Top 10 Highest-Paying Travel Nurse Specialities

July 23, 2023

While some students enter nursing school knowing exactly what specialty they’d like to work in, others go in ready to explore different opportunities before deciding on their niche.

The beauty of choosing a nursing career is that there is a specialty for everyone. And whether you’re a nursing student trying to decide your path or a seasoned nurse looking for a change, it can be helpful to know what types of nursing specialties are available.

Click here for available high-paying travel nurse opportunities!

Travel nursing can also be a great way to try out different specialties before “settling down” or gaining more experience in a certain field. For instance, you may be interested in learning more about a specialty where you have prior experience, or you may have your heart set on something that you have not even been exposed to yet.

Either way nursing and travel nursing offer endless opportunity for growth, new knowledge, and change when you’re ready.

Keep reading to learn more about some of the most in-demand travel nursing specialties and discover the highest-paid travel nursing specialties.

Getting Started: How To Become A Travel Nurse?

Ready to get started on becoming a travel nurse and choosing a travel nurse specialty? No matter which travel nursing or nursing specialty you’d like to try, the initial step on your nursing career path is to graduate from an accredited nursing program and successfully pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam. The key steps to becoming a registered nurse are outlined below.

Step 1: Attend Nursing School

To become a registered nurse (RN), you have two nursing school paths to choose from:

  • A two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN), which typically takes around four years

ADN programs can be found at most community colleges, while a BSN will require attending a university. Some hospitals do prefer to hire BSN-educated nurses over ADNs, but it can be faster and more cost-effective to get your ADN first.

Rest assured, even if you pursue an ADN initially, you can always get your BSN later, even while working as a full-time nurse. And bonus: some hospitals or facilities will even pay for a BSN once you’re hired on.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

To become licensed as a registered nurse (RN) in the United States and Canada, aspiring nurses must successfully pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is taken only after you graduate from an accredited nursing program, and the test is taken at an approved testing facility.

Step 3: Apply for state licensure

Once you pass your NCLEX, you are automatically registered to work as an RN in the state you live in. However, if you want to work as a nurse outside of the state you live in, you’ll need to ensure Individual state boards of nursing are responsible for issuing nursing licenses.

For nurses with a passion for travel, the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) offers the opportunity to practice in multiple states using a single nursing license. Currently, 41 US states and territories have implemented the NLC, with a few awaiting full implementation. If you choose to work in a state you don’t live in that doesn’t accept an NLC, you’ll have to apply directly with that state’s nursing board for licensure.

Step 4: Gain Experience at the Bedside

Before embarking on your first travel nursing contract, it is best to obtain some nursing experience. Most travel nursing agencies and hospitals require two years of bedside experience before considering candidates for travel nursing assignments.

Your experience can be in general med-surg or a specialty. Typically, any specialty roles—along with experience—offer more competitive travel nursing rates.

Step 5: Talk to a Travel Nurse Recruiter

If you are interested in becoming a travel nurse, you can speak to a travel nurse recruiter at any time in the process, even while you’re still working as a staff nurse to gain experience. Nurse recruiters work for travel nursing agencies to recruit qualified nurses for temporary nurse roles, and the right recruiter will work for you to find a contract that benefits you.

It can be helpful to talk to a nurse recruiter early on for advice if you’d like to work in a specific role or in a particular area of the country to see what experience would give you a competitive edge.

Looking for open travel nurse assignments? Speak with a recruiter today!

How to Choose a Nursing Specialty

When it comes to choosing a nursing specialty, your decision can be guided by your interests or the clinical experiences you have had during your time in school.

To help you make a choice, here are some questions you can consider:

  • Do you prefer working in a hospital or outpatient setting?
  • Do you feel more drawn to working with children or adults?
  • Are you comfortable with working night shifts or weekends?
  • Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment or prefer more one-on-one time with patients?
  • Are you interested in performing procedures like IV starts and NG tube insertions?
  • Do procedural areas pique your interest?
  • Are you open to providing care to patients nearing the end of life?
  • Are you interested in pursuing additional certifications beyond your RN license?
  • Would you enjoy a specialty that allows you to move through different units in the hospital, such as wound care?
  • Are you able to maintain composure during emergency situations?

If you do not have all the answers to these questions right now, don’t worry—you don’t need all the answers right away. As you move through your nursing career, you will learn more about your individual strengths and preferences.

After all, one of the wonderful aspects of a nursing career is that you have the flexibility to switch specialties at any time.

Find available, high-paying travel nurse opportunities.

10 Highest Paying Travel Nursing Specialties for Registered Nurses

The salary you make as an RN will depend on a variety of factors including years of experience, nursing degree, other specialty-specific certifications, location, and supply/demand of nurses for that specialty.

The highest-paying nursing specialties may also differ from hospital-based staff nursing roles, so it’s important to keep that in mind if you plan to stick to a staff role or are interested primarily in travel nursing.

In general, however, more specialty roles with advanced education and certification will pay the highest wages no matter if you choose staff or travel nursing. As of June 2023, ZipRecruiter notes that the average hourly rate for travel nurses is just over $50. However, that rate can be significantly higher for specialty roles and does not account for additional wages travel nurses can get, like housing and travel stipends.

According to Indeed, these are some of the highest-paying travel nurse specialties. Keep in mind that the wages listed are averages—which means some travel nurse jobs in those roles can be much higher.

Additionally, wages are based on weekly rates, with travel nursing assignments typically averaging around 13-week assignments. So again, your annual wage could be much higher in certain roles.

1. Cardiac Catheterization (Cath) Lab Nurse

Average travel nurse salary: $148,566

Nurses in the cath lab provide care for patients before, during, and after cardiac catheterization. These patients may be stable and scheduled for a catheterization procedure to investigate underlying heart disease, or they may arrive urgently with symptoms of a heart attack. Care in the cath lab is highly specialized and demands expertise in cardiac and procedural knowledge.

