Top 15 Reasons Why Travel Nurses Are Paid So Much


Written By: Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN


Like many people, you may be wondering why are travel nurses paid so much? In the past few years, we all have heard reports of travel nurses getting paid excessive wages. However, the pandemic was raging, and healthcare systems were experiencing tremendous pressure to keep up with unprecedented patient overload. Hospitals were more than willing to pay generous wages to RNs courageous enough to travel across the country to staff covid hot spots.

Now that the pandemic is over, travel nurses are still in demand. Travel nursing is a specialty that requires a special type of person. This gypsy caregiver is an adventurer, brave enough to often work outside her comfort zone and can acclimate quickly to new environments. Not every nurse possesses these impressive traits. These are RNs who are still a valuable commodity in our healthcare system.

In this article, I break down the top 15 reasons why travel nurses are paid so much. Your eyes will be opened to the ongoing need for travel nurses, their value, and the many contributions these RNs make to the healthcare system. You should then better understand why travel nurses earn a plentiful wage.



DO TRAVEL NURSES ACTUALLY MAKE A LOT OF MONEY?


Great nursing pay is a phrase that can be interpreted in many ways. What you may consider a lot of money will likely differ from that of your peers. A travel nurse’s salary many times varies from state to state and especially with hard-to-fill jobs commanding the top compensation. However, travel nurses are typically paid well for their work.

Per Indeed.com, a traveler can expect to make $60.80 per hour with a monthly income of $10,550. This translates to a yearly wage of $126,655, making travel nursing worth it. With a $2,436 weekly paycheck, you can save for a rainy day or enjoy the sites at your current locale.

Hourly$60.89
Weekly$2,436
Monthly$10,550
Annual$126,655
(Source: Indeed.com)



HOW MUCH MORE DO TRAVEL NURSES MAKE COMPARED TO NON-TRAVEL NURSES?


You may be wondering if travel nurses make more than the average nurse. The answer is yes!

When comparing travel nurse salaries to other nurses, travelers make 36.61% more. That boils down to an extra $33,943 annually. Your pay is $126,655 yearly compared to a non-traveler at $92,712.

Average Annual
Travel Nurses Salary
Average Annual
Non-Travel Nurse's Salary
Difference
Number %
$126,655$92,712+$33,943+36.61%
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)



WHY ARE TRAVEL NURSES PAID SO MUCH?

(The following are the top 15 reasons why registered nurses are paid so much.)


REASON #1: Nursing Shortage

One of the top reasons travel nurses are paid so much is that there are simply not enough nurses to fill the demand. It is projected that the need for nurses will continue to grow for years.

More worrisome is the fact that while an increasing number of older nurses are opting for early retirement, young nurses under the age of 35 are dwindling. Thus, with a higher need for nurses and a declining supply, we are in a nursing shortage. Travelers seem to be the main solution at present to fill empty nursing positions. Generally, the greater the need to cover unfilled nursing jobs, the higher the pay for travel nurses.


REASON #2: Seasonal Needs

It is economical for certain areas and industries to hire travel nurses. Seasonal work, such as in amusement parks and tourist areas, are examples of situations where travel nurse jobs are common.

It is not feasible to pay permanent full-time RNs with benefits to work at an amusement park that is only open in the summer. The same goes for beach towns where the high tourism season is limited to warmer months. Travel nurse contracts are typically a few weeks to a few months long, so the format of travel nursing assignments dovetails nicely with this seasonal model.


REASON #3: Hard-to-Fill Positions

As more nurses become disillusioned with hospital jobs, non-bedside nursing jobs are an appealing work option. More and more RNs are walking away from inpatient nursing to work in ambulatory care, home health, and other non-hospital positions. This workforce shift has left job openings in most hospital units.

Challenging and stressful inpatient units have been typically more difficult to staff even before the nursing shortage. Now it has become nearly impossible to keep an adequate supply of nurses in these areas. Travel nurses are especially needed to staff emergency departments, ORs, and critical care.

In the past, travel nurses had once been required to fill in here and there in hospitals on occasion. Now travel RNs are an all-necessary and ongoing presence in our hospital systems.


