With another COVID surge happening, the crisis contracts for traveling healthcare workers are popping up in all of the hot-spots again. However, crisis contracts do not necessarily pertain specifically to COVID, although they have become much more prominent since the beginning of the pandemic. Crisis contracts can come up anytime when a certain area has a sudden pertinent and large need for more help from healthcare workers. This can occur from natural disasters, hospital systems going on strike, and just a sudden mass exodus from healthcare workers at a given hospital or healthcare system causing a sudden demand of travelers to come fill the staffing needs. Either way, if you are thinking of picking up a crisis contracts, here are some things to look for and consider:
1. Look at the compensation
What really appeals healthcare workers to work these crisis contracts is the crisis pay. Just remember higher pay rates usually come with another cost. You are typically getting paid more for a reason. Hospitals are short-staffed and the working conditions are really tough. The high pay rates are an incentive to quickly get more staff working as soon as possible. Pay attention to how you are getting paid in the contract as well. Most of the time with crisis contracts the hourly rate is what will increase. This will be taxable income, so the more you make the heavier it will be taxed. Pay attention to the overtime rate as well since most of these contracts are 48-60 hour a week contracts. Also look at how much the housing/meals/incidental stipends and make sure they match the living expenses in the area you are staying in. Typically crisis contracts pop up in more densely populated and expensive cities, so make sure you are fairly compensated. Make sure to inquire about how much you will be compensated for you travel to and from the area and if you will be compensated for licenses and certifications you have to obtain for the job. Negotiate whatever you can!
2. Be prepared to float outside of your skill-set
This may not be true for every hospital, but especially during COVID times nurses were and still are needed everywhere. Med-surg nurses may be expected to float to telemetry/step-down units. PCU nurses may be expected to float to the ICU. Typically in these situations you are floated to these units to help where you can. For example, as a PCU nurse floating to the ICU, you will not be expected to take a full assignment of ICU patients and perform skills you are not familiar with. Most of the time, a teamwork model is used where you will help administer medications, tube feeds, reposition the patients, monitor vitals, help with charting, etc. The ICU nurses will monitor the drips and ventilators. If you are ever expected to perform a task that you are unfamiliar with, SPEAK UP. Do not put your license on the line. Be transparent with the charge nurse and your coworkers about what you feel comfortable with doing. However, this is also a good opportunity to watch and learn about skills you are unfamiliar with when there is extra time. Ask questions, be flexible, and be willing to help however you can. It is never a bad idea to prepare yourself by taking some courses online about critical care skills, plus it is a good way to get some CEUs out of the way for your license.
3. Tips for finding housing
Finding housing can be a little tricky during a crisis assignment, especially because a lot of crisis contracts are found in bigger cities or more densely populated areas. Talk to your recruiter and see if your travel company can assist you or can set you up with housing. Companies like Krucial Staffing set travelers up in a hotel for the duration of the assignment. If your contract is shorter and you are okay with staying in a hotel, it would not be a bad idea to check with hotels if they offer discounts for long-term stays or for healthcare workers. Using websites like Furnished Finder, Airbnb, or even utilizing travel nurse housing groups like the Gypsy Nurse on Facebook can help you find housing as well.
4. Be flexible and prepare for the chance of a cancellation
Being flexible during a crisis contract is going to be crucial. You have to walk in with the mindset that you are there to help out during critical times, so be prepared to be available all the time. Crisis contracts are not like your typical contract. Most of the time there is no interview process. Your recruiter submits your information to the hospital and if you meet the qualifications, you are usually offered a job immediately. With that being said, you may not have the opportunity to request time off and your schedule will likely be all over the place to fill in for the needs of the hospital you will be working at. If you need a few days off during the contract for whatever reason, make that very clear to your recruiter and get it written in the contract, but do not plan to take any extended time off. Also, prepare for the chance of a cancellation in the middle of your contract. This happens pretty frequently with crisis contracts. If the situation improves and the hospital no longer needs travelers, they can cancel you with barely any notice. Hospitals can also cut the pay for travelers in the middle of the contract as well. Usually hospitals will keep a few travelers around after the crisis weans down, so if you want to be selected to stay, make yourself stand out by being flexible, having a good attitude, always showing up on time, and going above and beyond to help out. Always have some money saved up in case you have to take a few weeks off to find another job.
5. Make sure you take care of yourself
If you accept a crisis contract, you will likely be working in tough conditions as mentioned before. This can be traumatic and very physically taxing on your body and mind. Make sure to utilize your days off for some self-care. Take time to get outside, call and catch up with friends and family, exercise, rest and have a lazy day, journal, meditate, etc. Whatever self-care and decompressing looks like for you, implement it into your daily routine. If you find yourself feeling stressed, depressed, or burnt out, be honest about it. Ask your travel company if they offer employee assistance programs for mental health. Just remember that YOU are so important and you will not be able to perform at your job or in your life if you burn yourself out.
Overall, crisis contracts can be a great opportunity to make really good money and gain new skills. The biggest takeaway is to be flexible and ready to accept a challenge. Working crisis contracts also looks good on a resume. You will become very knowledgeable and stronger as a person from working in a crisis, so look at the glass half full even when you face difficulties and constant change.
Happy traveling everyone and best of luck during this COVID surge. Take care of yourselves and be safe!
Written By: Courtney Aragon, MedVenturist and ER Travel Nurse