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By June 26, 2013 0 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: What’s a good travel nurse hourly rate?


Hourly WagesAsk a Travel Nurse Question:  

I am considering an assignment in NYC. Although housing will be provided, I think $21 per hour is low especially since I will be working nights. Should I take this assignment and what questions should I ask?

Ask a Travel Nurse Answer:  

Well, no one would be able to tell you how good an offer you were made based on rate alone. The first questions I would have are: What part of NYC? Are we talking intense inner city facility or something a bit further out with a slower pace? What specialty? (ICU obviously pays more than med-surg) Beyond that, there are actually quite a few other aspects that instantly pop into mind.

Your travel agency provides much more than just your salary and people tend to forget that. Someone might take a look at just an hourly rate quote and say, “that seems low”, but forget all the other things that are provided under the contract (that are costing the agency money to provide for you).

You have to be able to evaluate the contract based partially on the entire benefit package. Benefits include pay, healthcare insurance (medical and dental), travel reimbursement, license reimbursement, professional liability insurance, housing stipend or location you will be staying, (being NYC) whether the housing includes a parking space (if you need that), retirement contributions, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting at the moment.

Also important to know is the specific area and how pay rates compare with other companies. But even then, it’s extremely hard to compare apples to apples. You could have one company offer you $21/hr and another company offer $23/hr. However, the company offering $23/hr has healthcare benefits that cost $300 more a month for the type of coverage you need (actually making the $21/hr contract a bit of a better option).

If healthcare coverage is not a factor, then you can discard factoring that into your decision. However, you’ll then find that another aspect comes into play. The company offering $21/hr is putting you up in a one bedroom apartment. The company offering $23/hr will house you in an extended stay hotel (a cheaper, and for most travelers, option that is not as nice). Then which contract is better? Would you sacrifice not having as nice a place to stay to earn more in an hourly wage?

It would be great if those were the ONLY factors on which you needed to evaluate contracts. But even if everything else was the same, a pay rate of $21/hr can mean different things at different companies. With this rate, I am assuming you are participating in some sort of tax advantage program. Even tax advantage programs vary from company to company. You also need to be absolutely sure you are even eligible to participate in such a plan (just using your parent’s or a friend’s address may often not qualify). But then, you must take a look at what deduction amount the company is using to base your reimbursement.

Many will use the st and ard meals and incidentals rate, but if you are in a city with higher cost of living, then your allowance with the IRS will likely be higher, potentially meaning you could take more of a write off at the end of the year. If one company based their $21/hr rate on a tax advantage program that only took a st and ard $420 deduction, whereas the other company offering $21/hr based theirs on a higher cost of living area and used a full deduction of $550 (just fictitious numbers here), then the company using the $420 deduction would be a better bet as you would probably get to deduct more on your taxes at the end of the year (of course each person’s tax situation will vary).

While I may have ventured into some of the deep nuances of evaluating contracts, there is always the definitive way to decide whether or not you should accept a travel contract. Do you feel you are being compensated enough under the given contract? Will your take home pay meet the bills? If so, is it worth it to possibly make less on contract in a location you really want to explore?

I’ve probably made at least $5-$10 less an hour to sit on a beach in Hawaii all winter rather than staying in Ohio and working per diem. Was that contract worth it? Absolutely!!!

As for questions to ask, I’m not sure I can answer that either. I do not know what items are important to you, so I do not know what information is required. If you don’t like to float to other units, ask in the interview what their policy is on floating travelers? Are the travelers the first to float? Are travelers put in rotation with the rest of the unit staff, or just other travelers? If you are working in a unit like ICU, would you have to float to tele or med-surg or just other critical care areas? It really does depend on the information you want to know about any given assignment and unfortunately, there’s not really a universal h and book for those type of things.

I know I have not really answered your questions, but I do hope this information has helped some in your evaluation of assignments.




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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