How to Evaluate Your Travel Nurse Compensation Package and Job Offer

You think you know how it works. You interview for a position, then you get a job offer with details about the compensation package. Pretty straightforward, right? 

Not necessarily so, when it comes to travel nurse compensation packages. There are a variety of details that can change, depending on a wide variety of factors. Let’s take a look at how you can make sense of your offer. 

Read it!

Read the whole offer, cover to cover. Read every detail, every bullet point. This is good advice no matter what contract you’re about to sign, but in this case the devil really is in the details. 

Look at the comprehensive compensation package

After you’ve read the whole thing, go back and dig into the details of the package. Travel nurse compensation packages are not as cut-and-dried as other industries; take time to go through the details. 

Don’t get hung up on the “rate.” That’s not an accurate reflection of what you’ll actually make as a travel nurse. Your compensation will depend on a few different factors, including yes, your base hourly rate, but also will have other items. For example, does your staffing agency provide medical benefits? How is this calculated? What about per diems, housing allowances, or other stipends? All of these factors make up your “rate.” 

If you’re really curious about your overall hourly pay rate that includes all of the ways you’ll be compensated, you can do a little math. First, figure out how the offer has communicated your compensation: is it per week? Per month? Per day? Here’s a simple formula for calculating your “real” hourly rate: 

  • Multiply your hourly rate by the number of work hours in a week (example: 36 hours).
  • Divide any “per week” compensation by the number of hours you’ll be expected to work per week.
  • Divide any “per month” compensation by the number of weeks in the month (remember that not all months have exactly 4 weeks; note the specific months you’ll be working), then by the number of hours per week.
  • Divide any “per contract” compensation by the total number of weeks in your contract, then by the number of hours per week. 
  • Add these numbers together. This should be your overall hourly rate. 

Don’t compare

One trap to avoid is comparing your rate to anyone else’s. Travel nurse compensation packages can vary widely, depending on experience, location, benefits and perks, etc. If you really feel you’re getting a raw deal from one agency, consider looking into another staffing agency. Most of the time, this jealousy and comparison stems from a misunderstanding of how pay packages work. 

Tax advantages

Travel nurse taxes can be complicated. Looking for ways to reduce your tax burden can be helpful for you later on. For example, some compensation items that might be non-taxable could include per diems, housing allowances, and travel reimbursements. Although these second-hand “perks” may not show up in your overall pay, they certainly can affect your bottom line!

Free perks? 

Speaking of “perks,” be wary of things that show up in your contract that can detract from your overall pay. One example of this might be a rental car: how is this paid for? Often, perks like this can be offset by lowering your hourly rate. Again, reading your contract thoroughly will pay off for you in the long run!

Other benefits

Many compensation packages can include health insurance or other benefits that may or may not be important to you. Look closely at what is being offered, then decide if the benefit is more important, or if it offsets your hourly rate, if you’d prefer to receive the money instead. Stay in close contact with your recruiter, who can help you navigate what is included in your package–and what is not. 

Remember your “why”

Ultimately, remember that your compensation package should reflect what is important to you. What items do you need included in your package that makes travel nursing worthwhile? Are you a traveler that happens to be a nurse, so the locations and per diems are most important? Or are you looking for nursing experience in a particular field, in a particular location? Are you just looking for a way to make a good living? 

None of these reasons are right or wrong, and your priorities may change over time. But as you evaluate your pay packages (which you will do over and over again), it’s important to keep your “why” in mind. 

Your time as a travel nurse can be fulfilling in many ways, including financially. Making sure that you are knowledgeable about how your compensation packages work is a big step toward that fulfillment.

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