By April 27, 2011 0 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: What should I expect as a base pay rate and get paid what I’m worth?


Ask a Travel Nurse Question:

I have been traveling for 5 years and have always heard that the pay is really good. I haven’t found this to be true. My base pay has ranged from low $20 to low $30.

Since I work PACU I have found it necessary to travel with larger companies like Cross Country and American Mobile. I have trouble trusting them when I hear people say I should be making quite a bit more. What should I expect as a base rate and how do I get paid what I’m worth?

Ask a Travel Nurse Answer:

Whenever I hear travel nurses talk money, part of me starts to cringe. I’ll explain why.

When I first started traveling, I did not care what the pay was like. I had a house in Ohio and all I knew was someone was willing to give me a job for the winter in Maui, pay for a place for me to live, provide my health insurance, give me some money to get there and cover the cost of my nursing license, and then pay me a fair hourly wage on top of everything else. I feel like sometimes we forget how blessed we are to do what we do.

Now with that said, I will also tell you that I understand what you have been hearing. But you have to consider the source, what company they may travel with, and what things that traveler may have given up for the sake of earning a better hourly rate.

When you compare hourly rates with another traveler, you HAVE to be sure you are comparing apples to apples. If a traveler “A” earns $25/hr and traveler “B” earns $29/hr, it’s not hard to see who is getting a better deal. But, what if traveler A’s company has them in a one- bedroom apartment in a beautiful complex with several pools, tennis courts, work out facility, and a jogging path (not too uncommon) and traveler B’s company has them in extended stay housing (basically a step up from a hotel room); then who has gotten the better deal?

What if you also take into account that traveler A’s health insurance comes with a prescription card and a low deductible versus traveler B’s insurance with no prescription card and a $2500 deductible?

Perhaps traveler A also got $300 in travel money, whereas traveler B only received $200 and traveler A will get a $500 bonus for any extension whereas traveler B gets none; once again, who has gotten the better deal?

My point is that ALL travel companies typically sign a blanket agreement with a certain facility. The facility will pay the travel company “x” amount per hour for their traveler. How each individual company, or individual traveler, chooses how to allocate that money will be different. For more on allocation and negotiating a contract, take a peak at this response also posted on this site: Ask a Travel Nurse: Should I be able to negotiate my wages with my recruiter?

Now I will tell you that I have noticed that some of the larger companies will squeeze anything they can out of a contract. All the travelers I worked with at one facility were getting the standard $3000 contract completion bonus. One traveler was pretty upset when she learned that her company (one of the larger names in the industry) was paying only $2500 on completion of her assignment. Her hourly rate was comparable to others, but her company had pocketed $500 that should have been hers.

Honestly, you will drive yourself crazy if you are constantly comparing rates with everyone else. Plus, some of those travelers might be making a better hourly rate due to them declining company health insurance, taking a stipend instead of housing, or participating in a company tax advantage program. It’s nearly impossible to know ALL the details of another traveler’s contract.

However, if you are still suspicious that your company is shorting you, you have two options. Either tell your recruiter you need a better rate (when first negotiating a contract), or sign up with more companies to give you more selection (there are hundreds of companies out there and you will find many with PACU positions).

If you like the company you are currently with, you can even give them the opportunity to beat another company’s quoted rate. Just remember to always tell your recruiter NOT to submit you until you say so. Two companies submitting you for the same assignment is a big NO-NO.

If you’d like to try a few “medium-sized” companies, feel free to write me at the email posted at the end. I have used several companies to help other travelers get their start in the industry as well as change things up a bit for those not happy with their current company.

I do hope this has helped.

David Morrison

5 for $500 Bonus

About the Author:

Hello everyone. I’m a travel nurse originally from Ohio who graduated in 1993 from Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus. I completed a critical care fellowship at Riverside Methodist Hospital in 1994 and started traveling in that specialty a year later. My first travel assignment was in Maui and since that time I have completed close to 40 different contracts in various states with multiple travel companies. I am the author of Travel Nurse’s Bible (A Guide to Everything on Travel Nursing), in addition to my writings here and in the pages of Travel Nursing publications such as Healthcare Traveler Magazine and American Nurse Today. I am presently on assignment in Phoenix, AZ and travel anywhere from six to eleven months of the year.

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