10 Tips to Make Over $100K as a Travel Nurse
by Brittany Hamstra BSN, RN
Let’s be honest, one of the biggest draws of travel nursing is the impressive amount of money you can make. There are tons of memes floating around the internet of travel nurses drying their work stress tears with stacks of cash, and although it is a total exaggeration, the job is lucrative. But travel nursing pay can vary drastically depending on a multitude of conditions.
Here’s a quick list of 10 tips to earn over $100,000 on the job:
1. Follow the money
If you want to make big bucks in winter, you’ll have to trade places with the snowbirds. While everyone is trying desperately to escape the harsh winters in northern states, that opens big opportunities for travel nurses who are willing to brave the cold. If you have what it takes to head north in winter, you can earn very high pay as a travel nurse in states like Wisconsin, Alaska, North Dakota, and Illinois. Some hospitals will even offer special “winter rates” or bonuses in anticipation for winter shortages.
2. Be open to small towns
Although the glamour of NYC or Malibu might be drawing you in as a traveling nurse, if you want high earning potential, you should consider looking towards small towns and rural locations. Frankly, the least appealing locations and the underserved areas of the US are not able to recruit travel nurses easily, so they offer enticing pay packages. If you are someone who can have fun and make home anywhere for a few months, it’s a fantastic way to save money. Or if you have a fellow nurse or loved one to travel with, it’s even more appealing to take unconventional assignments because you can have fun exploring a new place together.
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3. Work the holidays
If you are open to working the holiday season, you will be able to cash in on some great holiday rates (typically 1.5 to 2 times your typical hourly travel pay). Another perk of working holidays is the flexibility of taking a short contract. Because a lot of permanent staff take vacation time off between the end of November and the beginning of January, hospitals are more likely to offer short-term contracts between 4-6 weeks to cover for staff. If you want to explore a new place without 3 months of commitment, and earn some impressive paychecks in the meantime, consider working through the holidays.
4. Work overtime
If you can find the energy to squeeze in some extra shifts while on contract, it will pay off – quite literally. Most facilities who take travel nurses have staffing shortages (which is why you’re there in the first place) and will frequently offer overtime shifts for staff and travelers. Depending on the facility, you can make between 1.5 to 2 times the pay rates for overtime shifts over 36 or 40 hours/week. Travel agencies also offer additional bonuses just for working a certain amount of overtime. Your manager and your bank account will be enthused by your extra effort.
5. Location, location, location
California is first to come to mind for highest paying travel rates, especially certain hospital systems (Kaiser Permanente) and in certain regions (Bay Area). Aside from Cali, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas, are a few others with relatively high rates for travel nurses. You might be cautious to take an assignment in California despite high pay because of the astronomical cost of living, but keep in mind that your housing stipend will reflect that.
6. Take the housing stipend
Do everything in your power to take that housing stipend. If you forfeit your stipend for company housing, then you’re only able to save whatever you don’t use from your taxable hourly wages. If you can be open-minded and diligent with exploring housing options on your own, you will almost always save more money – potentially thousands per contract. There are so many ways to creatively save money on housing like Airbnb, Furnished Finder, subletting, Facebook housing groups, etc. It may be a bit stressful on the front-end, but it will add up quickly if you can beat your stipend amount by hundreds of dollars per month.
7. Rapid response assignments and strikes
If you are a spontaneous personality and very flexible with assignments, you can make huge sums of money for crisis/rapid response/strike nursing shortages. Companies like Faststaff, Bridge, and Healthsource Global offer very high pay on short notice to cover staffing emergencies. They pay out very high hourly rates, travel expenses, and accommodation. A few caveats – it’s never a guarantee. Strikes can dissipate once you get to the location, and you could be on a plane right back home with a small sum to reimburse you for your time. You also need to be prepared with all papers and credentials in hand or you won’t be eligible – licenses, references, tax forms, drug screens, vaccines, etc. And you won’t be able to make many requests for shift or unit, you will just need to cover what’s needed within your scope.
8. EMR Conversions
Hospital systems nationwide are undergoing EMR (Electronic Medical Record) conversions to systems like Epic. It requires extensive hours of off-unit training for current healthcare staff, so in the meantime, travel nurses who are already proficient in the new computer system can fill in on units. The role is twofold – to support patient care by filling in for staff, and to help nurses implement and navigate their new EMR system. Because the assignment is a bit more demanding than typical, EMR conversion travel nursing assignments offer better pay.
9. Work per diem
You might have seen the viral photo of a per diem nurse’s pay stub boasting $19,000 in 2 weeks. That may be an extreme example of the earning potential of per diem nursing, but the financial upsides are serious. Particularly in areas like northern California, per diem rates for nurses average $70 - $100 hourly. “Per diem” just means to work by the day based on fluctuating needs of the unit. You can schedule them directly through a hospital or through an agency.
10. Work in a high-paying specialty
The most in-demand jobs for travel nurses typically correlate to those that require highly-specialized training, knowledge, and experience. The highest earning potential are in the following areas: Cardiac Cath Lab, Labor & Delivery, Neonatal ICU, ICU, Emergency Room, Telemetry, and Operating Room.