Getting to the heart of travel healthcare.

A podcast hosted by Sunny & Matt

Podcast Transcript


We welcome Jeff West of Aureus Medical to Cardium Podcast to talk about the travel healthcare job market during the COVID-19 pandemic. He and Matt discuss the current state and what travel nurses and allied health professionals can and should do now.

The Pandemic Job Market in Travel Healthcare

May 27, 2020


Voiceover: Welcome to Cardium from Aureus Medical, the podcast that gets to the heart of travel healthcare and asks, what's your why? With each episode, we explore the topics and issues that impact healthcare professionals in the fields of nursing and allied health. Now, here are your hosts, Sunny and Matt.

Matt: Welcome to another episode of Cardium. If you're a subscriber, welcome back. Thank you for being part of our Cardium family. If you're a new listener, thanks for stopping by. We hope you enjoy this podcast, and we would love for you to subscribe so you can enjoy our future podcasts. Normally joining me is Sunny. She is not joining me today. She is out of the podcast world for this podcast. But I have a return guest joining me, Mr. Jeff West. Jeff, welcome back.

Jeff: Hey thanks, Matt. Thanks for having me.

Matt: Yeah. It's good to have a return guest, and you were popular on your first podcast. So I'm glad you're back joining me today. Jeff, as a reminder for our audience, could you kind of give a brief about who you are, what you do?

Jeff: Yeah, for sure. I'm a regional manager in our nursing division, and I just celebrated 15 years over the weekend. May 16th was the only anniversary date there. So in the industry for 15 years. I do need to give a little disclaimer here. As everyone knows, I'm sure we're all at home. So my wife is at work right now. She still has to go into work. So I'm at home with the kids and the dogs. So if there are some interruptions here, just disregard. I'll lay down the law as needed, and we'll keep pushing forward.

Matt: I love it. I love it, Jeff. Well, yeah. Welcome back. It's so timely that we're talking about your years of experience because today's podcast, we're going to be talking a little bit about his state of the market. As you had mentioned, at this point of the recording, we're right in the middle of dealing with something that's pretty crazy in the world of pandemic and affecting a lot of people personally, a lot of people professionally, specifically to the travel industry, the medical professional travel industry, really shaking things up quite a bit. So I'm excited to get your insight from the nursing side of the spectrum, what you guys are experiencing there. Hopefully, I can lend a little bit of insight on the allied health side of the world as well because I think there's some real different dynamics that are happening even as we speak, and things are changing darn near daily.

Matt: So I'm excited that we're going to kind of peel some of the layers back about what we're seeing. So currently, maybe Jeff, you can kind of describe the market, what you're seeing in the travel market from that the nursing side of the world.

Jeff: Yeah, right now, as of today, with the elective surgeries coming back, we have started to see in pockets of the US where those are starting to open up a little bit more frequently. We're starting to see OR needs, sterile process needs, OR tech needs, PACU needs. Obviously, following with those ICU and med surge starting to trickle in more than what we've been seeing the past couple months or past couple weeks, I'm sorry. So Matt, as you know, it's an extremely fluid situation. But with the opening up of the states and the elective surgery starting to open up, we're starting to see more needs come through than what we have seen the past couple of weeks.

Jeff: So we're nowhere near where we were. It'll take a long time to get back there. But with the states opening up and surgeries opening up, we have seen a slight increase in some of those needs in some particular states.

Matt: Yeah. I think what you said, the fluidity of it really does show that it depends on what sector you're in you. On the allied health side, to kind of give, again, some perspective to the audience, it depends on where you're listening to the podcast. Right now, allied health is darn near to stand still for staffing. People that are in the travel industry for allied health, whether you're in therapy or the imaging laboratory or cardiopulmonary, you are seeing that there is not a lot of new jobs opening up. I think the result of that is because of the electives, just not there quite yet.

