Staffing shortages are driving up travel nurse pay all over the country. Healthcare staffing company Relias recently reported that turnover rates for nurses are rising, currently hovering at around 22% for 2022, and that it currently takes around three months to hire and train new nurses, leaving many facilities understaffed.
But that means it’s a great time to be a travel nurse. Many facilities and companies have had to go back to using temporary workers in high-demand areas after the travel nursing industry cooled in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, travel nursing pay reached as much as $10,000 a week, but they can still make more than $3,000 a week on average. The national average travel nurse pay is at $3,080 per week, down 18% from a year ago, according to a report from Vivian Health.
“The decreasing travel rates were caused by a decrease in demand as the Omicron wave subsided, and by health systems’ incremental success in recruiting nurses back to direct employment roles,” said a spokesperson from Vivian Health. “It is also worth noting that some COVID-era federal funding designed to support increased labor costs due to travel nursing ended in spring 2022, further reducing health systems’ financial flexibility.”
But travel nurses are still cashing in as staff shortages persist, despite the recent decrease in pay. A weekly rate of $3,080 comes out to nearly $200,000 a year.
Salaries for full-time nurses have also been rising. The 2021 annual salary for RNs was $77,600 and $120,680 for nurse practitioners.
But there’s no guarantee that a travel nurse will work all 52 weeks out of the year. Their contracts typically last 13 weeks with no obligation to renew, “so travel nurses may have gaps between assignments while they seek their next facility,” a spokesperson from Vivian Health said.
The nursing workforce lost around 100,000 RNs from 2020 to 2021, recent analysis shows. That’s the largest drop in four decades. Nurses under the age of 35 seem to be leaving at higher rates as well.
“A sustained reduction in the number of younger age RNs would raise ominous implications for the future workforce,” according to the report, A Worrisome Drop In The Number Of Young Nurses. “Because RNs typically remain working in nursing over their career, a reduction of younger RNs in the workforce would exert an impact that is felt over a generation.”
Katelyn Harris, director of client development at Vivian Health, said travel nursing rates are going up in part because of their added experience.
“It’s also expected that travel nurses have at least one or two solid years of experience under their belts, so we tend to see more senior nurses traveling, which translates to higher wages,” she added.
Ali Brown, a travel nurse currently based in Billings, Montana, recently spoke about why she decided to take her skills on the road in an interview with Business Insider.
“Travelers are not new nurses,” she said. “Most agencies require at least a year of experience, if not two years. You need to be able to hit the ground running. In order to fill temporary needs, hospitals hire travel nurses like me because I’m able to jump right in after a couple of days of orientation instead of needing nine months of training.”
She said she gets her assignments through a staffing agency, which has its pros and cons.
“Larger agencies definitely have more contracts, but sometimes you can feel lost in the mix. Smaller agencies may have a more personal touch, but they don’t have as many contract options, so you have to decide which matters more to you,” she explained.
But high paying jobs can also be a cause for concern.
“If a travel nurse contract has an exceptionally good hourly rate, there’s probably a reason no one wants to work there. Maybe it’s in the middle of nowhere, or it has a really stressful work culture, but a super high rate is definitely a red flag,” she said.