While there are many reasons to become a travel nurse, earning more money is one of the incentives to do so. Pay rates, of course, fluctuate depending on the destination, but generally travel nurses make quite a bit more than permanent staff members. Travel nurse staffing agencies work with a variety of healthcare facilities like hospitals and clinics, that have a high demand for nurses, which means they’re willing to pay more in order to ensure adequate staffing levels or cover leaves of absence.
But travel nurses don’t just earn a higher hourly wage, they enjoy many opportunities to maximize their earnings, including monetary incentives.
For travel nurses looking to make the most money possible, they can choose assignments in the highest paying destinations, rather being stuck to one general area close to home. In states where nurses earn the highest annual salaries and hourly wages, including California, Massachusetts, Oregon, District of Columbia, Alaska, New York, Nevada, New Jersey and Washington State, healthcare travelers can expect to earn more too. Keep in mind that popular vacation destinations like Hawaii often pay lower due to higher housing costs and being more desirable to nurses.
Tax-Free Housing Stipends
If you can secure your own housing, you’ll often make even more money thanks to the tax-free housing stipends. If you can find a place for lower rent, you’ll keep more cash in your bank account. For example, if you’re allotted $2,200 a month for housing, but can find something for just $1,500 a month, you can essentially pocket the rest.
The amount of the housing stipend varies greatly depending on the contract and location. You’ll get quite a bit more in New York City or San Francisco than you would in a sleepy Midwest town. The downside is that it can be difficult to find good cheap housing that’s also short term and furnished. As housing stipends are tax free, providing you travel outside a certain mile range from your legitimate tax home, that can be a big help. One of the best ways to get what you want within your budget is to search through AirBnb, VRBO and HomeAway, and contact each listing that’s reasonably close to your budget directly. Facebook housing groups and referrals from nursing friends might help you turn up that great deal too.
If you can travel with a nursing friend, sibling or spouse, you’ll have two stipends to apply to one place to live, providing the opportunity to rake in a significant amount. Renting a private room can also have you save quite a bit as compared to renting out an entire place for yourself.
Working an In-Demand Specialty
You can increase your pay as a travel nurse even more by working in a speciality that’s in high demand, such as the ER, ICU, Critical Care, OR, NICU or Labor and Delivery. If you have experience in a high-demand specialty, be sure to highlight it on your application and bring it up to your recruiter too. If you obtain specialty certification in that area, you may be able to earn even more.
Working Off Shifts
You’ll make more money if you can be flexible with the shift you work. Night shift assignments are common and pay more too, something to consider if you’re able to function and perform your duties well while working overnight.
Holidays and Overtime
Travel nurses often choose to work holidays to earn pay rates that are frequently one-and-a-half to two times the hourly pay rate. Working extra shifts is yet another way to earn more money. As travel nurse agencies make more money when their travel nurses work overtime, some offer additional bonuses paid for working a certain amount of overtime too.
Consider the Season
Considering the season can make a difference in certain areas of the country subject to weather extremes. For example, while many nurses hope to work in Alaska during the summer, far fewer want to go during the wintertime, which is why you can earn more for braving the cold. Or, if you’re willing to take an assignment in Arizona during extreme summer heat, you can earn more for that too.
The Bottom Line
The key to earning the most money as a travel nurse is to be flexible and have the skills that facilities are in need of the most. Highlight both your flexibility and talents on your application, when speaking to your recruiter, and during interviews, and you’ll have a leg up on your competition while maximizing your earnings.
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