Dollars and Sense: How to Make Top Pay as a Travel Nurse


By Melissa Wirkus, staff writer

Freedom from hospital politics, a flexible schedule and the ability to earn top pay are just a few of the reasons why nurses choose to travel. Travel nursing is an excellent way to utilize your in-demand skills while being paid a generous hourly wage.

Whatever your motivation for taking your skills on the road, travel nursing can be one of the most lucrative and rewarding career choices, especially if are flexible and open to trying new things.

According to industry experts, pay rates vary by a number of factors including location, facility and specialty. Nurses specializing in the critical care sector, such as PICU, CVOR and CVICU tend to make more money due to the nature and condition of their patients.

Travel nursing recruiters also agree that enrolling in continuing education courses and attaining higher education degrees is a great way to earn top pay, because it can help nurses become more specialized in their field, leading to higher pay rates over time.

Short-term, quick-start assignments that range from four to eight weeks in length are another excellent option for nurses to earn top pay regardless of their specialty.

David Lamondin, a placement consultant for travel staffing company NurseChoice, an agency that specializes in quick-start, rapid response travel assignments, said choosing these types of assignments is a great way for nurses to earn a lot of money in a short period of time.

“Due to the rapid response nature of our business, our travel nurses are compensated accordingly. They need to be ready to go very quickly and therefore earn a high hourly rate,” Lamondin said. “They are also guaranteed 48 work hours per week, so they always get at least eight hours of time and a half. It is not unusual for a NurseChoice travel nurse to earn $9000 per month.”

Travel nurses also receive free, private housing or a generous housing subsidy on every travel assignment. Housing options vary from one travel staffing company to another, so it’s a good idea to check out the housing policies of different companies before making any commitments. If a nurse does not choose to live in the housing provided by their travel staffing agency, they may have the option to receive a housing stipend to use at their own discretion.

Some nurses have family or friends who live in the city of their new assignment and choose to stay with them while receiving their housing stipend, which ultimately puts extra money in their pockets every month.

Another way nurses can earn top pay as a traveler is to choose assignments that have completion bonuses. Not all assignments offer these types of bonuses, but they usually range from about $500 to $6,000 for a 13-week assignment. Taking an assignment with a completion bonus can make a significant difference in income.

Catherine Sabater, a placement consultant for NurseChoice said the best advice she can give to nurses looking to make top pay as a traveler is to be as flexible and open-minded as possible.

“Nurses should be flexible and want to travel nationwide, and anxious to make the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time,” she said. “Here at NurseChoice we assist you with attaining licenses for the states you wish to explore and offer great pay.”

According to industry experts, assignments in less desirable locations throughout the U.S., where nurses are less likely to want to explore, also tend to pay more, and nurses will be financially rewarded for taking these hard-to-fill positions.

“We have been able to offer a little bit more travel money to nurses that travel to Alaska because of the difficulty of getting there,” Lamondin said. “For the most part, our pay rates are going to be between $35 and $41 per hour, regardless of where the assignment is.”


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