Travel nurses have played an important role in American healthcare throughout the pandemic, as Covid-19 cases rise and fall in different areas of the country. At the same time the demand for healthcare workers rose dramatically, record numbers of nurses are leaving the profession, leaving travel nurses to fill the employment gaps in areas hit hard by the virus.
The Delta variant led to a distinct jump in hiring and salaries for travel nurses, who could earn nearly double the annual salary of permanent staff at the time.
We analyzed data from Aya Healthcare, the largest travel nursing staffing agency, to break down how hiring trends and salaries have changed for travel nurses since the start of the year and to rank the best and worst states for travel nurses to find good-paying jobs. The data was indexed by Thinknum, the parent company of The Business of Business.
As demand falls, salaries remain high
New cases of Covid-19 in the United States peaked around mid-January, and since then, demand for travel nurses has fallen across the board, according to Aya’s job listings for registered nurses, shown above in blue. However, the median weekly salary for RNs, shown above in green, remains significantly higher than its value in mid-2021, though it’s trending downward.
This is probably due to the supply of nurses across the country; according to Health Affairs, the total supply of RNs decreased by more than 100,000 in 2021, a dramatic reversal of the steady growth seen for decades. This loss of nurses was primarily driven by younger nurses dropping out of the workforce, raising “ominous implications” for the healthcare industry.
With a constrained supply, hospitals are relying on higher salaries to attract travel nurses to areas hard-hit by Covid. While the U.S. isn’t currently facing a level of infections similar to early 2022, a new wave could lead to a sudden increase in job listings for travel nurses.
States where demand is highest and lowest for travel nurses
We used data to rank states in terms of demand for travel nurses based on their changes in the number of job listings and the median weekly salary since the start of 2022. We only included states which had more than 50 job listings on both occasions. These aren’t just the states with the most jobs or the highest salaries — in order to capture the most recent trends, we compared the growth or loss of both metrics, which helps control for the population of a state.
If your state has low travel nurse demand that may be a sign of a relatively strong permanent healthcare workforce. States with weaker staff levels of permanent nurses are more likely to rely on travel nurses to fill the gaps — and will pay them more as a result.
States with highest demand
While Florida’s job listings for travel RNs fell to a third of its value at the start of the year on April 12, its demand has started to increase again over the last two weeks. That spike in demand, combined with the fact that RN salaries have barely changed since January, earns Florida its No. 3 ranking.
Cases in Florida have begun to rise recently due to the BA.2 subvariant’s spread throughout the southeastern United States. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has come under fire for his relatively lax response to the coronavirus.
Mississippi’s median salary for travel RNs has barely budged since the beginning of the year, and though job listings had fallen, the state’s recent spike means there are more jobs available for travel nurses now compared to the start of the year.
Mississippi recently passed a law banning vaccine mandates for state and local government jobs, meaning those jobs are forbidden from refusing jobs or services to people who have chosen not to get vaccinated against Covid. About half of Mississippians are fully vaccinated against Covid, compared to the national average of two-thirds.
1. New Hampshire
New Hampshire is one of two states with more job opportunities for travel RNs compared to the start of the year, with Mississippi being the other. However, if we check all the way back to last summer, New Hampshire still comes out ahead of all other states when comparing how job listings and median salaries have changed.
New Hampshire’s median weekly salary for travel nurses is the second-highest in the country, and job listings have increased by over 25% since the start of the year. In response to the demand for travel nurses, New Hampshire’s government has voted to double the size of its community college licensed practical nurse training program at a cost of $2.6 million.
States with the lowest demand
Demand for travel nurses in Illinois has dropped precipitously since the start of the year, and the median salary for travel nurses has followed. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker allocated $180 million in his proposed budget to strengthen the state’s permanent healthcare workforce.
Missouri’s seen a steady decline in median weekly salary for travel nurses since the start of the year and job listings have similarly cratered, though a small spike in the last two weeks resembles that of Florida and Mississippi. BA.2 is also a concern in Missouri, accounting for about three quarters of all Covid cases in the state.
1. New Jersey
New Jersey had the third-highest weekly median salary for travel RNs at the start of the year, coming in behind New Hampshire. However, while New Hampshire’s salaries remained steady, those in New Jersey fell by 30% along with a sharp decrease in job listings, making it currently the least in-demand state for travel nurses.
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy mandated that healthcare workers receive a vaccination booster in order to retain a healthy workforce, though the New Jersey Hospital Association recently asked Murphy for a 90-day delay in order to prevent the mandate from exacerbating the shortage.