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Income for a Traveling Nurse

by Marie Cargill, studioD

Traveling nurses typically work four- to 13-week temporary assignments at hospitals with staffing shortages. Nurses can register with an agency or work as freelancers. Many agencies provide health insurance, travel and licensing reimbursements, housing and retirement benefits.


The mean annual salary of a registered nurse is $67,930 as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The upper 10 percent of registered nurses make $94,720 and the lower 10 percent earn $45,040. Most traveling nurses can expect a base salary of $30 to $40 per hour, plus benefits such as a housing allowance and medical and dental insurance. Because the assignments are often at hospitals with high staffing needs, overtime is often possible too, with some nurses clocking in 48- to 60-hour workweeks.

Regional Comparisons

The benefits given by placement agencies and the health care institutions vary widely and affect a traveling nurse's total compensation. Some traveling nurse agencies provide nurses with generous relocation stipends, retirement contributions and other financial perks. Health care institutions hiring the nurses for short-term contracts, especially those in less sought-after locations, may provide additional benefits such as assignment completion bonuses. States with the highest annual mean wage for registered nurses include California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Alaska and Oregon.

Contributing Factors

A traveling nurse's salary varies greatly based on level of specialty, experience, chosen assignments, location and perks. Beginning nurses are likely to receive close to $30 an hour, while those with experience and specialization can expect to earn closer to $40 an hour. Nurses who specialize in areas such as intensive care, medical and surgery, neonatal intensive care, psychiatry and rehabilitation may be able to earn more.

Career Outlook

The growing elderly population's increasing need for health services is putting pressure on the medical system. Hospitals are trying to cope with staffing shortages as a wave of baby boomer nurses hits retirement age. As health care facilities struggle to meet demand, traveling nurses are well placed to fill the gap. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates jobs at nursing and residential facilities will be among the biggest gainers during the next decade.

About the Author

Marie Cargill has spent the past decade as a journalist covering everything from business trends to outsider art. Her work has appeared on National Public Radio, BBC and "The Wall Street Journal," among others.

Photo Credits

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