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Should I consider Travel Nursing?

Nursing Profession
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The Nursing career is so diverse and full of potential. There are literally hundreds of different options to choose, and if you don’t like one job – you can move on to another. It is also helpful that there is a massive NEED for nurses across the country. Nursing pays pretty well too – the average RN in the USA makes $67,930 per year, or $32.66 per hour.

While this is definitely decent money, nursing is INCREDIBLY difficult – it is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Many nurses work 12+ hours at a time, constantly on their feet putting their patient’s needs above their own. Meanwhile – they get screamed at, puked on, physically threatened, and sometimes even assaulted.

While $67,930 is the national average salary, many rural areas start out much lower than that – many find themselves starting out less than $50,000. This isn’t horrible – but we got bills to pay!

One potentially lucrative option for nurses is to consider travel nursing. If you are young and adventurous, travel nursing is a great option to possibly double or even triple your income.

What is Travel Nursing?

Across the country, hospitals are in dire need of nurses. Some areas are oversaturated with medical professionals, including nurses. However, many areas have a nursing shortage. Hospitals pay travel agency companies to provide them with temporary nurses on a contract basis. Due to the need for nurses, they typically pay these travel nurses more than their staff nurses.

There are hundreds of different travel agencies and locations and limitless potential opportunities. Travel nurses work for their agency and sign temporary contracts with various hospitals or facilities. The standard contract is three 12-hour shifts per week for 13 weeks. Some facilities offer 8-week contracts as well. When you are approaching the end of your contract and IF the facility wants to keep you on board – you can extend your contract.

How Much Can I Expect to Make?

Payment with a travel agency depends on a few factors. First, it depends how far away your permanent residence is from your travel assignment. With most travel agencies, a travel assignment over 50 miles from your permanent residence means that you will receive a travel stipend. This means you will make more money each week – intended to assist you with housing. Your hourly rate will be lower because this is taxed, but a weekly stipend is added on top of your hourly rate for travel expenses, meals, and incidentals. The higher the cost of living in the area, the higher the weekly stipend will be.

If your permanent residence is less than 50 miles, you likely won’t qualify for the travel stipends. This means that you will get a higher hourly rate, but it will all be taxed. This hourly rate is usually still higher than the local average RN hourly rate.

The most important factors in how much money you can make are how desperate the hospital is and where its located. While urban areas tend to make more money, they also have a tendency to have more nurses and less of a need. Sometimes the real money is in the very rural areas where no one seems to want to live permanently. Either way, you can likely expect more money than what you make as a staff RN anywhere there is a travel need.

Additional factors that play into how much you can make include your specialty, which shifts you are willing to work, and your actual travel costs including housing.

Payscale.com lists the average national salary for a travel nurse to be between $45,016 and $106,077. However, this is misleading – I have never heard of a travel nurse only making $45,000 a year – and honestly, it wouldn’t be worth it. However, salary sites like payscale likely don’t factor in the travel stipend, which is most of your money. 

From personal experience and the experience of travel nurse colleagues, I can give you a rough idea of pay. In the urban Northeast with my permanent residence <50 miles (NO travel stipend), I made mid-$40s/hr, while staff nurses in the area made around $35. This worked out to around $1100 take-home per WEEK – or $4400 per month.

Traveling >50 miles in rural areas of the Northeast, you can expect around $1500 per week take-home, or $6,000 per month. As you can see, this is significantly higher than what I made as a “local traveler” ($4,400).

Please note that the above rates do not factor in benefits. Most travel agencies do offer benefits, and you can expect at least $100-300 dollars to be deducted per month depending on the plan you choose. 

Is it Worth it?

Whether or not travel nursing is worth it will really depend on the type of person you are, and your personal situation. Factors which may make it a more valuable option include:

  • No Strings – If you are younger without obligations to a family, traveling may be right up your ally. This frees you up to travel the country and make money doing it. This also increases your experience and will for sure help in your clinical confidence.
  • Low Pay Already – If you work in an area that doesn’t pay very well, travel nursing can really help your income. As I worked in a relatively low-cost of living and had a lower-than-average hourly rate as a staff RN, travel nursing has almost tripled my take-home income from when I started as an RN – working the same amount of hours.
  • Rural Areas – If you are traveling and don’t have anyone to stay with, areas with cheaper cost of living will likely save you money. It helps that these areas typically have a larger need for travel nurses and may offer great rates as well. Traveling in an urban city may get you a higher stipend, but the cost of rent or hotels will be higher as well. Sometimes the housing stipend is increased enough to offset this, but you can likely find HUGE deals on part-time housing in rural areas. 
  • Benefits through Spouse – Not having to pay for benefits through a travel agency is definitely beneficial and can save you hundreds of dollars a month. From my experience, health benefits were cheaper as a staff nurse than as a travel nurse, but not unreasonable. 
  • You have Connections – Networking is key in travel nursing to make the most money. You can stay with friends or family for a free or reduced rate. As long as you are polite, most friends/family won’t mind some company and let you use their spare bedroom. Offering small monetary compensation is a nice way to say thank you.
  • Adventurous and Confident- Travel nursing is really the perfect opportunity to expand your experiences, both in the hospital and out in the real world. Let your Wanderlust take you all around the country, and get paid to do it!

How do I Get Started?

Find an Agency

The first way to get more information is to research a travel agency. Some agencies mainly work locally (within a state or neighboring states), and some find placements across the entire United States. If you think you will want to travel to different states, you may want to look into a national company. One popular company is American Mobile. They pride themselves on being the Nation’s leading travel nurse company, and they really have connections across the United States.

American Mobile, like many other companies, offers competitive pay and benefits which includes medical, dental, and life insurance, a 401K retirement plan, quality housing accommodations, partial expense reimbursement, RN referral bonuses, free nurse CE courses, and general reward/incentive programs. For more information, you can learn more about them at their website. You can find more information, search for current travel jobs, and even apply now.

Get Connected with a Nursing Recruiter

Once you give your company of choice your contact information, a nursing recruiter will likely contact you. They can provide you with all the information you need. Having a good relationship with your recruiter is essential, as they will be your go-to person while you work for the company.

So What are you Waiting for?

If you have an adventurous heart, are confident in your clinical ability, and want more money, travel nursing just might be the perfect opportunity for you! Very few travel nurses regret making the decision. Nursing is HARD WORK – you should get paid well for all the work that you do.

If you have any questions regarding travel nursing, feel free to leave a comment or you can ask via my contact form here.

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