Matt: A lot of the thought is that with the rapid increase in COVID across the country, that we would see a V-type shape of recovery, where we would hit some type of low, and then we would see states start to come back around with people getting back out there, being able to go back to the doctor, go back to getting that elective procedure done, that we would see a V-type recovery. The velocity would be essentially rapid increase. So the job market would pick back up. We are just not seeing that.

Matt: So as of right now, allied health is still pretty stagnant. I think that would be across the board. Regionally, I don't think any region, unlike seasonality, which this industry does see in certain parts of the country, that is not the case. Every corner of the country is seeing a real slowdown for allied health. Now, if there's a good news, and maybe we'll talk about the good news about what we see as next, especially after your 15 years in the industry and once you guys are seeing out there.

Matt: I think it'd be really important to talk about, what should a nurse, what should a healthcare professional be doing now if they want to continue to travel, if they've never traveled before, or they're thinking about traveling, they're thinking about the crisis? I think there's a lot of things that we could talk about there. So let's talk about those professionals out there, Jeff, about somebody who was maybe out of a job now, what should they be doing?

Jeff: Well, I think it's very, very important to remain very open and flexible. The number of jobs that we have today compared to the number of jobs that we had really for years and years prior is drastically down. So I think it's very, very important that we saw this swing in the market. We had an influx in needs to help out the initial COVID timeframe, which was kind of late March, early April, and we saw some crisis needs and a lot of the OR candidates and their contracts that got canceled.

Jeff: The ER, ICU, tele stepped down. Med surge, we saw a temporary increase in those needs that went away pretty quickly, and the shorter contracts were available. Now, it seems six, eight weeks later, job orders are down across the board compared to historical norms in the past. It's very, very important to be as open and flexible as possible because instead of maybe having five, 10 candidates submitted to any job where they may be open for a day or two, right now, what we're seeing as of today, as it... Again, this is a very fluid situation…

Matt: Sure.

Jeff: ... some jobs are open and going on hold within 10 minutes of us seeing the job order, which is crazy. So it's very, very important to the recruiters and account managers that you have good relationships with have very, very in-depth conversations about what you'd be open to, how flexible you are, start dates, the take home, all of the things that you're looking for shift and making sure that you're having those conversations so you can really take advantage of the speed to market when the job's open to when they go on hold because they are going on hold and closing extremely quick because our job orders relatively speaking across the board are down, and the candidate pool is up.

Jeff: Now, again, this can change in a few weeks or a month. But as of today, that's the advice I would give to all the candidates out there looking for jobs is be as open and as flexible as possible and really trust your recruiter, account manager in those conversations and be submitted out to as many jobs as possible just simply because of where the market is as of today.

Matt: Yeah. I think really, you've hit a lot of points. We've always said the relationship that a person has with their recruiter is important. Despite the market, it's still very important. Having those conversations really setting the upfront expectations from the recruiter is going to be vital. But also, that recruiter really needs to know from a candidate side of the world that, where is my nurse or medical technologist or a therapist? Where are they willing to go? Are they willing to maybe open up some of their preferences where they weren't so much? They didn't know about the Northwest because they'd never been up there, but now they might be a little bit more open.

Matt: I think having those upfront conversations with a recruiter is extremely important. Let's face it, you've kind of got to know, and I think from your experience, you know that every job has a different type of package put together. You have to kind of know where you sit with, what are you willing to go and work for at a certain geographic location. I think that having those conversations and being very clear with what you will and won't do, I think is ultra vital.

Matt: I think right now, you're seeing the recruiters that are... To your point, there is a lot more candidates on the market looking for jobs. Those recruiters, they want to help everybody, and they're going to try to help everybody, but there's not the jobs out there to help everybody. So you've got to work with the folks that are probably easy to work with, receptive, responsive when there's a conversation, an interview with a client. There's a lot going on there. So I think that relationship is hugely important.

Matt: To your point, the job market, maybe you're opening up to other areas and being very considerate of that. I think that goes a long way. Talking about people that were looking to travel, maybe they traveled in the past, or they were looking to get into the industry where they're looking at doing some contracts. What about the folks that are currently on assignment? They may have helped out in the crisis, and they've stayed at that client or they're in the middle of an assignment through all of this stuff? I know what advice I would give to candidates as a recruiter. But I'm curious, from your point of view, what advice would you give to folks that are already traveling, they're already there helping out at a department, they're helping out hospitals and patients?

