Travel nursing or per diem nursing is a great way for relatively inexperienced nurses to hack the pay scale. In 2013, I left my first nursing job with 2 years of experience and started travel nursing. I did travel nursing for about two years and only stopped because I met my wife. A couple years later in 2016, I left my job at a downtown hospital to take a travel nurse contract at a hospital in the same city. I stopped doing travel nursing or taking contracts due to nurse practitioner school. Fortunately, the hospital I was doing a contract at wanted to hire me per diem. I am still working per diem there as it pays similar to what a travel nurse contract would pay with more flexibility and no time limits. I am amazed at the amount a hospital will pay for a nurse when they are in need. I heard the hospital was paying my travel company almost $100 per hour for my services. I was only getting $50 an hour, so clearly my company was making serious money off of me. I on the other hand was getting paid much higher than a staff nurse who had a similar amount of experience.
A Somewhat Missed Opportunity
I didn’t take advantage of the financial edge that travel nursing offered the first couple of years I did travel nursing. I pursued travel nursing for the lifestyle and adventure that travel nursing can offer. It is amazing you can go live in almost any major city in the US temporarily and get paid well. Travel nursing is a great way to see the US and figure out where you might want to live. I also met some of the most interesting and amazing people travel nursing. There is a strong community of travel nurses and tons of info on the internet about it. It wasn’t until after I stopped travel nursing for the first time and took a job at a local downtown hospital as a staff nurse that I realized the financial power of travel nursing. I took at least a 20% pay cut to work at the same hospital I was previously travel nursing at. It was worth it at the time because I was seriously dating my now wife, and I absolutely loved the area.
The Power of Travel Nursing
The power of travel nursing is the ability to take control of your career and work environment. When the work culture became toxic at the downtown hospital due to a huge feud between the management of the nursing union, it was powerful knowing I did not have to put up with the toxic work culture and could move along at anytime without harming my nursing career or my financial situation. I discovered I could do local travel nursing contracts or what I call contract nursing since I live in a large metropolitan area.
After being a staff nurse again, I realized that the whole nursing pay scale steps according to years of experience kind of sucks if you are towards the bottom end. After 3-4 years of experience in my nurse specialty, I found I could do everything my colleagues who had 20-30 years of experience. Since I was younger and usually more in shape, I could actually do my job more efficiently than they could. Yet I was getting paid significantly less. This struck me as profoundly unfair. No disrespect if you’ve been a nurse for a long time. I just envy your spot in the payscale. To make matters worse, I realized that the downtown hospital I was working at paid their nurses the least. I would instantly make close to $8 a hour more if I just did my same job at a hospital a couple miles away. Money is not everything at a job but when the work culture goes toxic, there’s not much reason to stay. Amazingly lots of nurses do stay.
Travel nursing pays everyone the same no matter how few or many years of experience. Probably after you have 10-15 years of nursing experience, travel nurse no longer makes financial sense. But from a purely monetary view, travel nursing allows you to hack the silly nursing payscale for 10-15 years. Of course there are huge drawbacks to travel nursing for 10-15 years. You can only stay at a hospital for up to 1 year then you have to move on. It is hard to develop close friends and community in a place when your job is always in flux. Also it is hard to date someone who is not into your travel nurse lifestyle. Travel nurses are also usually coming into a hospital situation that is in some kind of crisis. This either means your co-workers are profoundly grateful to have you or, in the worse case, the outcast who gets all the crappy work. It is also very easy to spend the extra money you’ve earned since you’re exploring at new place all the time. A huge drawback of travel nursing is the temporary nature of contract nursing. For the past several years, there have been plenty of travel nurse contracts but that is not always the case. Demand for travel nurses goes through cycles and as a traveler you never know when that demand will disappear.
The Power of Per Diem Nursing
The answer for me to a lot of these long-term drawbacks to travel nursing especially the constant flux was to become a per diem nurse. Per diem nursing allows me to set my own schedule but still hack the nursing payscale since per diem nurses usually get paid a nice premium. In my case, it is close to 20% more than if I was full-time staff. I am now making almost as much as I did as a travel nurse without having to find contracts. Hospitals can afford to pay per diem nurses more because they do not pay for any benefits such as medical insurance and paid time off. This works well for my situation because I can get insurance through my wife’s employer for about the same premium as I would if I was a full-time staff employee. Paid time off is a great perk, but I have found it is often difficult to use the paid time off with the flexibility I would prefer. I have always thought paid time off is a strange concept. I rather get a larger paycheck for the work I do rather than spread my paycheck out with 3-4 weeks of paid time off. It also seems way too easy to use my paid time off when I want to go home early which happens almost every Friday afternoon. This results in siphoning off my valuable vacation time. Then there’s the problem of getting vacation time off approved. I’ll take unpaid time off and a larger paycheck with more flexibility.