Choosing a Travel Nursing Specialty

Sep 24, 2019
The Trusted Team

A Breakdown of Travel Nursing Specialties

We know that choosing a specialty can be tough, especially when you need to be willing to dedicate the next few years of your career pursuing it. There are a variety of factors to consider when selecting a specialty, especially demand, average gross weekly pay, and location. We put together a Travel Nurse Compensation Report for 2019 and found some insightful details about each one.

pie graph showing share of total marketplace in nursing units


High demand for a given specialty is one factor that may impact your decision to pursue a new specialization. ICU nurses are the most in-demand across all travel specialties accounting for 16.5% of the total jobs in our dataset, followed by Medical-Surgical (10.9%), Operating Room (9.1%), and Emergency Room (8.8%).

By state, California, Texas, New Jersey, and South Carolina are in the biggest need for additional nurses, with a deficit of more than 10,000 full-time employees. If you’ve ever had dreams of learning to surf in Malibu, California, now may be your chance!

However, it’s important to note that these states have varying licensure requirements, so you’ll have to make sure you have all of your boxes checked before making the move!

Average Gross Weekly Pay

High pay may be a second factor. As a product of our analysis, we established a baseline average gross weekly pay for travel nurses of $1,786. The highest-paid specialties were Anesthetist (or CRNA) at $3,600/week, followed by Assistant Manager at $2,880/week, and then by Pre-Admission at $2,796/week. On the other hand, the lowest-paid specialties were Clinical Education Specialist at $1,512/week, followed by Long-Term Acute Care at $1,538/week, and then by Clinical Decisions at $1,544/week.

It’s important to note, however, that demand does not necessarily mean better pay. Anesthetists and Perinatal RNs, for example, do not have as many openings across the country as ICU or Medical-Surgical even though their gross weekly pay is almost twice as high. The most popular travel nursing specialties by total job count are as follows: ICU ($1,796/week), Medical-Surgical ($1,646/week), and Operating Room ($1,879/week). If you’re interested in learning more about nursing financials, check out our guide on how nurses can retire wealthier than doctors


While pay is certainly important, location is key in deciding upon a travel specialty! Not only does it largely dictate pay, it’s also typically the primary reason nurses decide to travel. We’ve defined the top U.S. cities for travel nurses as those that have a high total number of travel nursing jobs, a low cost of living, and a higher average gross weekly pay for travel nurses over staff nursing positions.

bar graph of average gross weekly pay for nurses in the top cities in the US

While it’s no surprise that San Francisco is at the top of the list for average gross weekly pay for travel nurse assignments, other cities like St. Louis may provide better value for travelers due to a lower cost of living index and a higher rate of pay compared to their staff counterparts. 

When comparing the gross weekly pay for travel nurses against the average cost of living in our top 10 cities, some interesting trends arise. While New York City and San Francisco top the list for the highest cost of living, Los Angeles stands out as one city where your paycheck is going to go further than some other large metro areas like New York City and Seattle.

Ultimately, to make the most informed decision of what to specialize in, where to travel, and whether or not you even want to travel, you need to do your research. That’s why we’ve done the hard part for you. You can use our full analysis to help you make the most informed travel decision possible!

Find the Most In-Demand Nursing Specialties

Check out our new resource for a full list of the most popular and in-demand nursing specialties.