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How Do Travel Nursing Agencies Work?

Travel nurses work through travel nursing agencies. The agencies get contracts from healthcare facilities and hire their members to fulfill them.

The travel nurse, therefore, is hired by the agency and not by the healthcare facility. But how do these travel nursing agencies operate, how do they make their money, and where can you find the best ones as a travel nurse?

How Do Travel Nurse Agencies Make Money?

There are a couple of ways that a travel nursing agency can make money.

The first is to take a percentage of the nurse's wage. Like most agencies, they can skim some money from the top, ensuring that the nurse gets a respectable wage, the healthcare facility doesn't pay too much, and there is enough left over for them.

The amount that they take will depend on the agency's policies, but it's important for them to strike the right balance.

If they take too much, it means their employees aren't earning as much as they could or should. As a result, they may leave in search of greener pastures. At the very least, they'll be annoyed with the agency that's supposed to be supporting them in their career.

If they take too little, their profit margins will drop, and as they have a lot of expenses to consider (from recruiters and employees to housing), that's a slippery slope.

The other way that agencies make money is to charge healthcare companies for their services.

They're basically saying to hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare practices, "You pay us X, and we'll find you the best nurses". This allows them to pay their nurses more money while still earning a profit, but it's not quite that simple.

If a hospital is paying for the services of a recruitment agency, they'll want to pay their nurses a little less to recoup some of those losses.

How Much Do Agency Owners Make?

Contrary to what you might think, agency owners are not rolling in money and benefiting greatly from the work of others.

In fact, the average salary for an agency owner is between $100,000 and $150,000. It's still a lot of money, but it puts them on par with some of their highly qualified travel nurses.

There are a lot of expenses for these agencies to cover and there is a limit to how many nurses they can hire. After all, the more they hire, the bigger the agency needs to be, which means they'll have more expenses. It also means they'll need more housing and contracts, none of which come easily.

Can Travel Nursing Agencies Give You Temp License?

It's possible to acquire a temporary license as you wait for a permanent license to come through. This can be provided by an agency for your travel nursing assignments, but it will depend on your current license status and your specific assignment/agency, so it's something you'll need to discuss with your chosen travel nurse agency.

How To Choose A Travel Nurse Agency

There are many different travel nurse staffing agencies in the United States, so how do you find the right one for you?

There are a few things to keep an eye out for:

How Much Travel Nursing Contracts Do They Have?

The more assignments that an agency has, the more opportunities you will have. Do your research to discover how many placements they are getting for their travel nurses.

Knowledgeable and Friendly Recruiters

Check reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed to find agencies with the friendliest travel nurse recruiters. The easier they are to contact and work with, the easier your travel assignment will be.

Check the Benefits

What sort of medical benefits and bonuses does the agency provide? Will they pay you if you are sick? Will they cover your health insurance? What about life insurance?


The best travel nursing companies support their nurses in every way and with everything that they need. They help you with your continuing education, provide a wealth of resources, and help with taxes. These are the agencies that you need to work with.

Do I Have To Use An Agency For Travel Nursing?

At a very basic level, travel nurses are contractors/freelancers, and as any freelancer will tell you, you'll make more money working directly and avoiding middlemen.

So, can travel nurses do the same?

Well, firstly, it's not quite that simple. Even in the world of freelancing, it helps to work with agencies, as they remove a lot of the legwork and negotiations and allow you to focus on what you do best.

With travel nursing, there are other considerations, as well.

If you're an independent contractor, you must deal with all your own taxes and don't have anyone you can ask about state, federal, and local taxes. You'll also have to find your own housing, deal with health insurance and sick pay, and handle the potential billing issues.

And that's before you even think about applying for work.

Travel nursing agencies have close relationships with many healthcare facilities. They get the jobs as soon as they are needed. When you work alone, you'll be tasked with contacting hospitals, making requests, and then hoping they have some availability and haven't already filled their nursing shortage with agency staff.

You can make a lot of money as a travel nurse, and that's true for agency staff, as well. Even with the agency skimming some off the top, you will still earn more than similarly-skilled nurses working in similar positions.

It's important to think about things from the perspective of a hospital.

If you're experiencing serious nursing shortages and you have multiple roles to fill, do you go straight to an agency and let them deal with it, or do you dig out the details of that 1 nurse that called you weeks ago and ask them if they're available?

It's a no-brainer.

FAQs About Travel Nursing Agencies

If you still have questions about travel nurse staffing agencies, check out the following FAQs.

Can You Work For a Travel Nursing Agency Without Experience?

Most agencies require at least 1 year of experience and many ask for 2. If you have only just acquired your certification, get out there and get some experience! As soon as you have a couple of years under your belt, the doors will start opening for you.

Can I Apply for an Agency Before Getting Experience?

You can still apply for travel nurse positions before you complete your required work experience. It's unlikely that you will get those assignments ahead of experienced nurses, but in times of extreme demand, such as the ones seen during the pandemic, there's a chance you will be hired.

What is the Hourly Rate for Travel Nursing Jobs?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the median pay for a registered nurse is $36.22 an hour. The exact rate for traveling nurses, however, will depend on everything from your experience and skill level to your location and bonuses.

Do Travel Nurse Agencies Pay Travel Expenses?

Yes, a travel nurse agency pays for travel and housing expenses. Pay packages vary by location and assignment, but you will typically be reimbursed for your travel costs and either provided with housing or a housing stipend, the latter of which gives you money that you can use to find your own housing.

Each contract and pay package varies, so it's important to always read the small print and know exactly what you're getting and what is expected of you.

Are Traveling Nurses Entitled To Sick Pay From Their Agency?

There is nothing forcing agencies to pay their nurses sick pay. As per the contract, the agency will only get paid for the hours that the travel nurse works, and if they're not working, the agency isn't earning and there is nothing to pass onto the nurse.

There are exceptions, though. Some of the better travel nursing agencies offer sick pay, and as a nurse spending a lot of time around potentially infectious people, that's an important consideration!

Can Travel Nurses Work With Multiple Agencies?

There is nothing stopping you from working with multiple travel nursing agencies. It should provide you access to a wider range of travel nursing jobs and will give you an idea of which agencies pay the highest rates.

find nursing schools near you

find nursing schools near you