How Travel Nursing Jobs & Salaries Evolved Since Pre-COVID

How Travel Nursing Jobs & Salaries Evolved Since Pre-COVID

Temperature scanners. PCR tests. Amazing pay rates for travel nurses.

With year two under the duress of COVID-19 well underway, travel nurses are hard at work across the nation. Media coverage has been rampant in the last year about the record high pay rates travel nurses are being offered in some spots, and while it’s true, not every single travel nursing job will have pay packages that blow your mind.

To better understand the factors that influence travel nursing salaries, let’s take a good look at these different factors.

Experience Requirements for High-Paying Travel RN Jobs

While it’s often true in the world of regular full-time and part-time employment that with more experience comes more money, it isn’t quite so rigidly defined in the world of travel nursing. Salaries for staff nurses are typically set by their experience and over time they receive salary increases by increments in conjunction with performance and longevity.

You don’t have to be widely experienced to be part of our elite medical staffing group, nor is lots of experience necessary to earn the same as an experienced staff nurse. Once a travel nurse has gained two years of experience they possess the same capacity to earn as that of a seasoned travel nurse with 15 years under their belt. Travel nurse pay includes a gross weekly pay or an hourly pay rate, a housing stipend (non-taxed), and often travel reimbursement and a meals and incidentals allowance.

This is one of the reasons young nurses are drawn to the travel nursing industry, the opportunity to gain experience and skill while earning a wage higher than would be possible in a usual staff position in a hospital or facility.

The location has an Even Greater Impact on Travel RN Salaries

The location of your travel nursing contract will impact your pay package greatly. It is in fact probably the most important factor in considering the pay rate for the contract. In most cases, the pay rate is calculated to reflect the cost of living and regional trends of the geographical area in which you have chosen to work.

To be clear, the rate for a travel nurse in an expensive city such as San Francisco or New York City will automatically be higher than that of a city with a lower cost of living such as Springfield, Missouri or Hattiesburg, Mississippi (two of the cheapest cities to live in in the U.S.).

Up until COVID-19, the states that offered the highest pay packages for travel nurses were California, Massachusetts, Washington, New York, and Texas.

Moreover, locations that are considered hot vacation destinations also often offer lower rates for travel nursing contracts. This is less due to a reflection of the cost of living in these areas, and more to do with the fact that there is more competition for these posts. Hundreds of travel nurses want to work for a time in Hawaii, whereas very few are applying for the posts in Alabama, for example.

Your Specific Nursing Specialty or Niche Impacts Pay Rates

Yes, the specialization you have as a travel nurse will impact your pay packages as well. You may well know that the nursing shortages are being exacerbated by the large numbers of nurses entering retirement or nearing retirement age. This is leaving many specialties with fewer numbers in their rank, and therefore hospitals and facilities are offering more competitive pay to fill the gaps.

These are the top-earning specializations right now:

  1. Cardiac Catheterization Lab
  2. Cardiovascular Operating Room
  3. Pediatric Intensive Care Unit
  4. Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit
  5. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – particularly level 3
  6. Oncology

Shift Differentials Garnish Higher Paying Travel RN Jobs

If you’re willing and able to work night shifts, then your opportunities will be greater than otherwise. Many placements pay a higher rate (differential pay) for the night shifts, and those are the shifts that staff nurses typically are less interested in working. If you’ve never worked night shifts, take a look at our post, “Travel Nursing Tips to Handle Night Shifts Like a Pro” to help you prepare.

Crisis or Emergency Response Travel Nursing Jobs

All other factors aside, if you sign on for a crisis or rapid response assignment you can expect a high rate because of the urgency of the situation. However, these assignments shouldn’t be chosen lightly. They won’t offer the same amount of time for planning that other contracts might typically have.

Their very nature, crisis, will mean you’ll need to be prepared to arrive quickly and will stay likely for a shorter period of time than the 13 weeks most travel contracts. These assignments can be for 36 to 48 hours in a week, the 48 hours more lucrative due to the overtime rate earned.

If this type of work contract interests you, you will need to keep your nursing paperwork including license, certifications, and other credentials organized and ready to submit on short notice.

A crisis response assignment is likely a COVID-19 hotspot assignment, but could also be a response to a natural disaster such as forest fires, hurricanes, strikes, or a man-made disaster.

Bonuses for Travel Nurse Referrals or Sign-ons

Travel nursing income can be augmented by bonuses as well. Some travel nurse contracts will advertise bonuses and it is important to clarify from whom the bonus originates. Elite Specialty Staffing offers two different types of bonuses to our travel nurses.

  1. An agency bonus of an additional $2 per hour to all our travel nurses who work 60 hours or more in a two-week pay period.
  2. We also offer a $300 referral bonus to our travel nurses when your referred nurse works $60 hours in the first 90 days of their employment.

Some hospitals will offer a completion bonus, which means the bonus won’t be paid to you until the completion of your contract. These can range widely from $250 all the way up to $5000.

With these factors in mind, you should be able to know better which types of assignments will land you more money. But a word of caution first. Remember, earning the most money isn’t necessarily the most important part of a satisfying travel nurse career. Don’t let the dollar signs distract you from weighing other benefits or detriments of an assignment.

If you’re looking for a new travel nursing assignment, check out our jobs page. Any questions you have regarding salary, housing, and other benefits can be answered by our team of recruiters waiting for your call.