic, he said.

In accordance with this years Nursing Solutions staffing report, nurses are exiting the bedside at an alarming rate due to rising patient ratios, and their very own fatigue and burnout. The common hospital has turned over 100.5% of its workforce previously five years, based on the report, and the annual turnover rate has hit 25.9%, exceeding every previous survey.

Thereare now a lot more than 203,000 open rn positions nationwide, a lot more than twice the quantity right before the pandemic in January 2020, in accordance with Aya Healthcare.

A clear short-term solution is always to keep using travel nurses. Despite having salaries falling, however, the price of hiring them is punishing.

LaNelle Weems, executive director of Mississippi Hospital Associations Center for Quality and Workforce, said hospitals cant keep spending like they did through the peak of the pandemic.

Hospitals cannot sustain paying these exorbitant labor costs, Weems said. One nuance that I wish to be sure you understand is thatjust what a travel agency charges the hospitalsisn’t what’s paid to the nurse.

Ultimately, its the patients who’ll have problems with the shortage of nurses, if they are staff or gig workers.

Each patient put into a hospital nurses workload is of a 7%-12% upsurge in hospital mortality, said Linda Aiken, founding director of the University of Pennsylvanias Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research.

Nurses in the united states told NBC News they find the profession since they cared about patient safety and wished to be at the bedside in the initial type of care.

People say its burnout but its not, Esmond said about why nurses are quitting. Its the moral injury of watching patients not being looked after on a day-to-day basis. You merely cant go on it anymore.

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