Travel nursing has been extraordinarily lucrative for the past few years. Some nurses have easily made upwards of $10,000 or more a month, depending on the contract, location, and need for nurses in that area. The exceptionally high income has understandably attracted plenty of nurses who have the flexibility to take some of these thirteen- or sixteen-week contracts, with many looking to work for the highest bidder, so to speak.
Travel nursing is still in-demand, but not quite the same way it was in the past. We know that rates have started to drop consistently and, in some cases, dramatically. So what now? Let’s look at the current state of travel nursing in the United States.
How Much Were Travel Nurses Making?
The range of pay for travel nursing has always varied widely. It often depends on factors like the specific job role in question, the location, the current need of the hospital, and the contract duration.
According to data shared by Nursing Process, the average hourly income for travel nurses is $56.49, though experienced nurses average $82.06, which is significantly higher than the average RN hourly rate of $ 39.78.
Plenty of data shows incredibly high pay rates for some contracts over the last few years. Some nurses have shared that they’ve made $5,000 or more a week, amounting to $65,000 for just thirteen weeks of work.
We saw rates continually increase during the most challenging parts of the COVID-19 pandemic when nursing shortages and high levels of hospitalizations stretched resources (and staff) thin.
How Much Are Travel Nurses Making Now?
As always, the cost of travel nursing contracts depends heavily on the same factors we’ve discussed above—role, location, experience, contract duration, and staffing needs (aka desperation levels).
It’s clear, however, that the average travel nurse pay rates have taken a hit recently, with some nearly being slashed in half. For example, one nurse shared that she was previously making contracts paying around $5,000 a week, but now the highest-paying contracts she can find are only around $2,200 weekly.
The rates started to decline at the late end of 2022, which has led us to where we are now.
However, it is worth noting that although the average nursing pay has dropped from middle-of-pandemic highs, it’s settling at about 15% higher than pre-pandemic pay.
So What Now?
Some nurses who previously worked as travel nurses to capitalize on that jaw-dropping earning potential are now reconsidering.
It’s hard to turn away from $5,000 a week, plus (depending on the contract) a potential stipend or housing allowance. However, it’s a lot easier to turn away from half those rates when you aren’t making that much more than a full-time employee once all the benefits of conventional employment are added into the mix.
So what are nurses doing now? There are four popular routes that experienced nurses are considering.
1. Returning to Full-Time Employment
For some nurses who were in travel nursing exclusively for the higher pay rate, the lowered rates aren’t worth traveling to different destinations regularly, needing to adapt to new hospital regulations every few months, and dealing with the potential instability—not to mention being away from family and friends.
Some nurses are choosing to return to full-time employment if they had left their jobs to pursue higher pay to begin with. Now that rates have fallen, many may prefer to work as employees instead of contractors—with more benefits and fewer taxes. There’s also more stability; full-time jobs are long-term and don’t require you to search for new work and uproot your life every few weeks or months.
So they’re returning to conventional employment and settling down, which was likely the long-term goal all along. And if they want to earn extra cash, most hospitals often have plenty of need for nurses who are willing to work overtime.
2. Sticking with Travel Nursing
Some people downright love travel nursing, and many of these nurses are likely to stick with it. They like the change of pace, visiting new cities, and having high-paying-but-short-term contracts that give them a lot of flexibility in life.
There’s still a need for travel nurses, but fewer nurses are willing to take the contracts now that pay has decreased, and this may result in less competitive contracts.
3. Starting PRN Nursing
PRN nursing involves taking specific shifts as a contractor in medical settings nearby. PRN work is a little like travel nursing, but it’s for a single shift at a time, and you’ll want to find contracts nearby. You don’t have to move or uproot your life, but you get that much-desired flexibility of choosing which shifts you’re willing to take and work at a much higher per-hour rate than what staff nurses are often offered.
Some nurses choose to work exclusively on a PRN basis. Others may pick up the occasional PRN shift while working as a part-time or full-time employee for another healthcare organization, giving them the ability to earn extra on the side.
PRN nursing apps like Nursa make it exceptionally easy for nurses to browse contracts and find (and apply for!) shifts relevant to them with just a few clicks.
4. Considering Career Advancement
Some nurses very understandably loved the higher income they earned during their travel contracts, and they know it will be hard to achieve that same income in their current careers. Some of these nurses are considering career advancement opportunities, including potentially returning to school to become nurse practitioners, charge nurses, or nurse supervisors or administrators.
Others may also need a break from nursing altogether, especially if they’re experiencing the all-too-common burnout associated with the profession. Many of these nurses may consider keeping their licenses active while finding positions that avoid direct patient care.
Looking for new ways to make more as a nurse, despite travel nursing dropping off? Learn more about how Nursa can help you find high-paying PRN shifts.