Jeff: I think a couple things that come to mind instantly is continue that relationship with your recruiter and talking about what you're seeing in the current market and the current state that you're seeing in the hospital that you're working in. I think as a recruiter, account manager, those conversations were extremely beneficial and extremely, they paid off because if the COVID patients or census in those particular hospitals where you may be working right now is up or going down or decreasing drastically, then that helps the recruiters, account managers have those conversations with the hospitals on your length of contract.

Jeff: I know that there's been some that have been canceled. The more we know, the faster we can be proactive and helping you out and helping you stay on contract and stay employed and keep a job. If the census is going up or staying steady, it's always a great time to ask for an extension. We always start talking about extensions sometimes before the contract starts. If it's a place in a location where you can see yourself staying in longer than three months, then start talking about... When you interview, ask about, "Hey, how many travelers typically usually extend on that unit?" Put the plugin early, because it can be very beneficial. If say they have six travelers on a unit there, and they're planning on keeping three, and you really want to stay, you want to be three of those six that stay.

Jeff: So obviously, work performance is huge and doing a great job on the assignment. But sometimes it comes down to the first people that ask for the extension, and they're the ones that get it. So that'd be my first thing is keep that conversation up with the recruiters and your account manager and their relationship so we can be as proactive as possible in keeping you employed as long as possible.

Jeff: The second thing I think is stay positive with everything going on. Some hospitals are extremely busy, and thank you from... I know Matt, you echo me when we say thank you from the bottom of our heart of being on the front lines and helping these hospitals in our nation and world really battle through this time. Staying positive sometime is the best and only thing that can kind of get you through a tough day and knowing that we're here for you, we're here to support you, and the medical field as a whole, all of us included, with the recruiters account managers and everyone working in the hospitals, we're all one team helping everyone through it.

Jeff: So I think those would be my two biggest things, having open and honest communication, and then staying positive and being at the forefront of leading the charge through this unprecedented pandemic. It's been a hundred years since something like this. None of us have been through it before. So I think it's very important we stay together and band as a team and to continue to push through.

Matt: Yeah. I think that you hit a lot there, Jeff. I would echo the importance of that communication with the recruiter. I think you're right. The value add of your work performance is going to weigh pretty heavily. Are you accepting to making sure that you're learning what you can on the unit and making sure that you are stepping up when you're asked to step up and stepping up, even not when you're asked to step up. The value of asking for an extension, a lot of the people listening out there, they know they're on the front lines. They can see. They can get a sense and feel for what's happening in the hospital. Then they can also see the census, what's happening there, where the unit or the hospital itself is headed. There's a huge value there.

Matt: All of the core of that is really good communication with their recruiters. It seems like when times are the best of times, it's really easy to maybe take for granted that there will be another job when this one is over. That's probably not as easy to assume anymore. We don't know how long this will be either. Right? I know when we opened up, starting to see electives come back a little bit on the nursing side, but you just never know. So that communication is hugely important.

Matt: I want to talk a little bit about other things that people can do. Maybe your final was cut short and you're at home. Maybe your assignment was ending soon, and you don't have another one lined up. I personally look at, is this a time to really go back and fully vet my resume? Is this something where I can say, "Okay, if I really put my best foot forward when it comes to all those assignments I've done or all those places I've worked"? Can you reach in that database of yours there, Jeff, and think of other things people can be doing?

Matt: Maybe when it's not the most opportune time for jobs, but things that they can be doing, so when the jobs are there, they are really representing themselves as best they can.

Jeff: Yeah. I think if you currently are not working, continue your search. I think it's very, very important to continue that search and keep your skills up. As you know, Matt, I mean, typically, and I assume it's probably the same on the allied side, if you've been out of work for upwards of five, six months, it's really hard to get back into it.

