18 Reasons Travel Nurses Are in High Demand For 2023 and Beyond


Written By: Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN


In recent years, travel nurses have come to the rescue to assist in overwhelmed Covid hot spots. Now that the pandemic is over, do hospitals still need travel nurses? You may wonder why are travel nurses in high demand?

The need for travel nurses has indeed declined in the past year. However, travel nurses have been around for a long time and have always been necessary to fill the gaps in our nursing force.

Here, I outline the 18 reasons travel nurses are in high demand for 2023 and beyond. You will see that these gypsy nurses are more necessary than ever to keep our healthcare system up and running.



WHAT IS THE DEMAND LIKE FOR TRAVEL NURSES FOR 2023 AND BEYOND?


Nurse job growth is expected to increase in the next decade as the need for our profession continues. With a projected shortage of registered nurses of 203,200 through 2031, the demand for travel nurses is predicted to remain high. Someone must fill the ongoing employment gap, and travel nurses are the go-to workforce for the industry’s staffing needs.

Unfortunately, at present, our supply of nurses is shrinking due to burnout and other reasons. With recent research findings showing that up to one-fifth of the nursing workforce has left or intends to leave in the near future, our healthcare system will reach a new critical low.

This treacherous combination will continue the need for travel nurses as our hospitals scramble to fill job openings temporarily.

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WHY ARE TRAVEL NURSES IN HIGH DEMAND?

(The following are the 18 main reasons travel nurses are in high demand for 2023 and beyond.)


REASON #1: Early Retirement on the Rise

A recent nursing survey shows that the average age of RNs is 52 years (and 53 years for LPNs). Although this is not typically retirement age, many seasoned nurses closer to retirement have decided that enough is enough. With the stresses of the pandemic and post-Covid fall-out, nurses are calling it quits early.

I am living proof that this is happening. During the pandemic, my previous job duties morphed into an entirely different environment due to hospital necessity. Instead of working mainly daylight hours in a clinic, I was reassigned to a covid unit, working all 3 shifts as necessary.

Although I enjoyed this new challenge, my hours now conflicted with my home responsibilities. I was burning out quickly trying to take care of my aging parents and working in an unfamiliar environment with crazy hours. Finally, my health turned for the worse, and my dad needed me full-time, so I decided to take an early semi-retirement.

With nurses like myself leaving the profession prematurely and limited recruits ready to fill the gap, travel nurses must step in.


REASON #2: Nurses Leaving the Bedside

Nurses leaving the bedside may be one of the biggest reasons travel nurses are in high demand. Many nurses are not giving up their profession entirely. However, to save their sanity and health, they are looking for jobs that are less demanding physically and emotionally.

Once my health recovered and my family responsibilities improved, I was not ready to jump back into bedside nursing. The trauma of my last job was still too fresh. Nonetheless, I knew I still had more to give as a nurse. However, I was no longer eager to work full-time or shifts.

Once I began my job search, I found numerous enticing positions away from the bedside that beckoned me. With a smorgasbord of interesting and unique non-bedside nursing jobs available, many nurses are finding work away from the stresses of bedside jobs. With an increase in work-from-home options, non-bedside jobs are even more appealing.

However, with nurses exiting the bedside for choice jobs elsewhere, they have left behind critical staffing shortage areas in hospitals and extended care facilities (in addition to other sites). Once again, travel nurses are needed to come to the rescue to fill specific critical need areas. However, plentiful job availability at the bedside is one of the pros of travel nurses everywhere.


REASON #3: Nurses Finding Jobs Outside of the Profession

Some nurses have decided to take an even bigger step away from nursing. They have found jobs outside of the nursing profession altogether. However, with their BSN degree and transferable skills, many are still partially attached to their beloved profession. These nurses are finding careers in research, legal services, politics, and consulting, to name a few. They use their background as a springboard to propel them into a new and dynamic profession.

As a nurse writer, I can attest to the transferable skills of nursing that assist in my career. I utilize my nursing experience to naturally write for nursing and health publications. With my research background, I can write complex medical study articles. Transferrable nursing skills such as organization, time management, and accountability round out the requirements for a successful freelance health writer.

With many nurses opting for alternate careers outside the profession, nursing staffing shortages continue to increase. The 2023 AMN Healthcare Survey of Registered Nurses sounds an alarm predicting that nearly a third of RNs plan to leave nursing. With nurses getting more and more creative in finding alternate-type jobs, travel nurses should be relieved to hear that they will still be needed well into the future.


REASON #4: Shortage of Nursing Professors

It is apparent that more new nurses need to enter the profession to boost our numbers.

NPR reports insufficient nursing school slots to fill the need for more nurses. This is due to a critical shortage of nursing professors. With historically low pay for nurse educators, faculty to teach young nurses are in short supply. According to AACN, the average income for an RN is $120,000. By contrast, the average salary for a nursing professor is $87,325. With such a stark difference in pay, it is no wonder that it is difficult to attract master’s prepared nurses into education.