REASON #4: Remote Areas of Need

Remote areas of need, such as Indian Reservations and Alaska, have always had difficulty attracting an adequate supply of nurses. The more desolate the locale, the tougher the challenge. It is no surprise that the nursing shortage, in general, has negatively impacted these remote areas.

Problems with staffing in these forsaken environments is one of the biggest reasons why travel nurses are paid so much.

Travel nurses are necessary to staff medical outposts just to keep them up and running. Fortunately, travel nurses are an adventurous and tough breed of caregivers willing to provide temporary care in these hard-to-staff locations. They enjoy contributing to these vibrant Indian communities and faraway lands. While on assignment, RNs can take in breathtaking sites and soak up the fascinating culture.


REASON #5: Flexibility

Gypsy nurses are typically flexible workers. This common trait is one of the top reasons why travel nurses are paid so much.

Have you ever been asked to float on an unfamiliar floor? Not many of us enjoy being pulled from the comfort of our regular unit to work where we feel as though we are floundering and even unsafe. Some nurses, myself included, prefer to dig in and become experts in one area of nursing. It is not a good feeling to be a naive and inexperienced nurse when thrown into a situation where you do not feel in control. Thus, nurses may balk when asked (or told) to stretch themselves in their job in ways that feel uncomfortable.

Travel nurses, for the most part, are a flexible variety. They are expected to work in a variety of jobs and are typically happy to fill in wherever needed. This flexibility makes it easier for supervisors to create staffing in all areas of the healthcare system. A travel RN can be utilized in clinics and various hospital units. Where there is a staffing hole, a traveler can be used to plug the slot.


REASON #6: Adaptability

Travel nurses are incredibly adaptable. This characteristic is evident in their ability to overcome the following challenges:

• Unfamiliar locale
• The ability to leave behind friends and family
• Adapting to unfamiliar work sites
• Working with new colleagues
• Resettlement challenges


This trait of adaptability is precious to an employer as they can be assured that you are an independent, competent nurse who will not have to be coddled at work. Your resiliency is one of the reasons why travel nurses are paid so much.


REASON #7: Cost-Savings

In general, travel nurses are willing and able to float to many hospital areas. They may have a more generalized nursing background than a specialized or inexperienced nurse. They are accustomed to adapting quickly to new environments and are more flexible than many nurses who are unwilling to be pulled to an unfamiliar unit.

Instead of paying to hire nurses on several units, a hospital can hire a travel nurse to fill in where needed. Health organizations looking to save money may use a travel nurse to staff several units with a need. Anticipated cost savings when using travel nurses in this manner is one of the top reasons travel nurses are paid so much.


REASON #8: Disaster Relief

We have all witnessed the brave response of travel nurses to help in Covid hot spots during the pandemic. The travel industry is the perfect solution for situations like this and other disasters such as earthquakes, influenza, and flooding.

Travelers can be hired short-term to relieve an overburdened medical system that cannot accommodate the health needs of the victims of whatever disaster may have occurred. Hospitals in desperate times are willing to pay travel nurses well for their service in times of crisis. This type of disaster relief staffing is one of the biggest reasons why travel nurses are paid so much. They literally can save the day for beleaguered areas in crisis.


REASON #9: Large Elderly Population

It is a well-known fact that the baby boomers are now senior citizens. This balloon population of old rock and rollers is increasing rapidly, according to the US Census Bureau. With the “65-and-older population (growing) by over a third (34.2% or 13,787,044) during the past decade”, we can expect to see health needs increase for our burgeoning older generation.

Chronic health conditions accompanying old age, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, translate to the need for an expanded nursing force to meet the escalating demand for medical care. With staff RNs in short supply, travel nurses, once again, can come to the rescue to fill open positions.


REASON #10: Short-Term Leave Relief

One of the primary reasons why travel nurses are paid so much, and healthcare organizations hire gypsy RNs is to provide temporary staffing for those on short-term leave. More and more, nurses are taking extended maternity and medical leaves. RNs seek a healthier work-life balance when raising their kids and caring for aging parents.

Gone are the days (mostly) when nurses sacrifice their families for their jobs. RNs are taking more time off for maternity leave and during times of family need. It makes sense fiscally to contract a travel nurse to fill in for those on leave instead of hiring another nurse for the temporary absence.


