Travel Nursing & the Pandemic: Risks, Rewards, & Resources

Understand the dangers, learn about the benefits, get the expert advice you need, and take away valuable resources to help you thrive as a travel nurse during COVID-19.

Written By
Edumed Staff

Expert Review

Danielle Harris Medlock

- Bio

Danielle Harris Medlock, RN, BSN, is working as a travel nurse for Gifted Healthcare based in Louisiana during the pandemic. Here are some of her insights into her chosen profession during a pandemic.

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Last Updated: 12/24/2020
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If you’ve ever considered packing up your scrubs and stethoscope to hit the road as a travel nurse, you’ve likely weighed the traditional pros and cons. However, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the travel nursing landscape is much different than it was a year ago in terms of both risks and rewards. Now the need for travel nurses is greater than ever and with increased demand comes higher pay, making it an alluring option. But in an era where travel is universally discouraged, deciding to hit the road can be intimidating.

If you’re a nurse thinking of making a difference for pandemic patients and working in hotspots around the country, there’s a lot to know before accepting your first assignment. Keep reading to learn about the advantages and drawbacks, hear from an experienced travel nurse, and gather valuable resources for making your journey comfortable.

Travel Nursing & COVID-19: What Are the Risks?

Navigating life during a pandemic is challenging in its own right but working as a travel nurse during this uncertain time carries even more risks. Regardless of the experience under your belt, travel nursing in the age of coronavirus should be approached with caution by all. Here are just some of the major risks to be aware of before packing your bags to cross state lines as a nurse.

Personal Protective Equipment

The lack of PPE health professionals faced at the start of the pandemic has been mostly alleviated. However, as the virus begins to ramp up during the winter and holiday season, travel nurses will have to worry about staying safe at work.  While coronavirus cases climb and hospitals become overwhelmed with patients once again, healthcare workers, including travel nurses, may encounter shortages of masks, gowns, face shields, and gloves.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommendations on how healthcare facilities can optimize their PPE during these shortages.

Burnout

Between the constant care needed by COVID-19 patients, 12-hour shifts, and moving from location to the next, burnout is no stranger to travel nurses. Burnout is the feeling of mental or physical energy depletion that nurses can feel from their on-the-job stress. During a pandemic, feelings of burnout can be exacerbated by not having friends and family around to help ease work tension and can eventually manifest physically. Burnout can make you feel frustrated or angry where compassion fatigue makes you feel sad or numb.

Compassion Fatigue

Healthcare workers can not only suffer from burnout, but they can also experience compassion fatigue. Sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue happens when the demands of your job have made you completely exhausted – physically, emotionally, and mentally. The constant exposure to suffering paired with the empathy felt for patients can result in feelings of detachment. These detached feelings can leave nurses incapable of feeling their emotions and properly caring for their patients.

Cross-State Licensing

Pandemic or not – before you accept a job as a travel nurse in a state other than the one in which you became licensed, you need to make sure your current license allows you to practice in that state. Some states recognize multistate licenses which allow you to practice with patients across state lines. Some states allow you to apply for a temporary license that will enable you to practice for a limited time. As a result of the pandemic, many governors are allowing their state boards of nursing to temporarily change their licensing restrictions to make it easier for nurses to be approved for the credentials they need to fill crisis-response jobs. Check online for the latest information on where you’re going.

Working Outside of Your Scope

As the pandemic continues to evolve, you may be put on assignments that are outside your usual scope of practice. Most travel nursing assignments include one to three days of orientation to help nurses get situated in their new positions, but sometimes that doesn’t feel like enough. Your bosses and colleagues are sure to help you along the way so don’t be shy about asking for help, especially as you get used to the new role.

