Travel nurse rates are dropping from the peak of the pandemic. However, market rates for travel nursing are still elevated compared to pre-pandemic rates. It’s still a great time to venture out as a travel nurse.
In this blog, we will discuss how to get the best travel nurse assignments, savvy tips for negotiating your travel pay rate, and what it means for travel nurses when market rates are dropping.
What are travel nursing assignments?
Travel nurse assignments are temporary roles in healthcare settings that staff nurses. Assignments typically last three months but can be as short as a few weeks, or as long as six to twelve months. You can travel nationally, internationally, or locally to find the best travel nurse assignment for you.
Travel nurses work at a variety of healthcare agencies, including:
Home Health Companies
Outpatient Surgery Centers
As a travel nurse, you will work with a travel nurse agency to match with a facility. If necessary, you will then relocate to the job destination to begin working. Many nurses view this as a great change of pace and adventure. If you partner with Health Carousel Travel Nursing, we will guide you every step of the way.
Market rates vary for specialties, with bedside nurses typically making more than outpatient nurses. Urgent staffing positions typically pay more as well.
There are other reasons travel nurses are used to mitigate staffing shortages. These include:
Electronic medical record (EMR) conversions, when there is a hospital-wide switch in electronic charting systems
Maternity leave, vacation, and sick time coverage
Hard-to-fill positions and specialties
Upswings in flu season or pandemic illnesses
Staffing support to fill holes in scheduling
As a travel nursing agency, Health Carousel Travel Nursing hires travel nurses for urgent roles, such as:
Disaster relief nursing
Whatever the reason, you are there to help the facility with your skills and expertise as a travel nurse.
How are travel nurse assignments chosen?
Ultimately, travel nurse assignments are chosen by you, the traveler! There are a few items to take into consideration when choosing a travel nursing assignment.
Flexibility for destination and experience
Decide where you want to be. Is it your soul’s desire to surf on the island shores of Hawai’i? Do you dream of hiking the dusty deserts of Arizona or New Mexico? Are you charmed by the rainbow foliage of a New England fall?
A good strategy to get to this dream destination starts with flexibility. This is how you can bolster your travel nurse resume. It prepares you for more idyllic opportunities down the road.
For example, when starting off as a traveler, taking an assignment in a small town like Peoria, IL, will give your resume valuable travel experience. This makes your credentials more competitive for assignments in bigger cities, such as Los Angeles.
After your first few assignments, your travel resume will speak for itself.
Most hospitals require 2 years experience but some will accept between 1-2 years in your speciality before traveling. Focus on your nursing ‘niche’- the area of nursing you are passionate about and have worked in extensively. It’s how you become most successful as a travel nurse, and have the best overall experience.
Need for travel nurses: strike and crisis contracts
Travel nursing agencies staff hospitals during strikes and crises. These contracts are typically shorter in length.
Strikes often happen at union hospitals, when a bargaining agreement between the hospital and union is up for renewal. It can also happen when a hospital violates labor laws for nurses. During these times, patients still need care.
Crisis contracts occurred frequently during the pandemic when there was a surge of COVID-19 cases and an influx of hospitalizations. Natural disasters are another reason for crisis contracts. Both of these situations can overwhelm hospital systems and can cause chaos if hospitals aren’t staffed well.
For both strike and crisis nursing, positions often pay higher and are filled quickly. They also require extra flexibility and organization. Make sure your paperwork and licensure are up to date. If you live in a compact state, keep your license unencumbered. You can refer to the National Licensure Compact for a list of compact states for more information.
Travel nurse jobs with higher pay
If you are a highly specialized travel nurse, you’ll likely snag one of these in-demand jobs.
What to look for in the best travel nurse assignments
You can make substantial income as a travel nurse, and create a travel experience exactly suited to your needs. The best part is, you can do this with any specialty.
A few things to consider when choosing the right travel nursing assignment for you:
Cost of living
Travel nurse bonuses
The best travel nurse assignments and best travel nurse agencies both depend on what is best for you. Some nurses are looking for a travel nursing assignment that makes a lot of money. Others are looking for a specific cultural experience.
Many are able to combine both. Keep an open mind and think about the big picture.
Keep in mind the whole picture when you think location
Where do you see yourself as a travel nurse? Some nurses desire solitude and nature on their days off. Other travel nurses thrive in fast-paced city life.
Consider what about the location you want to prioritize. Some travelers want a specific destination to call home for a few months, while other travelers seek to advance their skills at a top-tier medical center.
How can you make more money as a travel nurse, regardless of location?
Consider Country Living
Travel nurse assignments in rural areas often pay a lot more. Since they are usually less sought out, nurses are always needed at these facilities. This reduces the chances of your rate getting cut.