Matt: It is. Yep.

Jeff: I'm [inaudible 00:17:32] when you're submit over for a job, if there's someone with recent work history, comparable experience, but someone's worked recently and the other candidate's been out for four or five, six months, that could be the difference between getting a job or not. So a huge suggestion of mine would be to continue working. If you can go back to your home hospital while you continue your search, pick up PRN shifts, I know that a lot of places are doing the testing sites in parking lots throughout the cities. I mean, continue staying in the market, continue to stay in the field, continue to hone in your skills and always be growing as a medical professional because again, that might come down to getting a job in the future or not.

Jeff: So that would be my first suggestion is try to find some sort of work if at all possible, and try to avoid the taking multiple months consecutively off just because of that job market and the competitive nature of that. Then also, if you have contracts in the past that you've done, a lot of you guys out there, a lot of listeners, you guys have been traveling for years and years. So you've had great contracts where you really enjoyed yourself. You extended on those contracts. Reach out to some of those managers. See if you can create your own job. I think that's a good thing to do because anytime someone has a job posted and they see a familiar name come through, a lot of times they'll say, "You know what, they were great. I want that traveler back."

Jeff: So you can really go to bat for yourself. If there is a need out there at a place where you've been in the past, I'd reach out to your account manager recruiter and see if you can kind of create a job because that's a big deal right now just with our job flowing. If you can get in as one-up over some of the other travelers that are your competition, sometimes I think that's a huge opportunity.

Jeff: Then, like we said, touch on again, that open and honest communication with your account manager, recruiter and just being a little bit more flexible. If you typically take X for take home on contracts, knowing, you know what, I would accept something for a little bit less, and here's kind of where I need to make ends meet and really working through that just so you have the best chance to stay employed.

Matt: Yeah. I couldn't agree with you more. There's just so many things that it's the little things that you don't normally have to think of in a different market, and now you kind of have to. But boy, once you get in, especially you start talking to some of these folks who have done three, four, or five assignments, they've done an outstanding job. They liked the personnel. They liked the area and able to open up that door back again, especially if they left on really terms from that assignment. So there's a lot of things there.

Matt: So much of these conversations come back down to really good communication with that recruiter and knowing where you stand and what you will and won't do or what you can and can't do. I think that that just cannot be said enough. I think that's a little bit different than what people have seen in the last four or five years. So that will be different. But I think as quickly as this thing came on, people have to probably look at adjusting just as quick.

Matt: I know that you and I would love to know the answer to this question. So I ask it with a little bit of apprehension. So I don't want anybody to hold us to it because as much as we'd love to know what the future holds, we certainly couldn't have predicted this, what's happening in the world now, and nor can we predict the future. But given what you're seeing now, as of today, what do you see as next on the nursing side. Then I'll probably, if it's different or whatever on the allied side, I'll probably offer up. But what do you see, Jeff, as we look at running out the rest of 2020 here, the year that is turning out to be super strange? What are the next six or seven months looking like in your estimation?

Jeff: Don't hold me to this, Matt. This is-

Matt: Oh, no. No. Disclaimer. You are not an expert, nor can you see the future. So we'll put a big disclaimer on that. But yeah, just given the velocity of how rapidly the world changed and then given the current market that you guys are seeing now and kind of what you're hearing from some of the clients out there and some of the bigger clients out there.

Jeff: Yeah. Well, first of all, my prediction is that Roger Goodell will find a way to have the NFL season.

Matt: Agreed. I agree.

Jeff: He will find a way. I don't know how. But he'll do it. I think that it's obviously extremely unpredictable, and it will be very unpredictable just in different pockets of the United States, just as it was coming in. You know what I mean? You saw some of the coastal cities, Seattle and New York city and some others that were hit extremely hard early on. It was very crazy, and there were some other towns. Matt and I, we live here in Omaha, and Omaha situation is totally different, although we had cases, and testing is now on the rise. But our hospitals, to my knowledge, they were not extremely overwhelmed, and we had enough beds.