2. Intensive care unit (ICU) travel nurse

Average travel ICU nurse salary: $127,506

Nurses who provide care for patients in the ICU attend to patients who are acutely ill and require very close monitoring, sometimes in a 1:1 patient-to-nurse ratio. There are various types of ICUs, including medical, surgical, neurologic, cardiac, burn, pediatric, and neonatal. Smaller hospitals may also combine all specialties into a single ICU, allowing nurses to care for a varied patient population.

ICU nurses not only care for their patients but also provide support and education to patients’ families, who often require extensive guidance on their loved one’s condition. This specialty will remain in high demand due to the advanced level of training required for these nurses.

3. Labor and delivery (L&D) nurse

Average L&D staff nurse salary: $109,955

L&D nurses attend to pregnant patients before, during, and after the childbirth process. They monitor both the pregnant person and baby, including fetal heart rate and contractions. After birth, L&D nurses provide comprehensive maternal and newborn assessments and care. As an L&D nurse, you may also have the opportunity to be in the operating room if your patient undergoes a cesarean section.

4. Pediatric Nurse

Average travel pediatric nurse salary: $109,762

Pediatric nurses may work in a variety of settings, including outpatient clinics, pediatric medical/surgical units in hospitals, and the ICU. Taking care of young patients requires a very specific skill set, which makes this an always-in-demand specialty.

Find open positions today for your specialty.

5. Operating room (OR) nurse

Average OR travel nurse salary: $105,021

You might not get a lot of experience in the OR during nursing school, but’s a specialty role that is very in demand for travel nursing specifically. And within OR, there are subspeciality nursing roles too:

  • Pre and post-op OR nurses primarily care for patients before and during surgery
  • A scrub OR nurse selects and provides instruments and supplies needed for a successful operation to the surgeon
  • A circulating OR nurse monitors the OR with a focus on patient safety, ensuring that sterile technique is maintained and initiating instrument counts, among other duties

OR nurses are in demand as working in surgical areas requires specialized training not often encountered in school. If you’re interested in becoming an OR travel nurse, it may be helpful to gain experience in this role as a staff nurse before applying.

6. Med-Surg Travel Nurse

Average travel med-surg nurse salary: $103,209

The salary of a general assignment travel nurse working on med-surg can vary widely as well. Travel nurses often take on temporary assignments to assist hospitals facing nursing shortages caused by staffing issues or seasonal changes in the hospital’s location.

7. Hospice Nurse

Average hospice nurse salary: $93,431

Hospice nurses care for patients with serious medical conditions who have a prognosis of six months or less. The main role of a hospice nurse is to ensure that patients remain comfortable, with symptoms such as pain, nausea, and shortness controlled.
Hospice nurses also provide education to patients and families regarding the end-of-life process. Care may be provided in patients’ homes or in an inpatient hospice facility for patients who require more intense symptom management.

8. Emergency room (ER) travel nurse

Average ER travel nurse salary: $83,503

ER nurses are usually the first to assess and provide care for patients in the hospital. They have the opportunity to improve their triage skills, as patients may arrive at the ER with a wide range of conditions, from the flu to a heart attack or major trauma.

ER nurses can also enhance their skills in areas such as IV starts, as many patients do not arrive with these unless brought in by paramedic services. Patient turnover in the ER can be frequent, and no two days are likely to be the same.

9. Oncology travel nurse

Average travel oncology nurse salary: $82,535

Oncology nurses treat patients undergoing cancer treatments, including systemic cancer treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy, as well as localized treatments such as radiation therapy or surgery. Cancer treatments can cause significant side effects, and oncology nurses have the ability to become experts in managing these side effects. Nurses also serve as a source of support for patients and their families throughout their cancer journey.

10. Home Health Nurse

Average travel home health nurse salary: $74,329

Home health care nurses provide care for homebound patients where they need it most: in their homes. As a home health care nurse, you may be responsible for caring for patients who have been recently discharged from the hospital and require ongoing care such as intravenous (IV) antibiotic therapy or wound care.

Patients may also simply have chronic health conditions that need ongoing care and monitoring, such as patients living with congestive heart failure. Home health nurses are in a unique position to provide patient and family education on how to manage a patient’s condition outside of the hospital.

Click here for available high-paying travel nurse opportunities!

Nursing Specialty FAQ

What’s the highest-paid travel nurse specialty?

The highest-paid travel nurse specialty is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). Travel CRNAs can make upwards of $255,000 annually, according to ZipRecruiter. Outside of advanced practice nursing, however, on average, the highest-paid travel nurse specialties are cardiac cath travel nurses ( $148,566), ICU travel nurses ($127,506), and pediatric nurses ($109,762).

Is it possible to change nursing specialties?

It’s always possible to change your nursing specialty. One of the great things about being a nurse is the ability to change specialties, which allows you to gain additional experiences, learn new skills, or have a different lifestyle.

However, it is important to keep in mind that travel nursing usually requires prior experience in a specific specialty before working as a travel nurse in that field. Moving between specialties can be easier in some cases compared to others. For instance, an ICU nurse could be hired as a medical-surgical floor nurse since these patients often face similar medical issues, albeit at different stages of their hospital stay.

Can I enter any specialty right out of nursing school?

It is possible to enter a specialty nursing role directly from nursing school, but not always. It may also depend on the hospital’s policies or even the preferences of the hiring manager for your desired specialty.
For instance, some nurse managers, especially in the ICU, may value your commitment to working in their unit for a specific duration, especially if you are a newly graduated RN. This is because training a new nurse requires a significant investment of time and resources.

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