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By August 15, 2013 1 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: How does travel nurse pay compare to perm?


Underst and ing financesAsk a Travel Nurse Question:  

This is my first time applying for travel nurse positions and I have two questions:

1.  I have 16 years experience and have been offered pay equal to that of new grad nurse by some companies. Is the pay lower for travel nursing?

2.  How difficult is it to get an assignment in Alaska?

Ask a Travel Nurse Question:  

Many people are confused by the rates they see when they start traveling. The companies don’t make it easy as some will include everything their package covers in one number. For example, many companies quote you an hourly rate and add that they will also provide free private housing, insurance, etc.

However, some companies make their rate look more attractive by stating a “total compensation package” of “X” amount. If you divide out their total compensation by how many hours you would work, it seems like a great rate, but included in that rate are the monies they will use to secure your housing, your insurance, travel reimbursement, etc.

That’s why whenever you see a fantastic pay rate, you need to thoroughly investigate all the things that are included in that rate. It’s likely they are throwing in ALL the compensation rather than dividing it out as it is commonly expressed.

Now if the rate is extremely low, as is the case you are describing, it is likely that it is being expressed with the assumption that you will be using their “tax advantage program”. What the companies are doing in this instance is using the tax deduction you MAY be allowed by the IRS for having a “tax home” (place where you normally work and conduct business) in one location, but are working in another location where you may be duplicating living expenses.

For more on this, the best resource I’ve found is the FAQ page from Joseph Smith’s website. Joseph is an enrolled agent with the IRS and was once a traveler and is well versed on the tax situations that affect traveling healthcare professionals. His page can be found here.

Additionally, you must realize all the things that travel nursing does provide (the largest being housing). If you just wanted to travel to San Diego to work for three months, you could certainly do so. But you would also be responsible for getting there on your own dime, providing your own health insurance, and paying for housing. People tend to forget that though they may be making $5-$10 an hour less, they are likely being placed in a one bedroom apartment, with furniture rental, that might be an outlay of an extra $1000-$2400 a month (depending on location).

As I have written before, travel nursing is not the “cash-cow” that it once was with hourly rates better than staff nurses on every assignment and thous and dollar completion bonuses. If you want to make TOP dollar, join a local registry and work OT when you can, where you are presently employed. If you want to see the states, earn a fair wage, and have someone else worry about finding you a place to stay while you do so, then travel nursing will offer those things. You can even earn over $100,000 a year being a traveler (but are likely taking the assignment locations most do not prefer and working 48 or 60 hr work weeks). Again, if your motivation is money, you can probably earn more staying where you are. If you want some variety, some adventure, and still want to earn money while doing so, then travel nursing is for you.

As for Alaska assignments, it all depends on the availability. Most who travel to Alaska prefer to do so in the summer. So, start looking early spring  and try to be among the first travelers to go up. The later it gets in the spring and into summer, the harder it will be. It will also be like any other sought after location. Sometimes you will find many assignments from which to choose and sometimes you might not find any.

You will want to be signed up with a number of travel agencies and specifically ask the agency how many Alaska assignments they have placed in the last two years. That will give you an idea if they are an agency with which you might have better luck finding an Alaska contract.

I hope this helps.



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.

1 Comment on "Ask a Travel Nurse: How does travel nurse pay compare to perm?"

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  1. tammy says:

    Nurse verification site messed up perm license in TX! Now only days away before temp license will run out, has anyone else have this happen any help suggests would be great in order to speed up bon process?

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