Jeff: So it will vary place to place, city to city, state to state, region to region. But my opinion on just the ebbs and flows of it coming back, I think that the surgery's ramping up is a good sign for our market because that means that more patients will be in the hospital and getting the surgeries done that they need to get done, that they possibly may have put off for two months. So I would think that ORs would not only get those people that were off for two months, and now they're going back to the elective surgeries, and there may be some of those patients that they had stuff planned already for June 15th, and that never got rescheduled. So now they have more cases on June 15th, for example, because the past two months are in there.

Jeff: A small caveat in that what is, how many people do not have insurance now versus three months ago because they don't have a job anymore? So I think that will well impact whether maybe those people don't get elective surgeries done because they don't have insurance. So I think that will impact the number of people and the number of surgeries that come back. Just from what I've been seeing over the last month or a week or two, I think some people in the US are getting cabin fever. I think some people are just... They've been locked down and in social distancing so long. They're ready to get out there and go. There is a risk that is involved with that. But you see that more and more just around where we're at.

Jeff: From what I've seen on some of the news stations, I think that states are opening up. So with that, you're going to get possibly increased cases, possibly more patients but eking back into closer to normalcy. That's going to take months and months, and it may take into 2021. I wouldn't be surprised if a year from now, we're still talking about kind of getting back to "normal" if whatever normal means in say November of 2019. So it's going to take a long time. But I do feel like we have seen the bottom of the market in... I'm just looking at number of job orders, I would say, is probably the best way to gauge that, and I think that it will continue to increase slightly here as we get into the latter half of the year.

Jeff: I really think that when you combine flu season with the COVID stuff next winter, I really think that we could see a huge influx of needs.

Matt: Yeah. I think if any time really points out the differences of our industry, it's probably now. From the allied health side of the world, the world where I grew up in the industry, I think what you're seeing now, I think the road to recovery is going to be slow. I don't see a return to pre-COVID 2020 numbers this year. I think it really... I agree with what you said about people looking at electives. They're coming back to it, which is good for the folks that need it. I think that that's fantastic that they can get the care that they need. I think allied health is going to be a little bit slower return than nursing. I think now more than ever, it's really going to highlight the flexibility of folks that want to be in the travel industry.

Matt: I think that that's a good thing, and it's a challenging thing too. So I think that if I were to predict which again, we qualify, we're not predicting anything, but just based on what we see, I think patience and keeping your options open, good communication is going to be the name of the game for the remainder of 2020 in allied health. Now, when it comes to allied health, it gets cornered as allied health, but there's lots in there, yeah, you could see a recovery in imaging before you see it in the laboratory. You could see a recovery in cardiopulmonary because of the needs because of the flu season. That's inevitably going to come up at the end of this year and possibly continue on with the COVID challenge. So there might be pockets of the allied world that would see a recovery quicker than others.

Matt: Physical therapy itself, PT, OTs have seen a challenge with billing PDPM, PDGM. So this is just another layer that those folks have had to deal with. So I think they were kind of reeling from that anyway. I think this just adds another element to that. So therapy might be a world that just does not see a rapid recovery to, like you said, Jeff, a normal, whatever normal is anymore. But nonetheless, there's still lots of people that are looking to retire. There's still lots of people that need care. I think it's just a matter of when they can receive that care, when they can receive that help that they need from the healthcare professionals.

Matt: So I think that it will come back. It's just a matter of time and time as patients. I think as rapidly as this thing happened, I think people are expecting a rapid return, and I think that we are just going to have to be very patient with that rapid return. You're a super busy man. I know that you've got your coworkers there that are helping folks try to find jobs. Sunny and I always like to leave on, what's your why moment? I think it'd be appropriate for both of us to kind of give a, what's your why? But I'd like to ask you, Jeff, before I let you go, what's your why, but what's your why specific to the world that we're living in right now? What's your why to the... Obviously, you're concerned with not only your family, but your teammates that you work with, their families. I say teammates. It's the travelers out there in the field, as well as your internal recruiter team that you work with. How is your why maybe a little bit different now, given the world that we're living in?