Boosting our flagging nursing workforce will be difficult because nursing schools turn away thousands of nursing applicants yearly. There simply are not enough openings in nursing schools to accept an adequate supply of recruits.

Critical staffing shortages are sure to continue due to this inadequacy in nursing education, with healthcare systems turning to travel nurses to fill their staffing needs.


REASON #5: Nurses Demanding More

Seasoned nurses can attest to the “tough-it-out” mindset of our profession in the past. Nurses were often expected to sacrifice their homelife and, sometimes, even their health for the job. The term work-life balance was non-existent.

Fortunately, nurses have now concluded that they are valued and that emotional health and happiness are vital components of their lives. Nurses and some employers no longer (for the most part) expect that it is OK to give up everything for their jobs.

Our profession is learning to accept more time for relaxation and leisure. We demand that our voices are heard, and we are not whipping boards in the organizational cog. Nurses are actually using their earned days off instead of feeling pressured to work while disregarding their need to refresh themselves. In general, we are taking more time off for maternity leave and to raise our families.

Travel nurses are typically hired to fill in for nurses on leave. With an increased work-life balance mindset, opportunities for travel nurses to fill in for nurses who are off for extended periods may expand.


REASON #6: Worsening Health Outlook

The US health outlook had been declining even before the pandemic. Unfortunately, post-pandemic, our physical state has gotten even worse.

New research sheds light on one devastating aspect of our attitude toward health; a lax approach to healthcare. The American healthcare system has become so confusing and challenging that we are losing the battle on preventative and adequate medical attention. Due to the painful process of navigating our complex healthcare system, many people are reactionary to their health. They only seek care when they are acutely ill or in crisis. The result being worsening overall health.

With our broken healthcare system and neglect towards preventative health, it is no wonder that serious chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension are on the rise.

This factor contributes to the demand for nurses in general. With projections of a worsening health outlook in general, travel nurses will be needed to help with staffing. For instance, our local mid-sized hospital has over 300 unfilled nursing positions. In hospitals like ours and nationwide, recruiters will pull in travel nurses to fill the staffing shortage.


REASON #7: Decline in Mental Health

Travel nurses are in high demand to staff our psychiatric units and mental health clinics.

The 2022 State of Mental Health in America Report reveals a dismal picture of our psychological state in the US, with 19.86% of adults experiencing mental illness in 2019. Even more startling is that a high percentage of those suffering from depression and other major depressive disorders go without treatment. Many are uninsured, or their policy does not cover mental health services. Until this fracture in our health system is fixed, it is hard to imagine that the mental state of our nation will improve.

With an increasing need for mental health services and a declining nursing workforce, travel nurses with expertise in this area help to fill the gap.


REASON #8: Increased Substance Abuse

Substance abuse, in general, is not going away. In fact, it is worse than ever. According to the CDC, drug overdoses remain high, mainly due to fentanyl. Also, it is reported that we are seeing a rise in teens abusing prescription drugs.

While substance use issues are worsening, access to mental health and addiction services is not keeping up with the need.

Sadly, our healthcare for those needing detox and substance abuse treatment is inadequate. To make matters worse, treatment centers across the US are challenged to find nurses to staff their facilities. Travel nurses are in high demand in substance abuse centers to work these jobs, which can be difficult to fill.


REASON #9: Nursing Home Staff Shortage

One of the top reasons why travel nurses are in high demand is due to the difficulty in staffing long-term care facilities. Historically, nursing homes and rehab centers have not been the top choice for work environments for some nurses. However, there have always been compassionate nurses who enjoy and excel in this area of nursing.

With the pandemic, those in long-term care facilities were gutted physically and emotionally, negatively impacting the residents as well as the staff. Due to the extreme stress of working in beleaguered nursing homes, nurses bailed in alarming numbers. NPR reports that it may be a while before our long-term care system recovers.

In the meantime, nursing homes, rehab centers, and other extended-care facilities are scrambling to find staff. Travel nurses have come to the rescue to help keep our older residents safe and well-cared for in these facilities.


REASON #10: Covid Aftermath

After the pandemic, life should return to normal, right? We all know that this statement is not true. Our world has changed in many ways post-pandemic.

Unfortunately, long-covid, untreated chronic illness, and elective surgery backlog have created a health mess for our country. Advisory Board suggests that “The United States could face millions of cumulative delayed (surgery) cases by 2022”. This backlog could take years to return to baseline.

Although surgeons prefer a seasoned and familiar team of nurses, they are finding that they need travel nurses to staff their ORs to get the job done.

Thus, one of the biggest reasons why travel nurses are in high demand in the OR is due to the surgery backlog created by the pandemic.


REASON #11: Older Generation Living Longer

The US Census Bureau informs us that the “65-and-older population grew by over a third (34.2% or 13,787,044) during the past decade”. With growing numbers of older Americans, we can expect age-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease to climb. In addition, baby boomers are now of the age where many need additional medical care, such as assisted living and rehab.

