Courageous. Compassionate. Resilient. Empathetic. Selfless

Travel nurses have been at the forefront of the Covid-19 crisis. For all these reasons and more, Staffing Industry Analysts chose the travel nurse as Person of the Year for 2021.

These healthcare professionals have put their own physical and emotional safety at risk by taking on temporary travel assignments to care for victims of this once-in-a-century pandemic that as of this writing has sickened more than 25.3 million people and killed more than 420,000 in the US alone.

The arrival of Covid-19 inundated healthcare systems in the US and across the globe with desperately sick people; unfortunately, there initially was little knowledge on how to treat them. As overwhelmed healthcare providers struggled to treat the multitudes of infected patients, it quickly became apparent that there were not nearly enough resources to handle the outbreaks.

Already in short supply, the pandemic pushed the need for nurses — particularly those trained in ICU and critical care — to a crisis point. Travel nurses became crucial. Demand for ICU registered nurses as a percentage of total demand increased by 143% from the end of February through the beginning of August 2020, according to a report from healthcare staffing firm Aya Healthcare.

With lives on the line, travelers stepped up. They have focused on their medical training, upheld their professionalism and leaned on the strength of each other amidst the craziness the virus has sowed. Some even came out of retirement to help.

Travel nurses are working grueling hours and taking responsibility for more patients than usual — and, at the start of the pandemic, oftentimes without proper protective equipment. In addition to their own well-being, they also carry the concern that their work could endanger their spouses, children or elderly parents. In some cases, they have opted to take on travel assignments to ensure they would be apart from their loved ones to help keep them safe. And adding salt to the wound, sometimes the very patients for whom they are risking their lives did not take recommended precautions like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

Yet, they continue to bring empathy and dignity to the patients under their care. They are often the last person the patient sees, hears and touches before they succumb to the disease. Day after day, they hold the hands of the dying when the families can’t be there.

President Joe Biden said it best at an inauguration event honoring Covid-19 victims: “I mean this from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “If there are any angels in heaven, they’re all nurses.”