So you’ve decided travel nursing is your next path or career move, or you’ve made the transition from traditional nursing to travel nursing. What’s next? There are a lot of components to consider when planning for your new life, applying to companies, or accepting a job offer. While a lot of the fun and excitement of this career path is the chance to try out new cities and locations and get to explore more of the world while developing your career, the less appealing part can definitely be considering and comprehending your new pay package at each assignment or stop. One of the major parts of a travel nursing position and job offer is the stipend. This means it should be one of your primary concerns when planning for your life logistics and when choosing an agency or job to accept.
What is this stipend? In the simplest terms, it’s an amount of money provided upfront as a stipend to cover your housing, meals, and incidentals costs while you’re on a travel assignment (technically several stipends covering different needs). As you can imagine, when traveling to new cities for new assignments, you typically won’t have a built-in place to live, or even an idea of the housing options in your new locale. This stipend is a major part of your pay package with each new agency and assignment, and it’s an important factor. Also important are the stipend offerings for food and other expenses you’ll encounter on an assignment, including moving costs. However, it becomes more confusing to understand because each agency handles the housing stipend differently.
Before exploring this stipend in more detail, it’s important to understand the concept of GSA Per Diem Rates. Essentially, the General Services Administration (GSA) has a variety of responsibilities, one of which is determining per diem rates for federal employees, the rates that cover official expenses during business travel and do so tax-free. As travel nursing is often entirely “business travel” these per diem concepts come into play often.
However, while the government powers that be refer to this sum as a per diem, the more accurate and typical terminology in the travel nursing field is a stipend, as that definition (a fixed sum paid as a salary or allowance) is a more accurate fit. Per diem implies “daily” and that’s not as much the case, as travel nursing stipends are typically paid weekly to monthly, depending on the agency and the purpose.
The GSA provides standard per diem lodging rates for most locations and major cities. This means you can look up the governmental rate for federal employees, per day of business travel. For instance, if the GSA rate for a city is $100 per day, you’d have to expect $3000 per month (to meet that daily marker), but that will never be the case. The GSA rates are always assigned as maximum amounts, so it’s not a requirement these markers even be hit for short-term federal employee business travel, let alone long-term nursing workers. These contracts, as opposed to a few days in a hotel, generally span about 13 weeks, and no less than 8. This means two plus months of lodging required for each travel nursing assignment. Travel healthcare workers can usually obtain affordable short-term apartments or great discounts at extended-stay hotels. When agencies assign stipend amounts, they have to believe that you’ll reasonably use the amount they’ve selected on monthly accommodations, and not substantially more or less. So agencies base their provided amounts on the general prices of short-term lodging in the city in question.
In many instances, you’ll be offered either a housing stipend or company-provided lodging. Often, choosing the stipend is the smart financial move. If you take the stipend and manage to find a place that costs less than the allotment, you could walk away with some extra spending money in your pocket each month. There are other, more complicated, possible scenarios, but this is the primary one you’ll encounter with many agencies. It’s also fair to consider how much work you want to put into finding a place to live, and your standards for lodging. If you only want to live in a nice apartment in a particular area, it may be a challenge to hunt down a short-term option within your desired parameters. It may also create undue stress during the moving process, or take some time. In this case, the company-offered housing may be the safest and easiest option. But, if you’re willing to put in some extra work or you don’t mind more of a budget option, you could easily end each month with plenty left in your stipend to use as you please.
Meals and Incidental Expenditures Stipend
Otherwise known as M&IE, this stipend is a completely separate entity of its own and covers food and other expenses incurred during work and business travel. It’s referred to by a few names, so it’s smart to confirm with a new agency how they refer to it in their pay package as you’re assessing options. As with lodging, the GSA has a daily M&IE rate established for cities around the country. You can look up those rates here to get a better idea. From there, it’s established on an agency by agency basis and is very dependent on the other components in the pay package. If an agency is offering a higher M&IE stipend, there’s a good chance they’re also giving you a lower base hourly pay. It’s got to come from somewhere. That’s why it’s crucial to compare and assess all components of any offered pay packages to see where the pros and cons lie and the sum total you’ll be earning and have available to spend on other expenses.
Helpful Tips to Keep in Mind
- If you’re offered a stipend amount and are wondering if it’s high or low for the area you’re assigned, there are online groups and message boards where you can easily reach out to others to see what they were offered in a similar area.
- According to one travel nurse, it’s smart to comparison shop. If you get an offer, compare it to other similar companies for similar locations. Agencies will usually try to match another agency’s stipend if you can prove that it’s higher. If they want to hire you, they also don’t want to lose you right away over a low stipend issue. They’ll want to start off on a good foot as much as you do.
- Travel nursing stipends and pay packages are like a pie: if the agency is offering more for one portion, they will usually be offering less on another, whether that be another stipend, benefits, or overall salary. They will make up for a smaller rate on one benefit by providing more for something else.
- Different states allow different stipends. Just because you got something with an agency at your last location doesn’t mean you can automatically expect the same on a new assignment in a different state.
- You’ll need to keep records to prove various expenses you’re using your stipend for. Keep records of your housing, mileage, food, and so on.
Remember to reach out to Stability to see if you have any questions regarding your stipend. We are here to answer any questions you may have so you can make the most out of your travel nursing experience.