When it comes to the cost of living, prices in rural areas are hard to beat. For example, in North Dakota, the cost of living is 98.2, which is 2.8% below the national cost of living index. A score below 100 means it is below the national average. Average travel nursing salaries in North Dakota range up to $132,068 per year, according to indeed.com. This is well-above the median household income of $67,521 in the U.S., per the 2020 United States Census Bureau.
City Living Can Cost Less
There are a lot of high-income opportunities for travel nurses in big cities. One of the best ways to have affordable housing is to stay with a friend or relative. This offers travel nurses an opportunity to pay off bills they may have from nursing school, mortgages, or car payments.
Many nurses prefer being near long-distance relatives and friends. Plus, having a built-in community is great for beating the travel nurse homesickness. Living with relatives or friends decreases the cost of living, especially in expensive area codes.
Calculating pay rate: make the money work for you
When it comes to choosing a travel nurse agency, it’s imperative to ask for more than just the pay rate. This is because the breakdown of a travel nurse's salary is more complex. It is broken up into sections, some of which are non-taxed.
Ask about specific services and what you want, including:
Base pay rate
Meals and incidentals stipend
Lodging stipend or company-provided lodging
Benefits (medical, dental, 401K, etc.)
These components are often listed in different pay terms, such as a set amount per day for meals and incidentals. Stipends or per diems and are not paid in hourly terms, they are per-day items.This is in addition to an hourly base pay rate. You can still calculate your stipend yourself in hourly terms, too–it’s always good to double-check.
Travel Nurse Bonuses and Referrals
Bonuses and referrals are great ways to pad your paycheck. Most agencies also award referral bonuses. You can also make extra money by asking about travel nurse bonuses. Health Carousel Travel Nursing has a great refer a friend program where you and a friend can both earn $500.
Frequently, travel nurse bonuses are given for completion, extension, or even for signing on. Keep in mind that bonuses are taxed. It’s usually taxed at a higher rate than normal income.
Negotiating your travel contract
Every interaction with a travel nursing agency is a great opportunity to negotiate. Don’t be shy about discussing your strengths and skills as an experienced nurse. Collaborate with your travel nurse recruiter to create the contract you want.
Consider how long you want your contract to be. Think about your plans for the next several months, and use that to help you determine how long you want your contract to be.
Make sure the following are in writing in your travel nurse contract:
The length of the contract, with specific start and end dates
Specific days off (if requested)
Holiday pay rate
Overtime pay rate
Decide what makes sense for your lifestyle, and prioritize it. Be assertive when discussing logistics with your travel agency recruiter.
Why are market rates dropping?
Even though there is a shortage of nursing staff nationwide, some hospitals are cutting travel nurse salaries mid-contract, according to nbcnews.com. This is because COVID relief funding by the government is ending for hospitals. It is likely that the winter will bring another surge of COVID nationwide, according to washingtonpost.com, as new variants continue to mutate and precautions become more lax. As more time passes, experts say people become more vulnerable to the virus due to waning immunity from vaccines and booster shots.
Another reason rates are dropping is because the federal relief funding hospitals were receiving during the pandemic has since been reduced or removed all together and hospitals are reducing costs to a more manageable level.
During the height of the pandemic, travel nurses were making up to $5,000 to $6,000 per week, but they were working between 48 to 60 hours per week. Now, the average travel nursing salaries have dropped to between $2700-$3100 per week. Still, this is higher than travel nurse rates ever were before 2020.
Even before the pandemic, travel nursing rates were better than staff nursing salaries in many areas. If you worked in a state that paid lower wages to nurses, travel nursing may offer financial freedom.
Why travel nursing agencies exist
Travel nursing rates have historically been seasonal and cyclical. Flu season, especially for pediatric travel nurses, increases the opportunities for travel nurse assignments. Contracts skyrocket during the winter months for nearly all specialities. Many travel nurse agencies work with hospitals to fill this need.
Travel nursing began in the 1980s because of nursing shortages and it is anticipated to grow 40% in the coming years. By the end of 2022, there will be a shortage of at least 1.1 million nurses, according to ebenefitnews.com.
All of this supports the continued need for travel nurses.
How a Travel Nurse Agency Can Help
Travel nurse agencies have travel nurse recruiters who place nurses in assignments. At Health Carousel Travel Nursing, we partner with travel nurses and healthcare facilities around the country to place roles that match your expertise and preferences along with the needs of our partners. Find more information on how you can find the best travel nurse assignment and start your new career with Health Carousel Travel Nursing.
Always keep the big picture in mind. Consider cost-effective measures, and collaborate with your travel nurse agency about your travel nurse contract. You can still find the best travel nurse assignment that works for you, even in current market conditions.
Katie Taibl (pronouns: she/they) is a registered pediatric nurse and freelance nurse writer. She has adventured from coast to coast as a travel nurse. She currently resides in Boston with her partner and three cats. In her free time, she enjoys time outdoors and teaching kids the joys of surfing as a surf instructor.
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