WEEKI WACHEE, Fla. — COVID-19 cases may be decreasing across the state, but a company that connects travel nurses with job opportunities said demand is still strong in Florida.

What You Need To Know

  • StaffDNA saw 100% increase in job orders for travel nurses in Florida market from March-May

  • Resumption of surgeries, travel and hospital staff taking time off are among reasons for the Florida increase

  • FHA says Florida nurses pursuing travel jobs contributed to state nursing shortage

  • Hospitals are looking at ways to retain and recruit nurses

"Between March and May, we saw over 100% increase in job orders in the Florida market," said Imran Chaudhry, vice president of strategic solutions for StaffDNA

Chaudhry said there are a number of reasons for this. One is the resumption of surgeries delayed due to the pandemic, which creates demand in other departments. Another is travel picking up and vacationers seeking treatment in local emergency rooms when needed.

"Lastly, we're starting to see things happen at hospitals with their own staff," said Chaudhry. "For the last year, or 12-15 months, they've been working around the clock, working tirelessly to help serve patients dealing with COVID, and they're tired, so they want to take vacation."

Nurse Rick Hartman lives in Weeki Wachee and uses StaffDNA to find work around the state and country. He turned to travel nursing seven years ago.

"I keep myself pretty booked — a lot of people will take, you know, a week, two weeks, sometimes a month off between assignments, but to me, that kind of defeats the purpose," he said. "I'm a little older and I'm thinking about retirement, and being able to go after these more lucrative assignments, I'm able to put a lot more money away for my retirement faster."

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage for registered nurses was about $80,000 as of last May.

Information from a Zip Recruiter survey found that, as of this month, the national average salary for travel nurses was more than $99,000. The executive director of the Florida Nurses Association told Spectrum Bay News 9 earlier this month that high-paying assignments are part of what's drawing Florida-based nurses to travel work, contributing to the state's nursing shortage.

"Hospitals have long depended on contracted staffing travel nursing. Certainly, throughout the pandemic during different periods of time where we were seeing significant spikes in Florida - July, again in December, January - there was a significant dependency on contracted staffing," said Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew. "Of course, the other challenge is, as states across the country have required additional travel nurses to support their demand, we've experienced nurses leaving Florida to work in those other states, and so that has also exacerbated some of the workforce challenges here in Florida."

Chaudhry said there are a number of reasons nurses choose travel work, and their hometown hospitals could end up seeing benefits.

"Travel, visit family and friends, go experience different settings to increase their skill set, which a lot of times they bring back to their staff jobs," said Chaudhry. 

Mayhew said hospitals statewide are looking at creative ways to retain staff and attract new employees, including signing bonuses and developing pathways to help workers advance in their careers. She noted there's a lot health care workers need to evaluate post-pandemic, including whether the pipeline of new nursing graduates has been disrupted because of it.

"Hospitals are going to look at how to both support that pathway from the nursing programs into the hospitals, how to retain. Inevitably, they'll still need travel nurses, contracted staffing, but certainly want to ensure that as demand continues to increase that we're able to be creative and ensuring that we've got a workforce that's ready today to meet the demand, the anticipated increased demand in the future," said Mayhew.