The travel nursing industry burst onto the national stage when the pandemic reared its head in 2020. Fueled by compassion, a desire to help, and a higher paycheck, travelers took up their suitcases and journeyed into the eye of the storm.
Today, high pay rates continue to draw nurses to this industry. In fact, money tops the list of considerations when nurses evaluate their assignment options.
But does a high pay package mean more money in the bank? Not necessarily.
Let’s look at what can influence the travel nurse’s take-home pay. We’ll also look at other considerations to keep in mind when evaluating travel nurse assignments.
Follow The Money
Follow the money all the way to the bank. Travel nurses should examine which expenses can chip away at their greenbacks and affect what lands in their pocket. But first, travelers need to understand the non-taxed portion of their pay package.
Stipends are non-taxed incentives that the federal government allows agencies to pay a traveler whose tax home is more than 50 miles from where they will be working. The stipend is divided into two categories:
- Meals and incidentals
While travel nurses can count on a minimum standard payment for any assignment, stipends will vary based on the location’s cost of living and even the time of year.
For example, in Chicago, summer is the prime tourist season. An influx of tourists means higher temporary housing prices. As you might expect, stipends for a summer assignment in Chicago are higher to cover the hefty housing costs. Yet, if you accept an assignment in Chicago during the snowy months, your stipend will be lower because the tourists have flown south for the winter resulting in a drop in the cost of housing.
If you don’t spend all the stipend, you get to keep it. But if your housing and travel costs are more than what your stipend provides, you’ll be paying that extra cost out of pocket. This is why you’ll want to do some homework before you accept any assignment.
Before jumping at that large pay package, research the housing costs in the assignment location.
- Is there a variety of housing arrangements to choose from, such as hotels, short-term apartments, and Airbnbs?
- Does the area have housing options that offer nurse traveler’s discounts?
- What is the average cost of each housing option?
An assignment in a large city with a higher-than-average pay package may look enticing, but research housing costs carefully. If you spend more for housing than the stipend covers, you may end up taking home less money than if you’d chosen an assignment in a smaller city with lower housing costs, even though the initial pay package was higher.
Travel and Transportation
Travel and transportation costs can eat up a good chunk of your income. You’ll want to research the cost of traveling back home during the assignment and how much you’ll spend getting to and from work and around the area.
- Consider the ease of getting into and out of the area.
- If you’ll be traveling back home during the assignment, is there an airport nearby?
- Is the airport a major hub that can get you home hassle-free? Smaller, regional airports tend to come with pricier flights and additional layovers.
- Consider your daily transportation options and the associated costs.
- Will you drive to your assignment so that you have a car available?
- If you take a car on assignment, will you need to pay to park at the hospital?
- If your housing is in the city, will you need to “rent” a parking space?
- Are you moving across the country to a large city with public transportation where you may not need a car?
- If you choose to fly to your destination, what are the costs of using public transportation?
Will the weather impact your travel options? If you choose a northern location with a start date in February, for instance, are you prepared to drive in the snow? Could snowy weather impact your ability to return home during the assignment?
For example, spending three months in Fargo, ND during the summer would allow you to visit some amazing natural areas, such as Yosemite and Glacier National Park, but winter could bring enough snow to make it difficult to get to work.
Housing and transportation costs have an immediate impact on your take-home pay, but let’s look at factors that may affect your future income and lifestyle.
Adding a stint at an academic medical center to your resume can give you a leg up when applying for future assignments. Many top-tier facilities have training programs geared towards travel nurses. These specialized orientations cover a wider range of knowledge areas that can help you build a more robust skillset.
Assignments in the Same Area
Are there multiple assignments available in the same area? Consider comparing these assignments to find the best fit.
If you find you’d like to extend your stay in one location, ask your recruiter if there are assignments at other hospitals in the vicinity. For example, Chicago is a large city with healthcare facilities located within the city and in the suburbs. It may be possible to move from one assignment to another without having to find new housing.
Assignments closer to home
As long as the facility is over 50 miles from your tax home, you’ll qualify for the stipend. So if you value being able to head home on your days off or want to pick up a shift or two at your old job, look for assignments within a couple of hours of home.
It’s a great time to be a travel nurse, but make sure you evaluate your options thoroughly before signing on the dotted line.
Photo credit: Canva
By Spencer Tawse, Recruitment Team Lead, Planet Healthcare