We’re bringing back our Ask a Recruiter series! This installment features Medical Solutions’ Charity Crawford, a highly experienced career consultant and team lead, fielding a question on travel nurse pay. Take it away, Charity!
Question: What salary can I expect as a travel nurse? What factors determine this rate?
Answer: One of the perks of traveling is the potential for increased salary. Every assignment will have a different pay rate so it’s important to have an understanding how pay works when you are a traveler so you can make appropriate decisions when choosing companies and assignments.
There are multiple factors that determine how much an assignment will pay; here are a few of the big ones:
1) Location, location, location.
Sometimes, the assignments that pay the least are the ones that are the most attractive from a location standpoint. Take Hawaii for example – it’s a beautiful state with plenty to see and do. It’s usually in the top one or two slots on a traveler’s Top 10 Places to Visit list. I mean, come on, it’s Hawaii. However, because of this, the rates are not as high because there is a lot more competition. It’s a location assignment and generally not a huge moneymaker. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t travel to Hawaii, but you should certainly plan, save, and budget accordingly and perhaps take assignments in higher paying, less desirable locations in the meantime so you have enough socked away.
2) Speaking of competition…
Many U.S. states are now part of the Compact (or Multistate) License. This means that many travelers now have compact licenses, so their preferences are typically to work in states that are part of the Compact/Multistate membership. This leaves our friends in places like New York, Washington, New Jersey, etc., struggling a bit more to find nurses. The states that are not part of the Compact membership will often have higher rates to attract nurses to those states. Yes, that could mean that you’d have to pick up a couple licenses. But, talk to your recruiter about reimbursement, and just think about how much less competition you’ll have for those positions.
3) Housing and Benefits
Most agencies have a “bucket” they work out of when it comes to structuring pay packages for travelers. Each traveler tends to have his or her own individual needs for housing, insurance, bonuses, etc. The bucket, then, is divided out to help compensate for those needs. You might be a traveler who needs a two-bedroom high-rise apartment, or you might be someone who is just fine with a Super 8. Either is totally fine, just keep in mind that the more your needs cost, more from the bucket will need to be applied toward those needs.
4) Hourly vs taxable
Many travel companies are able to offer non-taxable stipends for housing, meals & incidentals, and travel expenses. When these stipends are included in your pay package, your hourly (or base) taxable wage is often adjusted to allow “room” for these stipends. Depending on how much your hourly is adjusted, you could have less taxes deducted, which in turn means more going in your pocket. You’ll want to speak with your specific recruiter(s) to understand how each individual company structures this.
These are only a few of the factors that can determine your pay. It is difficult to pinpoint an “average” or specific number because every person has their own individual needs and expectations. The most important thing is to figure out your finances and determine what you need to make versus what you’d like to make, then have the conversation with your recruiter so you both have a clear understanding of the expectations before you get too far into the process. Understand that there will be assignments that pay more than others, but you should still come out ahead in the long run.