These factors contribute to the demand for nurses in every area of medicine, with an emphasis on home health and long-term care. Due to ongoing shortages of nurses everywhere, travel nurses are needed to help our growing older generation with their health needs.


REASON #12: Mortality Rate Increasing

For an industrialized country, the US is not shining as far as mortality rates. As expected, the pandemic caused a spike in the death rate. However, according to a study in JAMA, our country has trended poorly post-pandemic regarding the death rate among individuals aged 25 to 64. Even worse, this source cites increasing mortality in infants and children of late.

With higher acuity patients to care for, nurses are overstretched and burning out. Nurses cannot sustain this pressure and eventually leave the bedside. Travel nurses are being called to help ease staffing shortages in all areas of healthcare caused by the toll of caring for gravely ill patients.


REASON #13: Hospitals in Financial Crisis

The American Hospital Association (AHA) informs us that hospitals report a bleak financial outlook. With skyrocketing costs, our health institutions are being squeezed to meet their fiscal obligations. Although many open nursing positions exist, hospitals are cutting nurses to help defray their overhead. For example, our local clinic is eliminating numerous nursing positions to help with their negative cash flow. Although we nurses know this is a recipe for disaster, the cold hard facts speak loudest in this situation.

As you know, travel nurses are typically paid more than hospital nurses. However, institutions are turning to travel nurses to fill gaps in staffing temporarily. They think a stop-gap nurse is cheaper than a hired full-time nurse who requires overtime pay to meet the demand.


REASON #14: Rural Communities in Need

Lack of access to healthcare in our rural communities continues to be a problem in our medical system. This disparity is not a new issue; however, it is yet to be resolved. With post-covid fallout and nursing shortages exacerbating this situation, travel nurses are called to relieve staffing needs. Thus, continued medical staffing shortage areas is one of the top reasons travel nurses are in high demand.

Having recently traveled to Alaska, I saw firsthand the direness of this issue. Many of the Alaskan villages did not have any medical staff at all to support their rural health clinics. It is hard to believe that currently, the US would be plagued with such a dearth in accessible healthcare.


REASON #15: ERs Understaffed

Travel nurses are in high demand in ERs nationwide due to nursing staff shortages. It is common to find several travelers working in an emergency department at any given point.

Go to any emergency room of late, and you can expect long waits and, at times, 3rd world healthcare conditions. Now is not a good time to need emergency medical help in our country. This shocking and unfortunate state of affairs in the ER is partially due to a shortage of nurses to meet the needs of the continual onslaught of patients who utilize the ER.


REASON #16: Critical Care Units in Need

Critical care units are another area where travel nurses are in high demand. This environment frequently loses its staff to units and jobs that are less stressful. In high-pressure units, nursing shortages hit the hardest. For this reason, travel nurses are often recruited for ICU, CCU, and step-down units.

A bonus for travel nurses working in this capacity is the ICU salary which is typically excellent.


REASON #17: Short-term Staffing Needs

One of the biggest reasons many health facilities use travel nurses is to fill positions with a temporary absence, such as maternity leave. Travel nurses have functioned in this capacity for many years and will always be necessary for this purpose.

Many medical industries employ seasonal staff for their health clinics and facilities. Tourist areas such as amusement parks, beach towns, and “snow-bird” states like Florida need additional nursing help during high-traffic months. In addition, summer camps have great difficulty finding nurses. Travel nurses help to fill these positions.


REASON #18: No Need to Pay Benefits

Paying benefits to a nurse can be a pretty hefty amount for an employer. Small Business Chronicles teaches that “benefits make up 32 percent of an employee's total compensation”.

Hospitals that are struggling know this fact. Thus, hired nurses (who receive benefits) are among the first to go when looking for avenues to cut costs.

Our local hospital is currently eliminating all middle nursing management positions to remain fiscally sound. As nurses, we know this is a mistake, but numbers talk when it comes to the bottom line. Nurses for management jobs are scarce. Thus, the need to shift nurses around to cover necessary positions will necessitate travel nurses to step in eventually.

Travel contracts where the organization does not pay benefits to the traveler is one of the biggest reasons why travel nurses are in high demand. Although the travel nurse may earn a slightly higher salary than her hired counterparts, the absence of a benefits package is advantageous for the employer.



MY FINAL THOUGHTS


So why are travel nurses in high demand? After reading “18 reasons travel nurses are in high demand for 2023 and beyond” I think it is obvious that these gypsy nurses are utilized to fill endless staffing gaps.

At times, medical facilities hire travel nurses to reduce hospital staffing costs. In the long run, enlisting travel nurses may decrease staff turnover due to lessening mandatory overtime and high workload.

Thus, it makes practical and fiscal sense to employ travel nurses. It is clear that travel nurses are in demand now for many reasons and will continue to be so for years to come.


Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN
Donna Reese is a freelance nurse health content writer with 37 years nursing experience. She has worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner in her local community clinic and as an RN in home health, rehabilitation, hospital, and school nursing.