There’s been a nursing shortage for decades. In 2020, its effects were even more pronounced as the U.S. health system coped with a devastating pandemic. In 2021, the need is still strong in many parts of the country, and health systems are continuing to seek out travel nurses to fill out gaps in staffing. What does the landscape look like as the year unfolds? Here are several trends to watch. 

1. High Demand

Demand skyrocketed as COVID-19 spread throughout the U.S., and it remains high. Before the pandemic, lower demand meant there was more time to plan and prepare — both on the part of nurses, and permanent staff. The increasing acuity of patient populations has made it so more nurses are needed to deploy in a much shorter time frame than ever before. 

2. Fast Onboarding

Several developments have made it possible for nurses to practice in multiple states and start work quickly once they gain the skills. Many state legislatures have expedited nurse licensing via emergency measures or participated in the Nurse Licensure Compact which enables nurses to practice in several states. Hospital systems have been innovating their staffing methods so that travel nurses integrate into their systems quickly. 

3. Rising Costs

High demand has led to high pay. As a result, more staff nurses have made their first decision to give travel nursing a try, creating more staffing shortages. While the question remains whether this is a financially sustainable long-term practice, it has dramatically eased patient loads and relieved stress on permanent staff. 

4. Transitions To Watch

As large percentages of the U.S. population are projected to receive vaccinations in 2021, pandemic-related demand for traveling nurses Is likely to decrease. As this happens, pay rates will likely plateau, then decrease due to adjusted supply and demand. Also, travel nurses may not be as able to choose their first-choice location. This may affect the willingness of nurses to relocate. 

5. Keeping Connections

Travel nurses who intend to go back to regular permanent employment are advised to maintain positive collegial relationships with their supervisors and coworkers. That is, to refrain from burning bridges. In any work setting, maintaining a high standard of excellence is vital. Keeping positive references on file is also important.

2021 will be a year of uncertainty, change, and hope. The vocational opportunities for nurses promise to expand to meet the ever-evolving needs of the U.S. population.