REASON #11: Decreased Mandatory Overtime

Mandatory overtime is the curse of nursing. Unless you are trying to make extra money, nobody wants to be made to work when they would rather be elsewhere enjoying well-deserved time off. Phone calls and e-mails dictating mandatory overtime are dreaded and disheartening. But in reality, SOMEBODY must care for patients. So, we all trudge into work early, on days off, or work double shifts, begrudgingly missing out on family and leisure time.

Staff nurses often have travel nurses to thank for decreased mandatory overtime. With a supply of travel RNs in the wings, the regulars are off the hook to fill in when staffing dips low.


REASON #12: Stipends and Bonuses Add Up

Hard-to-fill nursing positions may come with an extra incentive of a bonus and stipend. Savvy travel nurses looking to make top dollar can snap up these higher compensated choice assignments.

Once you figure out this lucrative secret, you can go from assignment to assignment, collecting extra bonus pay on top of your already generous hourly wage. Knowing how to expand your compensation in this manner is one of the reasons that travel nurses are paid so much.


REASON #13: Reduced Turn-Over Cost

I recently spoke to a nurse manager at one of our state’s largest inner city OB units. She related that all her nurses were new grads, with the most senior RN only 2 years out of school. As unsettling as that fact is, the sad truth is that nurses are not satisfied with their work conditions. This translates to a high staff turnover. And that comes with a heavy price tag for healthcare organizations.

Training an incoming nurse due to turnover can cost an employer between $22,000 to over $64,000. This disheartening number and the potential that yet another new nurse will quit is one of the reasons that travel nurses are paid so much. An employer will not have to bother with all of the time and money invested in a new nurse when hiring a traveler.


REASON #14: Hard-to-Fill Specialty Areas

Employers are willing to pay higher compensation for travel nurses with specialty skills. According to CareerStaff Unlimted, specialties such as critical care and med-surg nurses are most in demand in hospitals. Home health, psych, and OR jobs are also in dire need of nurses. Although all areas of nursing use and need travel nurses, travel RNs in these particular areas can expect to be paid handsomely due to the shortage.

Another reason that travel nurses are paid so much is that those holding certain certifications can command a better wage. For example, certified critical and cardiac care credentials and certifications in wound care and infusion therapy are valuable to employers looking for RNs with specific skill sets.


REASON #15: Reduces Costly Benefits

Finally, travel nurses typically do not receive the costly benefits packages of hired RNs. The ability of hospitals to reduce the costs of insurance and other benefits is one of the main reasons that travel nurses are paid so much.

Employers are willing to pay more for a travel RN without benefits vs. a full-time nurse with a benefits package that equals a third of her pay. The cost savings of utilizing nurses in this manner can be considerable for large hospital systems.



WILL TRAVEL NURSES CONTINUE TO MAKE A LOT OF MONEY IN THE FUTURE?


Travel nurses are in high demand for 2023 and beyond. Nurses are in short supply throughout the US, and this staffing crisis is predicted to last for years.

With a growing older population, a worsening US health status, and nurses leaving the profession due to burnout, there is no easy or quick fix for the nursing shortage. As we all know, supply and demand can dictate the pricing of commodities. Nurses are a valuable resource, and our healthcare system can’t do without us. Thus, if there are unfilled nursing job openings, it is likely that travel nurses will be used to fill those slots.

With the need for travel nurses predicted to continue, you can expect to make much money in the future. You are a significant necessity for most areas of healthcare.



MY FINAL THOUGHTS


Some nurses have no idea how to get started in the travel nurse industry. In general, many of us tend to avoid the unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable challenges of a travel nurse. Thus, the travel nurse industry is not flooded with RNs despite the excellent pay. So why are travel nurses paid so much? The ongoing need for travelers is one of the main reasons that RNs in this industry still command top pay.

This article, “Top 15 reasons why travel nurses are paid so much”, should have provided you with a solid background behind our healthcare system’s desire to hire and handsomely compassionate travel RNs. After all, you are a vital player in keeping our healthcare system up and going in all circumstances.


Donna Reese MSN, RN, CSN
Donna Reese is a freelance nurse health content writer with 37 years nursing experience. She has worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner in her local community clinic and as an RN in home health, rehabilitation, hospital, and school nursing.