SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Traveling nurses. They are health care's freelancers, reinforcements who have been crucial to helping short-handed nursing staffs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And you probably haven't even heard of them.

While not every short-term, traveling nurse earns big money, big paychecks are possible, especially when health systems are desperate for help. At one point this year, a health system in South Dakota was seeking intensive care, crisis response nurses and offering more than $6,000 a week.

In the latest episode of "The Health Variant" podcast, host and NewsMD Health Correspondent Jeremy Fugleberg talks with Professor Joshua Gottlieb, an associate professor and nursing markets researcher at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, to get some answers about why traveling nurses are so important, and why they can get paid top dollar for what they do.

Also discussed: Gottlieb's proposal to compensate health care workers for providing vaccines, potentially incentivizing them to vaccine more people, extend office hours, and other steps.

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"The Health Variant" digs into health topics important to the region, such as fitness, COVID-19, cannabis and telehealth, introduces listeners to must-know places and people and offers behind-the-scenes reporting.

NewsMD is a Forum Communications brand focusing on health and health care reporting, primarily in the Upper Midwest, including coverage of industry news, research, trends, technology, economic and policy issues.

"The Health Variant" podcast is available on major podcast apps, including:

For comments or podcast episode topic suggestions, contact Fugleberg at or on Twitter: @jayfug.