Travel nursing experienced massive growth during the Covid-19 pandemic. 90% of hospital executives and leaders utilized travel nurses in 2020. This high demand equated to escalating pay. With the cooling of Covid-19 cases, demand and rates have dropped. While facilities attempt to improve staff retention, the need for travel nurses isn’t going anywhere. The nursing shortage is real; according to The American Nurses Association, more RN jobs are available than any other profession.
While some nurses are returning to full-time staff positions, many continue to travel since travel rates remain higher than staff nursing pay. Though the days of 8K weekly pay may be over, many states still continue to pay some of the highest rates for travel nurses.
This is a common question among nurses. Both nurses take care of the same patients and perform the same duties. But travel nurses uproot their lives (and sometimes families) to move to another state. Plus, they often duplicate expenses, paying rent/mortgage in two places simultaneously. They also do not get the benefits awarded to staff nurses, such as PTO, and may have to carry their own private insurance. Which is all the more reason for the common discussion of the highest-paying states for travel nurses.
According to Indeed.com, the current U.S. travel nurse salary is $127,380 annually, which is $54.59 per hour. When looking for the highest-paying travel nurse jobs, location matters. The following chart is a current ranking of the 50 states from highest to lowest pay that also compares travel nurse pay to staff pay. Other considerations that affect income include the cost of living, 401K and other retirement benefits, and the current staffing demands in that area.
*Information sourced from Indeed.com and accurate as of 11/28/22.
And if you’re looking for a printable version, here are the top 10 highest paying states for travel nurses:
Travel nurses can continue taking advantage of the highest rates by choosing regions experiencing nursing shortages and working in higher-paying specialties.
Metropolitan cities tend to have higher paying wages. You’ll find that California, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Las Vegas tend to maintain the highest rates. This goes hand in hand with demand and a higher cost of living.
Medical-surgical units and long-term care facilities usually pay the least when it comes to travel nursing. To ensure a pay raise over the long term, specializing in a certain area like critical care, OR, emergency department, or cath lab can bring in more money.
Many states are still experiencing high COVID admissions and are paying higher wages to attract more nurses. RSV season hit especially hard this year, and NICU nurses are in high demand to care for pediatric patients. For nurses who are capable of helping in areas of natural disasters or hospitals experiencing severe staffing shortages, the pay will be higher.
Strikes occur when unions and the hospital cannot agree on pay rates, working conditions, and other benefits. In the meantime, patients still require care. Nurses are hired temporarily to fill staffing gaps until staff nurses return to their positions (usually 1-2 weeks max). Strike nursing is controversial in the travel nursing world. Some nurses feel the strike nurses are betraying their own. But the pay is extravagant and hard to pass up, with rates over $100 an hour.
Historically, night shifts pay more than day shifts. This is true for both travel and staff nursing positions. Night shift requires a complete alteration in sleep patterns and how and when you complete daily tasks.
If you have experience as a nurse manager or supervisor and possess an advanced degree, you are well-prepared for a management position. These are not the usual positions travel nurses seek, but they are needed to fill gaps for reasons such as maternity leave or interim coverage until a permanent leader is found.
There are steps you can take on your own to increase your skill set and qualifications to get the highest pay.
The Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) currently includes 38 states. If you have a compact nursing license, you can work in any of these qualifying states without having to apply for a license. This can save time and money when looking for your next assignment.
The following states are included in the eNLC:
Guam and the Virgin Islands are also awaiting implementation.
There are two options for housing: agency-provided housing or a housing stipend. Opting for the housing stipend may take a little legwork on your end, but results in a more ideal living space and added money in your pocket.
Many nursing roles require certifications to qualify for certain positions, such as stroke certification for telemetry nurses and ACLS for emergency or critical care nurses. Consider other credentials that can make you stand out as a superior candidate that may place you in higher-paying travel nursing roles. For example, an Oncology Certified Nurse (ONCC) may be able to land an in-demand job in a chemotherapy infusion center.
While not everyone’s favorite choice, overtime (OT) shifts often pay much higher rates. By law, this is 1.5 times the base pay. Some travel agencies and hospitals pay even more. These high hourly rates can rack up travel nurse pay.
In the end, you have to negotiate for what you deserve. Have a conversation with your recruiter to help place you in positions that meet your goals. Your base rate, OT pay, bonus pay, relocation pay, and other stipends can all be negotiated. You know what they say; unless you ask, the answer is always no.
“Nurses with experience know their value and understand the demand for their skill set,”
noted Lora Sparkman, MHA, BSN, RN, Relias Partner in Clinical Solutions for Patient Safety & Quality.
“There is definitely opportunity for all nurses to negotiate their salary, and that is a real positive for the nursing profession.”
Advantis recruiters want you to find a travel assignment that fits your desired salary. Help us help you by signing up and filling out your AdvantisConnect profile entirely so we can match you with a contract that checks all the boxes.