Travel Nurse Salaries in 2024: What To Expect

As we enter into 2024, it's surreal to think that the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly four years ago. Throughout 2021 and 2022, the travel nursing industry boomed like never before due to the unprecedented number of direct care positions that needed to be filled nationwide. At that time, it wasn't uncommon to see travel ICU nurses making up to $7,000 per week on their assignments.

However, as the needs of hospitals and nursing centers shifted over the past few years, we need to recognize that the travel nursing landscape will find its new baseline, including weekly gross pay and the amount of travel contracts available throughout the country, depending on specialty and setting.

To be clear - travel nursing isn't going anywhere! Nurses and other healthcare professionals (like allied health professionals and Certified Nursing Assistants) can rest assured that they will continue to be in demand. 

Pay for Travel RNs
During the pandemic, many staffing agencies opted to pay for flights, hotels/housing, and rental cars. Now, most travel nursing agencies provide their travelers with a stipend to cover their travel costs. Stipends put travelers in control of their own money - they get to choose what suits them best.

Though are we not seeing the high rates of 2021, travel nurse (RN) pay has stabilized at around an average of $2,600/week. Of course, this can vary depending on the nurse specialty and contract location. For example, Cardiovascular Operating Room (CVOR) is one of the highest-paying acute care specialties. A travel CVOR RN can expect to make closer to $3,000/week, even in 2024.

COVID Rates and Crisis Pay
It's important to note that many healthcare organizations offered “COVID rates” during the state of emergency, which went on for the better part of 18 months in the U.S.

During those 18 months, it was extremely difficult for thousands of healthcare organizations to remain fully staffed, due to healthcare workers needing to quarantine due to virus exposure.

According to Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA),  the travel nursing industry reached its peak in 2022, growing to more than six times its 2019 market size.

It is not realistic to expect to see the same travel nursing rates in 2024 as we did in 2021 and 2022. Part of navigating the “new normal” in healthcare is realizing that stability is a good thing, especially as it relates to patient safety and best outcomes.  

Pay for Contract LPNs and CNAs
According to the Travel LPN Salary Guide, travel Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) make an average of $1,489/week across acute care settings and long-term care (LTC).

Vivian also has a Travel CNA Salary Guide which breaks down which cities pay the highest, as well as the average weekly salary for travelers.

According to Vivian, the average salary for a Travel CNA is a little over $900/week, or $23/hour. 

To compare, The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2022,  non-traveling nursing assistants were paid an average of $17.18/hour.

Local Contracts for LPNs and CNAs
Contract opportunities for CNAs and LPNs are often in long-term care settings - typically skilled nursing facilities (SNF) or rehab centers. 

Full travel opportunities are decreasing for CNAs and LPNs in 2024. Rather than asking for travelers, we are seeing that client buildings that requesting for local candidates to commit to short-term contracts.

Nursing assistants and LPNs still get flexibility and higher pay with a local contract – all without the worry of a delayed flight, lost luggage, or being far away from support systems.

Candidates may see contracts listed on job boards that say “local only.” Local only means that the building is looking for candidates who live within a 40–50-mile radius. With a local contract, candidates are expected to have their own means of transportation, and to go home each day.

With local contracts, healthcare workers would not be duplicating expenses, so they should not expect an untaxed travel stipend in addition to their taxed hourly rate. However, there are some instances where the building could offer a mileage stipend (usually $50-$100/week) to cover the cost of gas.

Regional Contracts for LPNs and CNAs
Regional means that the building is willing to accept a traveler to an extent. For example, if there is a regional LPN contract open in Cincinnati, Ohio, this means that the building is willing to accept nurses living within a quick drive -- usually within 100 miles. So, an LPN living in Louisville, Kentucky would be eligible for submission in this example, since Louisville is about 100 miles (1.5-hour drive) from Cincinnati.

How to Prepare for a Travel Nursing Contract
In order to get submitted to a contract, healthcare professionals are required to be fully compliant, which includes a skills checklist, basic life support (BLS), and other important documentation like licensure, a physical stating you’re fit to work, and a tuberculosis (TB test).

It is critical for travel healthcare professionals to have at least three professional references. In some instances, staffing agencies will require that your references include two previous supervisors. It's a good rule of thumb to include one supervisor reference that you've worked within in the past 12 months.

When accepting a travel contract, it is critical to budget appropriately. Once you arrive at your new location, you will not be paid until after your first full week of shifts. Make sure you take housing, meals, gas, and other incidental expenses into account for the first week or two. Being financially prepared is critical for travelers, especially as we enter the winter months which can lead to unforeseen circumstances on the road.

Kylee, the renowned travel NICU nurse behind Passports and Preemies, wrote that she likes to “save about $3,000 before heading out on an assignment.”

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How to Get Paid More While On Assignment
Whether you sign a local or travel assignment, a huge factor in your decision will be pay. When going over the contract details with your recruiter, make sure to ask about guaranteed hours and the potential for overtime.

Depending on the building, you could earn an extra $300-$500 per week by picking up one additional 10-hour or 12-hour shift. Typically, the overtime (OT) rate offered is 1.5 times your base rate. Picking up extra hours is the easiest way to increase your earning potential while on assignment.

In addition to opting for overtime hours, be sure to ask about the potential for sign-on bonuses, completion or extension bonuses, referral bonuses and licensure reimbursement.

The Outlook for Travel Nursing in 2024
Though hospitals and nursing centers nationwide are trending toward more stable and sustainable operations post-pandemic, the future for travel nursing and availability of healthcare contracts remains bright. Travel nurses and other medical professionals will see plenty of opportunity, whether it’s close to home or across the country.

Ready for a new career opportunity in 2024? Whether you’re interested in exploring travel, in-state, or local contracts, LeaderStat’s job board has thousands of opportunities available for healthcare professionals nationwide.

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LeaderStat specializes in direct care staff, interim leadership, executive recruitment, travel nursing and consulting for healthcare organizations nationwide.