Crisis nursing is an important part of keeping the U.S. healthcare system functional. During a pandemic or natural disaster, for example, hospitals can find themselves understaffed and exceeding capacity. Crisis nurses fill the immediate need for healthcare workers, taking short-term contracts to support hospitals in need. This vital service often means higher pay, more hands-on experience, and frequent travel.
To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by Maryville University’s Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) program.
What Is a Crisis Nurse?
A crisis nurse takes a short-term contract at a hospital when the facility needs more help. They’re paid well for the intense work they do, and they’re experienced with stressful, fast-paced conditions. An estimated 50,000 travel nurses, such as crisis nurses, currently work across the country, up from 31,000 in 2018, according to Kaiser Health News.
Disasters That Require Crisis Nurses
Several types of disasters can require a hospital to hire crisis nurses, including a pandemic. For example, during COVID-19, many hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of cases filling their beds and hired crisis nurses to help care for the extra patients.
A seasonal surge is another reason why hospitals hire crisis nurses. Travel seasons include popular times for student gatherings, family vacations, large family reunions, and travel among retirees, such as spring or summer break.
Disasters such as terrorist attacks, bombings, earthquakes, and hurricanes also require more help.
Sometimes, rural communities bring nurses in from other locations to mitigate staffing shortages. These shortages aren’t typically tied to a natural disaster or pandemic.
Types of Travel Nurses
A crisis nurse usually takes a contract that lasts a few weeks and stays at one hospital for the duration. These nurses travel to a location to help with a disaster, focusing on those affected by it. Crisis nurses often work under high-risk conditions and may need to have specific skills, such as ICU nursing.
A rapid response nurse may begin work as soon as two days after accepting a contract. The contracts are open-ended because nurses need to stay on location until the need for them subsides. These nurses aren’t always hired for disasters; they may be called on to help with a software update or a sudden influx of non-emergency patients.