Temporary healthcare workers have been in high demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, driving wages to a peak of $4,000 a week in December 2020, but many health systems are trying to limit their dependence on travel nurses because they charge more than regular registered nurses. The average pay for temporary healthcare workers has gone up and down over the last few months amid the ongoing staff shortage. But data shows the days of sky-high pay may be coming to an end.
According to the nurse recruitment platform Vivian Health, travel nursing salaries plateaued at $3,100 a week at the end of last year. Tim Needham, senior vice president of product at Vivian Health, says the average weekly rate will likely drop during the first few months of 2023, but these trends represent the “new floor” for travel nurse pay.
The company also confirmed that travel nurses are here to stay.
“Despite wages stabilizing, we expect that temporary nursing contracts will continue to account for a significant portion of the health care labor workforce,” says Katelyn Harris, director of client development at Vivian Health. “While health systems eye labor as one of their costliest line items, clinicians will continue to seek out the higher wages, greater flexibility, and reduced bureaucracy associated with temporary contracts.”
Now that the pandemic is receding into the rear-view mirror, hospitals likely won’t be as overwhelmed as they were in years past, but Harris says they will still have trouble maintaining a full staff due to budgeting and recruitment issues.
“With the COVID Emergency Order coming to a close in May, this means that hospitals will not have the additional federal funds to support the steep labor costs that they incurred from short term contractors during 2020 and 2021,” Harris explains. “Despite wages stabilizing, we expect that temporary nursing contracts will continue to account for a significant portion of the health care labor workforce.”
Assuming the $3,000 a week trend holds, traveling RNs could make up to $161,000 a year if they worked all 52 weeks on the calendar. That’s more than twice the average annual base salary for registered nurses, which currently stands at $77,600 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Pursuing a career in travel nursing is not as lucrative as it was in the height of the pandemic,” Harris adds. “While travel nurses do have higher gross wages than permanent staff nurses, their weekly pay includes stipends for housing, meals, and other contract-related expenses incurred on assignment.”
However, travel nurses might have to pay for housing in their home location where they are based while traveling from one assignment to the next, which can eat into their take-home pay. Harris says nurses should evaluate the true cost of taking a short-term contract to see how much they stand to earn.
“Travel nurses may receive higher wages than their full-time counterparts because health systems are paying a premium to fill critical staffing needs,” Harris says. “However, travel nursing is generally only more lucrative than full-time staff roles when local cost of living is low relative to pay.”
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