By Kathleen Colduvell-Gaines RN, BSN, BA, CBC
Becoming a travel nurse is an exciting adventure, but determining where to take an assignment can be overwhelming. Factors including salary, housing options, location amenities, and staffing ratios all factor into the decision. Other major considerations include the specific location and its desirability as well as its relative location to a nurse’s current assignment or hometown.
Most travel nursing assignments are only 13 weeks, so travel nurses can move on after an assignment if they are no longer needed or they are not happy with the placement. This flexibility appeals to many nurses and continues to make travel nursing one of the most desirable careers in the nursing industry.
Salary tends to be the number one driving factor when pursuing a particular contract. What’s often overlooked is the cost of living and housing affordability. States that have a higher hourly wage generally have a higher cost of living, less affordable housing, and higher taxes. For example, a travel nurse in California will likely make more money per hour than a nurse in Texas; however, the nurse in Texas will likely end up bringing home a bigger paycheck, because of the lower cost of living expenses and taxes. Assignments in states such as Oklahoma or Kansas may look undesirable, but with a low cost of living, nurses have the ability to make more money.
A U.S. News & World Report recently looked at the most affordable states in the country. Topping the list was Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Nebraska. Hawaii currently ranks the lowest in affordability with the highest cost of living and the least affordable house in the country. Interestingly, Hawaii is one of the most desirable states for travel nurses, but has a very low hourly pay comparable to what is needed for living expenses. Other states recognized as the least affordable include California, New York, Alaska, and Massachusetts — also popular travel nurse destinations.
According to ZipRecruiter.com, travel nurses in 2019 earn the highest salary in New York City with an average hourly wage of $48.82 and an annual salary of $101,547. It’s important to note that wages can increase between travel nurse companies and will also vary depending on certifications and unit placement. ICU nurses tend to earn more than medical-surgical nurses.
Here’s a list of the top 10 paying cities for travel nurses.
|Location||Hourly Wage||Annual Salary|
|New York City, New York||$48.82||$101,547|
|Florida, New York||$47.78||$99,382|
|Los Angeles, California||$47.22||$98,208|
|Gallup, New Mexico||$46.64||$97,005|
Travel nurse companies and recruiters work with travel nurses to find the best placement at the highest possible salary. Some companies have specific contracts and are able to offer a higher pay than others. In fact, two travel nurses working in the same unit at the same hospital may make a different salary. It’s important to pick a company you feel comfortable will advocate on your behalf to get higher wages.
Case in point, Advanced Travel Nursing boasts that they are able to get their travel nurses up to $59.13/hr in California. According to the website, California, Alaska, New York, Texas, Washington D.C., Nevada, Oregon, and Massachusetts are the highest paid states for their travel nurses.
Onward Healthcare on the other hand, advertises the top ten paying cities for their travel nurses are all in California.
A 2017 Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) study looked at specific projected job growth and demand of nurses in each state through 2030.
Based off of the study, there are four states that will continue to have a deficit of nurses through 2030. These states are California, Texas, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Travel nurses are desperately needed in these states and employers often give incentives to entice nurses.
California consistently has the highest demand for travel nurses throughout the year. Due to a powerful statewide union and specific laws regarding safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios there will always be a large need.
The time of year also has an affect on which states need nursing resources. States such as Alaska, Maine, and Vermont have higher needs for travel nurses during winter months, but lower needs in the summer months. Conversely, Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas have higher needs during the summer and lower needs during the winter. Consider traveling to desirable locations during “off-peak” months for better assignments and pay. Plus, it adds to the adventure!
Strictly choosing an assignment and location based on pay and affordability can be a limiting decision. Travel nurses generally work three days a week which leads to a lot of time off to explore each new location. Thirteen weeks in a location that doesn’t fit can be exhausting and depressing.
When choosing a location, remember what you like to do in your free time? Ask yourself if you like snow or sun? Do you want a major city or a small town? Do you want to be near the mountains or the ocean? These questions are important when looking at job opportunities. It can be exciting to see the country and try new things, but if you know you hate the snow — don’t choose a snowy location in the winter.
Travel nursing isn’t strictly about seeing the country while earning a higher wage, it’s also about working at some of the top hospitals in the country.
Consider assignments at hospitals that will look good on your resume and help with your career advancement. Having worked at hospitals such as John’s Hopkins Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, UCLA Medical Center, and UCSF Medical Center will help travel nurses for future endeavors. Assignments at these hospitals will open many doors for travel nurses both professionally and academically.
Deciding which city to take an assignment can be daunting for new travel nurses, but with guidance from a seasoned recruiter, the task will become more manageable. Remember to look at locations during off-peak months, consider house affordability and overall cost of living, and location amenities when choosing a contract.
Kathleen is currently a Pediatric ICU nurse at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Shriners Hospital for Children-Philadelphia. As a nurse for 10 years specializing in ICU care, she has an extensive ICU background having worked in the CICU and NICU at several major children’s hospitals in the Philadelphia region. Nursing is a second career after working as a journalist for many years and becoming nationally published. She is Trauma certified and a Certified Breastfeeding Counselor. Kathleen lives with her husband and two German Shepherds, and is enrolled in the MSN-Education program at Loyola University of New Orleans.