The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified a nurse shortage in the U.S., leading hospitals to pay high rates for temporary staff like travel nurses.
April Hansen, group president of Workforce Solutions for Aya Healthcare, a San Diego-based healthcare staffing agency, said pandemic stress has led to nurse exhaustion and resignation.
"Nurses are in a state of despair right now and they're burned out. The pandemic level of fatigue and stress is unlike anything they've faced before," Hansen said. "What we heard from nurses through research is that they didn't feel well supported throughout the pandemic journey from a mental health perspective, from a physical health perspective."
In some cases, nurses have left the bedside because they don't want to comply with vaccine mandates.
At the same time, lucrative pay has also led some full-time nurses to quit and become travel nurses, fueling a cycle that only adds to the nurse shortage according to critics of the industry. Travel nurses earn anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 a week per assignment, according to Hansen.
Hansen told Fox News Aya Healthcare has recently seen the demand for travel nurses increase to a point where it outpaces supply.
"We’re experiencing almost 50,000 open job orders for travel nurses even though the industry has grown," Hansen said.
Thombreka Turner, 26, was working a full-time job at an Ohio hospital when she decided to become a travel nurse in February 2020.
"It was a calling I would say, because I just wanted to help people honestly," Turner said. "We don’t know what we’re going into. Things are constantly changing, a patient could go from one condition to another in seconds but this is what we're trained to do."
In the past 17 months, Turner has worked in COVID-19 or psychology units in New Jersey, Texas, Missouri, Maryland, Ohio and Washington. Each assignment was three months long followed by time off.
Throughout the pandemic, Turner has worked with doctors to manage the symptoms of COVID-19 patients, juggling as many as eight patients at time. She even learned to speak Spanish in Dallas, Texas, to work with the Hispanic patients of a hospital she was assigned to.
Turner's career switch comes as the ongoing U.S. nursing shortage reaches critical levels — with millions of nurses needed to meet demand in the next few years according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Ernest Grant, president of the American Nurses Association, told Fox News the need for nurses outpaces the supply of nurses available and could for some time. In a letter this month, the ANA asked the Biden administration to declare the U.S nursing shortage a national crisis.
"There was a nursing shortage before, COVID only exacerbated what we are seeing as a shortage," Grant said. "There's an estimated need of over 2 million nurses in the next five years, so there's no way we're going to get that many people through nursing schools — so there's a lot of issues we need to address."