What’s Up With The Post-Crisis Job Market?

One year ago this week, I had just started with Axis Medical Staffing after a couple years’ stint abroad. I was actually in Seattle going through new hire training when the first wave of “stuff” hit the fan. I’ll never forget how eerie it was to see and hear hardly any traffic in downtown Seattle. I was scared to tell my Uber driver on my way back home from the airport that I’d just been in a plane for over four hours, out of fear that he would drop me off on the side of a random road somewhere.

Like many others, I expected maybe a few months of quarantining and mild inconveniences. I don’t think any of us expected to be where we are now, a year later. And yet, it seems that we are (finally) starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The decline of COVID-19 cases and deaths overall is a great thing. More people are getting vaccinated and life seems to be very slowly and cautiously returning back to “normal” for many people. For travel nurses, however, this transitional phase from a crisis job market to a more “typical” job market is causing a new kind of anxiety.

With the reduction of COVID-19 cases and “hotspots” comes fewer crisis or rapid response assignments. Most hospitals and facilities were offering increased rates throughout the pandemic, and we’re starting to see those rates normalize a bit and begin to return to pre-pandemic levels. Travelers are often being asked to extend their assignments, but at reduced rates. Or, they may be asked to float more often, float to other area hospitals, work a different shift or schedule, etc. so that the hospital can try to honor the full contracts for the travelers.

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While pay rates are still higher than what many would be making in permanent staff positions, once you’ve worked several months at a crisis pay rate, it can be tough to make the adjustment to non-crisis rates in a post-crisis job market.

What we’re likely going to see for the next couple of months (maybe longer) is a shift in the marketplace. We’ll see travelers who got into the market purely for the pay returning to staff positions, waiting for the next crisis to come along. I know quite a few nurses who will be taking some much-deserved time off. I’m sure we’ll see quite a few RNs getting out of the bedside role entirely in the near future, too. No matter how you slice it, we’re going to be seeing some pretty big shifts in the nursing workforce in the coming weeks/months.

We will also likely see more contracts getting cancelled in this post-crisis job market, especially the ones that are costing the hospitals the most money. With the gradual reduction of jobs in certain specialties that were the most in demand during the pandemic (ICU, ER, MedSurg/Tele, Progressive Care, etc.), the competition for job openings will get stiffer. More candidates will be submitted to job openings, and positions will fill much more quickly. We’ll likely start to see more needs for specialties like OR, PACU, Cath Lab, etc.

While all of this may seem a bit daunting, it is absolutely possible to roll with the punches, and still have a great experience with travel nursing, even during this unique transitional time.

My advice:

  1. Have a back-up plan in case your contract does get cut short for any reason. (FYI, this is good advice no matter WHAT kind of market we’re in. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.) Work with your recruiter(s) on a contingency plan. Keep your recruiter(s) in the loop on anything you’re seeing or hearing – changes in census, managers discussing plans to phase out travelers, etc.
  2. Try not to book housing for more than a month at a time – ideally, week-to-week. Most hotels and extended stays will allow this. With sites like AirBnB and Furnished Finder, you may need to work with the landlord(s) directly to negotiate a shorter-term lease or rental.
  3. Have some money set aside to get you to the next contract and first paycheck if need be.
  4. BE. FLEXIBLE. Don’t be surprised if the hospital asks you to float to other units or nearby hospitals so that they can try to utilize you through the full contract. They might also ask you to switch to a different shift/schedule. Is it ideal? No, for sure not. And, of course, you have the right to refuse. However, it might be better than getting your contract cancelled.
  5. If you’re being offered an extension and the hospital/agency is promising you the same pay rate (or more?!) as what you’ve been making, I’d think long and hard before declining that extension offer.
  6. Since there will be more candidates being submitted to travel job openings, you’ll need to be one of the first candidates submitted to have the best chances at an interview/offer. Work with your recruiter to get ideas on how to make your travel nursing profile stand out and discuss strategies to increase your speed to submission.

As always, travelers who are the most flexible will have the greatest number of options to choose from. If you’re open to shift, schedule, locations, pay, etc., then naturally the pool of positions that you are potentially eligible for increases. Again, chat with your recruiters about any trends they’re noticing in the post-crisis job market, and they can help provide additional suggestions to ensure that you’re able to find travel positions quickly and consistently.

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Charity Crawford
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