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5 Highest Paying Travel Nursing Jobs of 2021

Mar 2, 2021
Maegan Wagner, RN, BSN, CCM

As of January 2021, the average annual travel nursing salary is just below $100,000, with many specialties earning beyond that. Nurses are being praised and recognized as frontline heroes as they continue treating patients fighting COVID-19. Because hospitals and facilities are unable to function without the skills and expertise of all nurses and are willing to pay competitive rates.

In Trusted’s 2019 Travel Nurse Compensation Report, the top specialties gross under $2,000/week. In 2021, nurses can choose almost any specialty on the list, for tripled rates, and find multiple job openings. Let’s take a look at the highest-paying specialties in 2021 and important aspects to consider before signing a travel nursing contract.

The Highest Paying Travel Nursing Jobs Right Now

1. Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse

ICU nurses are the most in-demand specialty and for obvious reasons. They are highly trained in caring for the most critical patients, such as patients who require the use of a ventilator to treat respiratory distress caused by COVID-19. 

Intensive care units across the country are full and overflowing with COVID-19 patients making ICU nurses invaluable.

2. Emergency Room (ER) Nurse

ER nurses are usually the first point of contact when entering a hospital. The role of an ER nurse is generally more fast-paced than an ICU nurse. ER nurses use critical thinking skills to triage patients quickly and prioritize the care of the sickest. 

They possess the experience and skills needed to treat a wide range of injuries and illnesses from a patient suffering from a gunshot wound, a motor vehicle accident, or a stroke.

3. Labor and Delivery (L&D) Nurse

This specialty has remained one of the highest-paying specialties for years. L&D nurses possess unique skills gained from experience over time. These nurses are usually caring for relatively healthy patients but must be ready to handle any emergencies that arise such as an unscheduled cesarean section. 

4. Medical-Surgical/Telemetry Nurse

Prior to the pandemic, nurses in these roles could earn an average of $1,500/week. Since the pandemic, rates in certain areas can be as high as $6,000/week. The knowledge and experience of nurses in these specialties are vital and irreplaceable.

Increased nurse-to-patient ratios in these units require a variety of nursing knowledge and excellent time management skills. Trusted lists travel nursing positions across the country and allows you to set your job preferences and receive matches sent to your inbox.  

5. Vaccination Nurse

The need for vaccination nurses has drastically expanded with the distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines. While this may seem like a relaxed position, it often requires nurses to work extended hours and potentially drive long distances to administer the vaccine to different populations. A list of COVID-19 vaccination jobs can be found here.

trusted health covid19 vaccination nursing jobs ad highest paying travel nursing jobs of 2021

Job Location Greatly Affects Pay

While specific nursing specialties account for most of the higher wages, location is also an essential component. Large metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles and New York City, are experiencing high volumes of COVID-19 patients and have the capability to offer higher rates for travel nurses. 

Contracts in these cities have been listed as high as $10,000 per week. These densely-populated areas have seen a surge in coronavirus patients that have overwhelmed hospital resources and staff. The increased need for nurses enables nurses to earn higher wages through travel contracts.

Smaller community hospitals and rural areas are also suffering staffing shortages related to the increased volume of COVID-19 patients. They are low on equipment and protective gear as well as staff. 

Nurses in smaller hospitals are realizing that travel nurses are making double or triple the rate for doing the same job. This has pushed nurses to leave their permanent jobs for more lucrative travel positions that they may not have considered otherwise, and who can blame them?

Be Prepared for Tough Working Conditions

Currently, travel nursing is less about exploring a dream destination and more about making the most money in the least amount of time. Nurses taking advantage of these historical rates often face challenges to their mental health from working long hours in critical conditions.

Most high-paying assignments require 48-hour work weeks. This is up from the usual three 12-hour shifts nurses are accustomed to. For nurses who are masochists, 60-hour workweeks are also available. 

Nurses can expect numerous challenges when arriving at their new travel assignment such as a short-staffed unit with limited PPE. An expectation of flexibility is essential, as nurses may be floated to other units without much notice. 

The unfortunate reality is that some units may require reusing masks or rationing gloves due to the shortage of PPE. Nobody agrees with these practices, but it is the reality of the situation.

Time Is of the Essence

The highest-paying assignments typically have an immediate start date. There is reduced flexibility as these crisis contracts require nurses now. It isn’t unusual to find jobs requesting a nurse to be on site within 48 hours. Recruiters or Nurse Advocates make this process as easy as possible by assisting with securing required licensing and contract details. 

woman holding globe with mask and gloves on travel nursing jobs

Things To Consider Before Signing A Travel Nursing Contract

Before accepting a travel assignment, pay close attention to the compensation package. A huge weekly deposit can be deceiving once a nurse figures out it also includes their housing stipend and requires working extra shifts. Always have clarity about a contract before signing and, if something appears off, discuss it with a recruiter. 

Speaking of recruiters, there are literally hundreds of agencies out there vying for nurses. Not all agencies are created equal, so do some research. Ask other nurses for referrals and what their experience was. 

For example, you might ask:

  • Do they offer day one insurance? 
  • Is housing included or is there a stipend? 
  • Do they offer relocation assistance? 
  • Do nurses still get paid even if their shift is canceled? 

Recruiters don’t make money without nurses—unless they work at Trusted, in which case they’ll go the extra mile for you regardless of whether or not you take the contract—so it’s imperative a nurse chooses a reputable agency they can trust and that will work as hard as they do.

Nurses are irreplaceable and their worth is apparent now more than ever. Nurses save lives every day in an often thankless role that has since been compounded on by the pandemic. They are expected to do more with less, working longer hours with less protection. 

They rise to the occasion, putting their own lives and families at risk to fight a contagious and seemingly never-ending virus. Travel nursing rates are higher than ever before, and no one would deny that nurses deserve that and more

Are You Looking for a Travel Nursing Job?

Whether you’re a nurse looking to begin your first travel assignment or a seasoned traveler looking for that next contact, Trusted will help you secure that next job. Simply create a free Trusted profile to get started!