Jeff: Well, I know that when we talked with the team, what, mid-March, second week of March when everyone went remote. When we told everyone that we are going to work from home, and we started seeing a lot of these crisis job orders come in, I told everyone, I said, "There are a lot of professions out there that they aren't in the medical field, and there's not much they can do to help the situation." I said, "We're in a very, very unique spot." We recruit nurses, and a lot of hospitals at that time, mid-March, needed a lot of nurses and a lot of help.

Jeff: Being part of the solution and being part of that and helping hospitals, helping patients that came in during that initial big influx of the coronavirus, that was really, really cool that help because there's a lot of a lot of jobs and positions that you didn't have an opportunity besides maybe helping financially or supporting local, stuff like that. But we really helped some of those hospitals nationwide provide staff, and when you think, "Gosh, I helped that patient because of the ICU nurse that we got there in a week and all the patients that we helped."

Jeff: Yeah. That was really cool, which is... It kind of brought together obviously the all encompassing why of what we do is to help hospitals deliver the best patient care possible. That was a cool opportunity that I know a lot of our account managers, recruiters really the enjoyed for, I guess, lack of a better term, because they could really be part of the solution. Right now, I think the why is continue to stay safe, stay positive. I mean, really embrace the chance that you have to be at home with your kids. You may have heard a door slam. My daughter just asked for her a fourth fruit by the foot of the day. I told her no, and she slammed a door.

Jeff: So really embrace those times once you love and find the positive of this unprecedented situation you have. It's simplified. All the activities are done. So it seems like we're home and around family all the time. Embrace your loved ones and enjoy that time you have with them.

Matt: Yeah. That's great, Jeff. You said it very well. I won't even try to follow up with anything nearly as eloquent. But I will tell you that I think now for my specific why for me, it really highlights the need to have folks ready to help when help is needed. It's not always visible. When things are easy, it's easy to take for granted the world that we live in. Economy is great. There's lots of jobs out there. People are picking and choosing where they want to go. It's times like this where, at least in the allied side of the world, we've got to try to find the very best match for the very best folks because they're out there, and they're going to be working with loved ones, working with patients that have loved ones.

Matt: There's concern about care, and are they getting the proper care, and what's going to happen when they get to the hospitals so that they have the very best people there? So if now more than ever is a time for at least the travel industry where we're providing the best type of experience to the candidate and the best type of experienced people in the form of travelers to our clients, that's a big task and something that none of us take lightly. On top of all that layering all the stress of home and life and kids' school and all the other things and being worried about even going to the grocery store, there's just so much to it.

Matt: So I think that the why is now more highlighted than ever for us, that we have a job to do. Yes, we're not taking care of patients. Absolutely not. We don't have that ability or skill set. But we certainly have the ability to work with folks that are going to be taking care of patients, and it's going to affect a lot of people in their lives. So yes, a very interesting world. Well, my friend, I think that's going to wrap it up for today. Any other parting words before we get out of here?

Jeff: No. I appreciate the time. Thanks for inviting me, Matt. It's been fun. We'll have to do it again.

Matt: Yeah. Thanks for coming back. As Jeff had mentioned earlier, thank you to all the healthcare workers out there, whether you're a contract traveler, you're a permanent personnel, nurse, or allied health physicians, or otherwise, thank you for what you do. You're fighting the good fight on the front lines. From all of us here, we really do appreciate it, and the Cardium family appreciates what you do. So thank you very much. That's going to wrap up today's podcast, folks. We would love to hear from you. So please drop us a review. Let us know your thoughts on today's topic, the market, or anything else you'd like to discuss. With that, we'll talk to you folks next time. Very well.

Jeff: Thank you.

Voiceover: You've been listening to Cardium from Aureus Medical, with your host, Sunny and Matt. We are the podcast that gets to the heart of travel healthcare. To subscribe, access show notes, or to learn more visit, or wherever you're listening. Be sure to rate us, review, and subscribe. Thanks for tuning in. Until next time.

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