Isolation

It’s not unusual for a travel nurse to feel homesick from time to time. Even if you’re single and have no children at home, you’re leaving what you know and love behind. Nurses working near COVID-19 patients may need to be continually quarantining, meaning extended periods of family separation and further isolation while on the job and when they return home. The usual solutions to loneliness on the road (socializing with your coworkers, joining a gym, using meet-up apps) won’t work during the pandemic. Keeping in touch with friends and family members via Skype or Zoom can help travel nurses feel less alone during their stretches away.

The Rewards of Being a Travel Nurse During COVID-19

Nursing is a rewarding career on its own but choosing to become a travel nurse during a worldwide pandemic comes with some extra rewards. From increased demand and higher pay to accelerating your on-the-job training and helping save lives, here are some of the positive takeaways for travel nurses during coronavirus.

Increased Demand

When the pandemic first hit, the nation’s hotspots such as New York and Seattle had a sudden need for healthcare workers, especially nurses. As the pandemic spread and numbers rose all across the country, so did the demand for travel nurses. This can be especially true for nurses who can work in the ICU, emergency rooms, and medical-surgical floors. Because the virus is expected to grow as temperatures drop during the winter, the spike in demand for nurses is likely to increase alongside it.

Higher Pay

Staffing Industry Analysts has shown a 14% revenue jump for travel nurses between 2019 and 2020 in large part due to the pandemic. While demand continues to increase, travel nurses can expect their pay to grow as a result. In addition to increased pay, travel nurses also may see some extraordinary bonuses – one company, NuWest, has offered travel nurses as much as $10,000 in crisis pay, along with relocation bonuses, tax-free housing, and food. And you may even be able to negotiate some terms such as hours, assignments, start or end dates, and more.  

More Resources

Travel nursing is far from an easy gig to begin with, but with the added stress of COVID-19, additional resources are becoming available for those who need them. Lots of places are pitching in with benefits and perks that can make the temporary assignment more palatable under the circumstances. Rideshares like Uber are offering free transportation and hotels such as Marriott are offering free rooms for travel nurses. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offers dozens of free videos by psychologists and mental health clinicians that can help with the fears and anxieties of COVID-19.

Accelerated Training

Travel nurses working in the high-stress environments of COVID-19 units may sometimes need to fill roles they aren’t used to. Because the demand for nurses is so great, you may be to accelerate your training in areas you haven’t worked before.  According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the training-during-COVID rules vary from state to state, but some are allowing more online training and simulations and most are being more flexible with requirements. You also may be able to get assistance with tuition that you couldn’t before.  You can find the latest at the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing.

Helping Save Lives

Above all else, nurses working to help during the pandemic can know without question that their work is making a real difference in the lives of their patients and their families. Many stories in print and on the evening news these days are about nurses (travel or otherwise) who have made a huge difference in the lives of their COVID patients and their patients’ families, whether it’s holding a phone so the patient can talk to his wife or organizing meals for coworkers so they’re there and feeling strong to help save lives.  Work can be pretty stressful and extremely busy, especially during COVID, but knowing that as a nurse, you’ve helped save even one person’s life can make it all worthwhile.

Expert Insight on Travel Nursing During a Pandemic

Danielle Harris Medlock
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Danielle Harris Medlock, RN, BSN, is working as a travel nurse for Gifted Healthcare based in Louisiana during the pandemic. Here are some of her insights into her chosen profession during a pandemic.

Q: Why would anyone want to be a travel nurse during the pandemic?

A: As a home health nurse, I have enjoyed being a travel nurse during the pandemic. It has allowed me to serve my community in areas with higher needs due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Another benefit of being a travel nurse during this time is that I have been equipped with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), weekly COVID-19 testing, hazard pay and travel reimbursement for going outside of my typical coverage area.

Q: Do the potential dangers frighten you? Are you concerned about getting COVID?

A: In regard to it being dangerous to work as a travel nurse during the pandemic: I would disagree with this statement. As long as we are using our PPE as instructed and our patients are utilizing PPE as well, then our exposure risk is greatly reduced. By using our pre-screening questions when scheduling our patients and advising them to wear masks and other PPE during our visits we are controlling the environment as much as possible.

