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Travel Nurse Pay

Posted Aug 14 2009 6:48pm
Recent friends at our Halloween Party

Mary and I love to invite acquaintances over to the beach house. Actually we make acquaintances out of complete strangers. They may slow down and admire the wall surrounding our courtyard (if you haven't seen pics of it click here ) and Mary invites them in for a tour, or they are strolling along the beach and we start a chat and end up sharing cool drinks around the fire pit. We enjoy making new friends.

After seeing our home and the multimillion dollar house across from us, I am often asked how much does a travel nurse make.

Without giving a dollar per hour amount I explain about taxable income verses the nontaxable travel stipend, but I also share about Mary's and my outlook on the travel lifestyle.

One lure travel companies use is the high salary and tax advantage programs available for travel nurses. The prospective nurse then figures how much better their weekly paycheck will be as compared to the take home pay from the local hospital. With calculator in hand, they estimate how much debt can be eliminated over the next three, no six months and then they will finally be free.

I recall a story I heard a few years ago of the nursing couple who had the goal to pay off their home mortgage in two years by working travel assignments together. To save even more money they decided to live in a fifth wheel trailer rather than apply the nontaxable stipend to an apartment.
Sound like a great plan so far?

Here is what ended up happening. They did not own a trailer so they purchased a new one and a year later decided their first pickup wasn't large enough to pull it, so they bought a new model. Then the cramped space was not practical for their box TV and so purchased a large flat screen (remember this was a few years ago when they were still expensive).

The story ended up that after a year the couple had payed nothing extra on their home mortgage and were now more in debt than they were when they began. How sad.

I have also heard of nurses, desperate for extra income, travel to high paying assignments and work extra hours for the overtime pay while sharing an extended stay hotel room with a nurse working the opposite shift. No doubt they earn great pay.

My question is; what are they going to do with it?

Perhaps their reasons are legitimate; it is possible that things such as medical crisis can put a crunch on family budgets.
Here is my take though. If you are using travel pay solely for the purpose of inflating your personal budget, you may be walking down a very disappointing path.

Missing out on your family and friends while spending long hours at work just to increase your pay is costing you time that can never be replaced. On your days off; when you take one, you will find little solace in being away from the ones you care about.

I often wonder if those who complain most about travel nursing, perhaps started their venture with misplaced assumptions and then blame inhospitable staff. Perhaps nerves would not be so edgy if the stress to make over extended bill payments were not so real.

Each nurses' experience is unique of course, but I know that when combining stress of extra hours with separation from love ones, you lose that sense of connectedness and are set up for failure. Is extra money worth it?

If extra pay is your only goal, I suggest reconsidering travel nursing.

Mary and I actually set and accomplished the goal of being debt free before we started travel. I have written about how to achieve this in an earlier post (click here).

When I talk to a recruiter about a travel assignment I make it clear that I am more interested in a positive assignment experience than the size of my paycheck.

Even after explaining this I am surprised how many recruiters continue the conversation about how great the pay will be. One recruiter even had the nerve to say that I can endure anything for just thirteen weeks for this great pay. What audacity!

My posts will continue to be about how to enjoy the travel experience by learning how to maximize your assets of money and time spent in wonderful places.


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