While the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly exposed talent shortages in the health care industry, signs point to a continued need to fill nursing jobs. In fact, nursing shortages have reached “crisis levels” according to a 2022 report by health care company Relias. Turnover rates for nurses are rising, standing at roughly 22% in 2022—plus nursing jobs take about three months to fill on average, according to the report.
Travel nurse salaries float around $200K as staffing crisis continuesBY Sydney LakeNovember 17, 2022, 2:04 PM
To fill roles more quickly, many health care companies, hospitals, and private practices resort to hiring travel nurses who take temporary assignments in high demand areas. These nurses come with a premium, and often make higher salaries than other workers in the field. Travel nurses typically work with staffing agencies to find assignments and often work in specialty areas, including psychiatry, dermatology, aesthetics, and fertility.
During the pandemic, salaries for travel nurses surged to as much as $10,000 per week, according to reports, and they can still earn more than $3,000, on average. The national average for travel nurse pay in October 2022 was $3,080, down about 18% from a year ago, according to a report from Vivian Health, a national health care hiring platform. The year-over-year drop in travel nurse salaries can be attributed to the fact that nurses were in higher demand last year during the spikes in COVID-19 variants, experts agree.
“The decreasing travel rates were caused by a decrease in demand as the Omicron wave subsided, and by health systems’ incremental success in recruiting nurses back to direct employment roles,” a spokesperson from Vivian Health tells Fortune. “It is also worth noting that some COVID-era federal funding designed to support increased labor costs due to travel nursing ended in spring 2022, further reducing health systems’ financial flexibility.”
Even with the decrease, travel nurses can make nearly $200,000 per year, assuming a weekly rate of $3,080. Meanwhile, salaries for full-time nurses have been steadily increasing, according to Vivian Health. The median salaries for registered nurses and nurse practitioners in 2021 was $77,600 and $120,680, respectively, U.S. Department of Labor Statistics data shows. As both the demand and need for nurses continues to rise, “nurses are in an excellent position to negotiate better salaries, benefits, and working conditions,” according to the Relias report.
For travel nurses in particular, their salaries may be more variable than the weekly rate implies. Travel nurse contracts typically last 13 weeks with no commitment to extend, “so travel nurses may have gaps between assignments while they seek their next facility,” a spokesperson from Vivian Health tells Fortune.
Why travel nurses get paid a premium
The nursing workforce is in dire need of talent. In fact, the number of registered nurses decreased by more than 100,000 between 2020 and 2021, according to an April 2022 workforce analysis report. That’s the largest drop in nursing talent in the past four decades, the report shows. And nurses under the age of 35 are leaving the industry in droves.
“A sustained reduction in the number of younger age RNs would raise ominous implications for the future workforce,” according to the report, A Worrisome Drop In The Number Of Young Nurses. “Because RNs typically remain working in nursing over their career, a reduction of younger RNs in the workforce would exert an impact that is felt over a generation.”
Aside from supply and demand, travel nurses also make more in total compensation than staff nurses because they have to pay for temporary housing while they’re on assignment, Katelyn Harris, director of client development at Vivian Health, previously told Fortune.
“It’s also expected that travel nurses have at least one or two solid years of experience under their belts, so we tend to see more senior nurses traveling, which translates to higher wages,” she added.
How to become a travel nurse
Travel nursing jobs are available for both registered nurses and nurse practitioners. To become a certified registered nurse, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To become a nurse practitioner requires more specialized training because these health care professionals have the power to diagnose and treat illnesses as well as prescribe medications. These nurses must earn at least a master’s degree in the field; they also have to be licensed in their state and pass a national certification exam.
Many master’s degree programs in nursing can now be completed online. Top schools like Georgetown University and The Ohio State University offer these programs to nurses who have earned a bachelor’s degree in the field. These programs also prepare students for the required certification and licensure exams.
Check out all of Fortune’s rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.