Travel nurses can cash in at more than $3,000 per week

BY Sydney LakeSeptember 23, 2022, 1:42 PM
Passengers check-in for their flights on American Airlines at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, New York, as seen in September 2022. (Photo by James Carbone—Newsday RM/Getty Images)

Nursing shortages have reached “crisis levels,” according to a 2022 report by health care company Relias. In 2021, nurse turnover rates stood at 22%, four percentage points higher than in 2019. Plus, job vacancy rates for registered nurses was nearly 10%, further adding to the industry’s woes.

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.

“We are currently in a candidate-driven market in which nurses have more negotiating power than they used to,” Katelyn Harris, director of client development at Vivian Health, a national health care hiring platform, tells Fortune. And that could further boost the paychecks for nurses. The median salary for registered nurses in 2021 was $77,600, figures from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics show. Nurse practitioners, who typically need a master’s degree to practice, however, make a mean salary of $118,040.

Another lucrative career path is travel nursing. These nurses take temporary assignments in high-demand areas—and can make even higher salaries than other worker people in the field. Travel nurses typically work with staffing agencies to land assignments and often work in specialty areas like psychiatry, dermatology, aesthetics, and fertility. 

“The more specialized they get, the higher their rate can be,” Jon M. Guidi, CEO of HealthCare Recruiters International, previously told Fortune. “The more things the hospital or clinic can have a nurse do that doesn’t require a doctor, the more valuable they are to that organization—and the more they’re going to pay them.”

What’s more, as we enter cold and flu season, the need for nurses in high-need areas will stay steady. “We expect travel nurse rates to at least stay where they are, if not rise incrementally over the next few months as flu season heats up,” Harris says.

How much travel nurses can earn

The national average for travel nurse pay in August 2022 was $3,045 per week, according to Vivian Health. Assuming these travel nurses earn roughly the same amount per week throughout the year, this translates to salaries in excess of $158,000—or more than double the average salary for registered nurses and roughly 30% more than nurse practitioners.

“Travel nurses make more in total compensation than permanent or staff nurses because they have to pay for temporary housing when they are on assignment,” Harris says. “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.”

While travel nursing salaries are higher than those of registered nurses and nurse practitioners, there’s been a slight decline in the past year. In August 2022, travel nurses were making a weekly average salary of $3,270, which shows a 7.4% year-over-year decrease. 

“This is because, last year, the omicron variant was running rampant, resulting in higher compensation during that critical period,” Harris adds. “However, we don’t expect rates to drop to pre-COVID levels because there is still a nursing shortage and flu season that drive the need for temporary labor.”

The hottest markets for travel nurses

The top five highest-paying states for travel nurses in August 2022 were California, New Jersey, Oregon, Alaska, and Minnesota, according to Vivian Health’s data. New Jersey, Alaska, and Minnesota all saw year-over-year increases in weekly travel nursing salaries, but California and Oregon actually saw small drops in weekly rates. 

States with the biggest declines in compensation were Florida (40.91%), Arizona (37.98%), and Georgia (26.61%). Alaska, Delaware, and Hawaii saw the biggest jumps, however. Nurses in these three states made well above the national weekly average salary in August 2022. 

By comparison, registered nurses (not specifically travel nurses) make the most in California ($124,000), Hawaii ($106,530), Oregon ($98,630), Washington, D.C. ($98,540), and Alaska ($97,230), according to U.S. Department of Labor Statistics data

“Overall, we would expect less volatility in compensation trends over the next year or two as hospitals attempt to keep labor costs predictable by hiring more permanent staff,” Harris adds. “They are focused on compensating their permanent staff fairly, so that pulls from the contingent labor budget.”

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s degree programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public health, and business analytics, as well as the doctorate in education programs MBA programs (part-time, executive, full-time, and online).