“The travel nursing market is HOT right now! I’m gonna jump in and make a lot of money while I can.”
If you’re like me, you said this to yourself when recently deciding to take the plunge into travel nursing. Feelings of being unappreciated and underpaid in a current full-time or part-time position at a facility can cause many nurses to job hunt to see what other options are out there.
So you finally said “you know what…I’m doing it”…you got your first contract and it was more than you ever thought you could make. Contract options were flooding in and you were living your best life.
Now…CRICKETS. All of a sudden you notice that not as many contracts are available; the pay rate is lower; you find yourself in a position where you have to decide whether to take a lower paying contract or wait it out. And if you wait it out, what do you do in the meantime? Do you take a local PRN job, or decide to simply leave travel nursing and go back to a FT or PT position?
I know first hand the anxiety of trying to land that next contract without any unanticipated breaks. That, coupled with the decrease in pay rates all over the country, it’s quite easy to become anxious. Although it may seem like the joy ride is over, you can still be a very successful traveler no matter what the pay rates are. One way to calm your anxiety is to learn the 3 ways to survive the travel nurse market when pay rates decrease. But first… it’s important to understand and accept the reason why it seems like pay rates sometimes rise to incredible heights and then sometimes plummet to incredible depths.
WHAT IS SUPPLY & DEMAND…AND HOW DOES IT APPLY TO TRAVEL NURSING?
To understand this basic economic principle, we need to delve into the archives of our brain to search for what we learned back in high school or college. (Some of us have been out of school for a while, so allow me to give a quick reminder of what that means.)
According to Merriam & Webster, Supply and Demand is “the amount of goods and services that are available for people to buy compared to the amount of goods and services that people want to buy.” Now if we change a few words, we can easily apply this definition to travel nursing: “…the amount of nurses that are available for facilities to contract compared to the amount of nurses that facilities NEED to contract.”
It’s also good to remember that supply and demand have an inverse relationship, which means that when supply goes down, demand goes up; when supply goes up, demand goes down.
As most of us already know from first hand experience, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented strain on the healthcare system. Hospitals became inundated with critically ill patients and the supply of resources (doctors, nurses, RTs, other HCPs and even ventilators!!) drastically and rapidly decreased. Therefore the demand for these resources skyrocketed.
Initially, when patient censuses went up, there were hundreds of RN positions open and not enough bedside nurses to fill them. Solution: Travel nurses! However, that still wasn’t enough, making it necessary to offer higher pay rates to incentivize nurses to travel to hospitals all over the country. These high rates were extremely appealing to unappreciated and underpaid nurses, which led to an increase of nurses available. Also, bedside nurses leaving to go travel contributed to this need too.
Eventually the number of positions and needs began to decrease, but now there was an increased number of nurses in the travel market. Your résumé went from being 1 of 5 for 20 positions, to 1 or 75 for 5 positions. Now the supply of nurses exceeds the demand, making it no longer necessary to over incentivize. While this isn’t great news for us, it’s just reality.
So are you ready to hear the honest and brutal truth? High Pay Rates were NEVER Meant to Stay High!! If you had never researched pay rates before 2020, it’s possible you have been under the impression that $5-10k gross weekly pay rates were the norm. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the reality is that those types of rates were the exception, moreover, COVID made this an unprecedented exception.
Now that we are coming out of the pandemic and hospitals are not as inundated, the pay rates are returning back to regular market price, which is somewhere around $1-3k gross weekly depending on location and specialty. When compared to most full time hospital positions, this still tends to be above average wages, but obviously nowhere close to the amazing rates of 2020 and 2021.
SO WHAT NOW?
Sure, it would be nice if making $5k or more weekly was the norm all the time, but realistically that’s not very sustainable from a business standpoint. But it’s not the end of the world. Travel nursing has been, still is and will always be an awesome way to work your career. How is that possible when your initial expectations are no longer matching the current pay rates? Here are 3 ways to survive in the travel nurse industry when pay rates decrease.
1) Don’t Panic!
I know. I know. That’s a lot easier said than done. But you’re a nurse. You already know how to stay cool under pressure. Talk with your recruiter about your concerns and work together to find the best options for your needs and goals. Your recruiter can tell you what the current market looks like and offer the best suggestions for locations. You have a team ready to support you, so utilize them.
2) Have a Plan
It’s always a good idea to weigh your options in order to maximize your pay out (the money you pocket) when negotiating your contract. Make a plan and do your research:
● Balance pay with location and cost of living - working in Hawaii for $1000 a week is probably not the best option.
● Leverage your skill/experience - spiff up your résumé and flaunt it. Your skills and experience are valuable. If you want to stand out in that large pile on the manager’s desk, consider getting an advanced certification in your specialty or be open to floating to other units where you can use your skills to make yourself more indispensable.
● Manage your finances - I’m no expert, but let’s keep it simple…live within your means. Consider setting a budget and reign in your spending if you weren’t already.
3) Set realistic expectations
Evaluate why you wanted to travel in the first place. If it was for the huge paycheck only, then it may be time to go back to the drawing board. Now that you know what effect supply and demand economics has on the travel nurse market, you can move forward accordingly. Set reachable and measurable personal goals for your career. Learn to shop for best rates and stay aware of current rates even when on assignment. Doing this will help you navigate the contract negotiations waters more fluidly. And again as mentioned before, use your recruiter as a resource when making decisions for your future assignments.
HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE…
Travel nursing can sometimes feel like gambling. The market continuously fluctuates as it always has, and that can be nerve-wracking to say the least. But understanding basic economics and having a game plan will ensure that you can balance getting what you deserve with getting what is realistic. The great news is that as nurses, we are versatile and our work environments allow us to be flexible, so surviving market changes eventually becomes second nature. But never forget that, pandemic or no pandemic, our nursing skills are always in demand. Even though the market fluctuates, someone somewhere needs you, and that rarelyever changes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Monica is a Texas native that has been a Registered Nurse for over 16 years. Her experience is in NICU and pediatrics, and she is now also a freelance writer. She enjoys listening to audiobooks with her husband, chasing behind her 2 energetic boys, and traveling. After years of bedside, she has discovered that travel nursing allows her to work less and have more time with her family.