Travel nurses are more in demand than ever.

Specifically, the need for ICU travel nurses climbed with a 59% increase in agencies looking to fill these jobs between February and March 2020, and more recent interest in travel nurses with urgent care skills. Emergency department and trauma nurse jobs grew by 62%, and med-surg nurse job listings rose by 14%.

When it comes to travel nurse pay, these nurses are in high demand. The annual salary for travel nurses can range from about $79,000 in North Carolina to about $108,000 in New York state.

But besides salary, travel nurses also want to know what benefits come with the job. Traveling itself is stressful, and with the added uncertainties of COVID-19, nurses are well aware they need to take better care of themselves and need the support of their employers to do so.

Employers who show the type of support that is geared toward helping their team members manage COVID-19 stressors can be appealing to nurses.

Realities of the job

To add to the stress load for today’s nurses are the concerns about unsafe working conditions. Reports have emerged that unsafe conditions, including lack of personal protective equipment, are pushing some nurses to consider quitting their jobs. According to one website, 70% of travel nurses in ICU positions on COVID-19 assignments fear for their health and safety — and that of their families.

In the “COVID19 Mental Wellbeing Nurse Survey,” with 1,200 nurse respondents from over 400 hospitals, 61% said they want to leave their job.

Keeping nurses informed about job safety

Nurses can plan ahead for times when they suspect poor water or air quality before travel, said Gail Rosselot, MS, APRN, COHN-S, FAANP, FISTM, FATHNA, founding member and immediate past president for the American Travel Health Nurses Association. She currently works as a consultant educating nurses about how to stay safe before, during and after deployments.

Travel nurse missions include assignments overseas and relief efforts in the U.S. during floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“Nurses come to us because they realize the location where they are going poses additional healthcare risks for them,” Rosselot said.

She recently spoke to a nurse headed to Michigan to help with flood victims. Rumors about the drinking water had her concerned, so the nurse reached out to Rosselot to find some answers and understand the risks. The travel nurse wanted to know if it was necessary to get a cholera vaccination.

Rosselot said nurses are wise to think about water and foodborne pathogens before travel, especially when going abroad.

“Water or foodborne pathogens are extraordinary rare,” she said. “[Protecting yourself] just requires you to pay attention to the source of your beverages.”

Rosselot was able to explain to the nurse what the risks could be and discuss how to take the proper safety precautions.

Expect the unexpected

When Rosselot works with nurses, it’s her job to help them think about unplanned and unforeseen scenarios as well. For example, when nurses work outside the scope of their usual job responsibilities, that’s when they are more likely to find themselves in undesirable situations, Rosselot said.

Rosselot gave the example of a nurse working in a first aid tent, who has not cared for someone who is actively bleeding. If the nurse puts a dressing on a wound without realizing the patient could have a bloodborne pathogen, this can lead to a risk of disease exposure, especially if the correct PPE was not provided.

And it’s not always a disaster victim a nurse will treat, said Rosselot. In a flood scenario, for instance, volunteers or staff might walk into the triage tent bleeding from a leg wound after placing sandbags. Travel nurses need to know the extent of the possible scenarios that could occur.

How contract agencies keep nurses safe

It’s helpful when contract agencies provide nurses with information such as who to contact if they should get injured on the job. For example, nurses need information about the nearest ER and pharmacy. Knowing how the health benefits work also is extremely important, Rosselot said.

In the case of a needle stick, nurses need to know what procedures to follow, especially when traveling outside the U.S. It’s always a good idea to consider the patient population and if they are likely to carry bloodborne pathogens, Rosselot said.

“In the U.S., we have strict OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) regulations around how soon it will be addressed and when you will be given proper medications for needles sticks,” she said. “Within an hour you should be able to access help.”