The small hospital in suburban North Texas where Meredith Daniels works as a licensed vocational nurse has been “overwhelmed” by COVID-19, with 200 ER patients tested for the virus in one day alone. Daniels, who routinely works 12-hour shifts, says some of her fellow nurses have been toiling 12-hour shifts five or six times a week. Most nurses only work three 12-hour shifts weekly. Asked whether the facility has enough nurses, she replies, “We could always use more.”
The coronavirus pandemic has put nurses, like Daniels, in a very bright spotlight. Hailed as heroes for risking exposure to the deadly virus, nurses throughout the country are elevating in demand at hospitals, medical offices, home healthcare services, outpatient clinics and eldercare facilities. The situation is a marked turnaround from a few months ago, when coronavirus lockdowns caused doctors’ and dentists’ offices to shutter and hospitals and health systems to pause elective procedures, leading to nurse furloughs and layoffs.
The healthcare industry lost 904,000 jobs from February 2020 to June 2020. However, LaborIQ® by ThinkWhy projects the industry will recapture all its lost jobs by mid-2022, roughly a full year faster than the economy as a whole.
As the COVID threat continues, nurses (including those who’d already retired) have been lured back to the profession with expedited license renewals, looser rules about practicing across state lines and quick courses to refresh their skills. The needs are great, even though nursing already is the largest workforce of the U.S. healthcare system, with registered nurses alone accounting for 2.98 million jobs in 2018, according to Occupational Employment Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Median annual pay for RNs in 2019 was $73,300, and the sector was expected to grow at a rapid 12.0% yearly clip, adding 371,500 jobs between 2018 and 2028. According to the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, many states will experience a shortage of registered nurses by 2030 as baby boomers age, more nurses retire and nursing schools struggle to grow. Among the states predicted to see nursing shortfalls are California, Texas, New Jersey, Georgia and South Carolina.
Recruiting Firms to the Rescue
The recruiting world has taken note.
More and more hospitals are relying on nurse-staffing agencies to fill key positions. Says Brian Hudson, a healthcare staffing executive, “Established agencies streamline the process for both healthcare professionals and hospitals alike, with some providing additional support like housing, specialized education and relocation assistance.”
Nurse leaders are also offering nurses the likes of sign-on bonuses, spiffed-up pay packages and tuition help. International nurse staffing has become more popular, as has travel nurse recruitment, where nurses sign with independent agencies to take assignments in hospitals and facilities with short-term staffing needs.
One such agency is Triage Staffing in Omaha, Nebraska. The 14-year-old company, which places nurses and others in 6-, 8- and 13-week assignments in five major acute-care specialties, says volume and demand for its services by hospitals and health systems are returning to pre-COVID levels after “falling to record lows” earlier in the pandemic.
“We’ve been riding the wave of a strong market the last two or three years,” says Emilie Wells, the company’s director of marketing.
Travel-nurse agencies have been filling the gap in California, where healthcare facilities cut back on staff during the lockdown but now find themselves needing more nurses as COVID cases increase. Late last month, for example, San Diego-based travel nursing agency Aya Healthcare had more than 15,600 nursing and other positions posted, about 17.0% of them in the Golden State.
And how are nurses likely to fare in the post-pandemic environment? Those in highest demand over the next few years are expected to include nurse navigators, specialists in specific areas of medicine, nurses working in telehealth and those with advanced degrees.
ThinkWhy continuously monitors and forecasts labor data at all levels, measuring impact to MSAs, industries, occupations and business across the U.S.