Q: What can you do so that you don’t suffer burnout while working as a travel nurse during the pandemic? 

A: I think this question can apply to nursing in general at any time, not necessarily just during the pandemic. As nurses, we have to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health every day. Our jobs are taxing, not just mentally but emotionally and physically as well. It is imperative that we get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and engage in regular physical activity in addition to taking time daily to do something we love. One of my favorite ways to unwind and recharge is with a good book. It allows my body to rest, my mind to recharge and my emotions to balance out all while taking time for myself and getting away from the hectic world that is healthcare.

Q: How do you know if the assignment you’re applying for is right for you?

A: When you apply for an assignment, you can see the exact location, hospital section, shift hours and compensation that is available for that particular assignment. I use a specific company that has an app that allows me to see all of the available shifts and I can select the ones I am interested in. I can see enough information to decide if it’s right for me.

Q: Can you be choosy when it comes to accepting assignments?

 A: I don’t have to accept any assignment ever, which is nice. There is definitely freedom and flexibility in applying for assignments especially right now because there is such a high demand for travel nurses.

Valuable Resources Every Travel Nurse Needs During COVID-19

During these unprecedented times, many businesses and individuals are pitching in and providing not only needed supplies but also extras to make life better for those on the frontlines, including travel nurses. Here are some valuable resources that can make working as a travel nurse during COVID-19 not just possible, but comfortable.

Useful Apps

Headspace is offering some meditations that you can listen to at any time and use to help you stay calm and sane.
HOLLIBLU is an app exclusively for nurses and nursing students. You can use it to create a virtual nurse profile, highlighting your work and volunteer experiences, licenses and certifications, goals, interests, and more. It makes it easy for you to keep all the documentation that you need for your travel assignment in one place and you can use the app to connect with colleagues around the globe.

Household Help

Healthcare workers, including travel nurses, can go to HospitalHero.care and request help running errands, preparing meals, or with childcare and pet care. Volunteers across the country have signed up to provide what you need. You share the link on social media and your request will be answered by volunteers in your area.

Have a task you need help with? The National Student Response Network may have a health professions student volunteer who can provide what you’re looking for.

According to the American Medical Association, medical students in some areas also have volunteered to deliver supplies/meals and run errands on behalf of individuals in quarantine.

Child & Pet Care

You can find the care you need – whether for your toddler or your golden retriever– at Care.com. Care.com is offering a free month of premium membership during the pandemic to newly enrolling healthcare workers. Membership allows you to find care in your area that meets your requirements.

Hotels & Lodging

Some hotels in cities such as Baltimore, Maryland, or states such as California are offering frontline healthcare workers special rates and packages on their rooms. Search online to see what deals are available where you are working as a travel nurse. 

Several hotel brands are offering rooms at special or reduced rates for essential workers. Choice is one such hotel chain. Request the Choice Cares rate when you book. Marriott is offering special packages and rates for healthcare workers as well.

Transportation

Like Uber, the rideshare company Lyft is offering freebies to essential healthcare workers including car rides, scooters, and bikes. Free scooters are available in Denver, Los Angeles, Metro DC, San Diego, and Santa Monica, California. Free bike shares are available in NYC, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Metro DC, and Minneapolis.

Clothing & Footwear

Nike increased its discount to first responders and healthcare workers from 10% to 20% during the pandemic. You will need to verify you’re working as a travel nurse to receive the discount.

North Face is providing a discount on its non-sale items to healthcare workers in the U.S. You can use the discount on certain non-sale items on its website, thenorthface.com, and at its North Face owned retail stores. Exclusions apply.

As a thank-you for all you do, nurses can get 30% off on Adidas shoes and other items. You will have to show proof of employment as a nurse.

You may be able to snag a free pair of Crocs. Supplies are limited, but you can sign up to request your pair.

Medelita is offering 30 percent off its scrubs for frontline workers.