One of the most pervasive myths in travel healthcare is the potential to earn a six-figure travel nurse salary while jet-setting across the country.
It certainly sounds appealing, and plenty of recruiters or agencies will try to sell you with that exact same message–but do you actually have that much earning potential as a traveler? Here’s our semi-short breakdown of five tips you can follow to earn your way towards $100k.
If you just got off a brutal shift and five tips are way more than you want to read right now, click here to skip to the summary with our take on the issue.
1. Find cold weather, small towns and high-paying states
Earning the most as a traveler often means going where the money leads, regardless of the location or harshness of season weather.
This means you’ll be headed north in the winter, swapping with the “snowbirds” in states like Illinois or Wisconsin to cover gaps in staffing. It can also mean working in small towns and underserved locations that have trouble recruiting travelers, retaining staff nurses or that just aren’t that popular destinations.
Generally, working where people can’t, don’t or won’t will earn you more through potential bonuses and higher pay packages.
You also need to be aware of what state offer routinely high pay packages year-round, like California, Texas and Massachusetts. Peppering in jobs from these states can help boost your earning potential.
2. Work when everyone isn’t
Not many people want to work during the holiday season from November to January, so jumping on a short-term holiday contract is a great way to build your travel nurse salary. Holiday pay typically matches overtime rates.
Speaking of overtime, adding in extra shifts is always an easy way to get more money from a travel assignment, so look for overtime opportunities when you can.
Important note: Make sure you know the exact overtime stipulations of your contract before committing to more hours. Some hospitals may not offer overtime pay that matches up exactly with state laws. Some agencies may offer “blended” bill rates–which has no difference in pay between regular and overtime hours–in states that charge overtime when working more than eight hours a day, as opposed to 40 hours per week. You should be able to discuss these details clearly with your recruiter.
3. Always take the housing stipend
If you’ve established a tax home and are eligible to take a tax-free housing stipend instead of using company housing, taking the stipend means more money in your pocket in most cases.
It can be a bit risky and a huge hassle, since the task of finding housing now lands on your shoulders, but you can often find housing that’s less than the total stipend, letting you save the extra cash. There are tons of online resources (Airbnb is very popular among travelers) to find quick, affordable housing.
You can check the rates for per diems, along with meals and incidentals by state by visiting the General Services Administration website. This shows the maximum rate offered by location, not the general rate, but it can still help you gauge how much you may receive for an assignment.
4. Look for rapid response or strike opportunities
Nurses who stay flexible with their assignments can make great money responding to strikes or other unexpected staffing problems at a hospital. Crisis rate pay packages are often significantly higher than standard, adding up to $10 or more per hour to your pay.
Keep in mind these jobs are fleeting and tough–you may get to the job to find the situation has resolved itself before you’ve even started, and you must have all necessary compliance docs ready at a moment’s notice to jump on job opportunities. You also won’t get tons of flexibility on job shifts, since you’re there to help during a critical period.
Nursing specialties that are more in demand or require extensive training will often pay more. Specialty bill rates between hospitals and agencies range from 2 to 10 percent higher than standard rates, which means higher pay packages overall.
Specialties that commonly see these higher rates are ICU, L&D, CathLab, ER, OR, PICU, NICU and CVICU. Standard rates are associated with more common positions like Medical/Surgical, PSYCH, PEDS and Postpartum.
If you skipped to the bottom, here’s the short answer if you want to make $100,000 a year as a travel nurse.
Work as much as you can; at every available opportunity; in places you may have never wanted to visit; in economical housing; in extreme weather climates; during most holidays; with the lowest amount of downtime possible; in difficult or highly specialized positions. Also ignore the fact that a portion of those wages will go towards insurance, travel, compliance and tax home expenses, regardless of whether they are offered by your agency.
If that’s not an ideal answer, it’s certainly not an ideal situation. There are travel nurses out there who do earn up to $100,000 a year, but they will be the first to tell you it’s not easy.
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