Travel Nurses vs. Staff Nurses vs. Agency Nurses

As a nurse, it's helpful to understand the employment options available to you that can increase your pay, grow your career, and better support your personal interests and lifestyle. One of the most common ways nurses diversify their careers is by becoming a travel nurse. No matter what stage of your nursing career you’re in, it’s never too late to explore new ways to put your in-demand skills and experience to work. Here, we’ve broken down the differences between staff nurses, travel nurses, and agency nurses.

Travel Nurses

Travel nurses are registered nurses who work on short-term assignments with different healthcare facilities nationwide. Travel nurses help fill staffing shortages and work in a variety of departments.

Staff Nurses

Staff nurses are registered nurses who work for a specific healthcare facility. Staff nurses usually work full or part-time and have set schedules and responsibilities.

Agency Nurses

Agency nurses are registered nurses who work temporarily at healthcare facilities. Agency nurses are employed by an agency or staffing company and often take on nursing roles with short notice. 

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Nurse Salary Information

A career as a nurse can be financially rewarding. Along the way, nurses can increase their earning potential by obtaining licenses and passing specific certifications.

Travel Nurse Salary

Travel nurse salaries tend to be higher than staff nurse and agency nurse salaries. As of 2023, travel nurses can earn between $78,000 and over $170,000 per year. When considering travel nurse earnings, it’s important to remember that as a travel nurse your take-home pay may be higher after factoring in reimbursements for travel, food, and housing.

Staff Nurse Salary

Staff nurse salaries start higher than agency nurses, but the maximum earnings are the same. Staff nurses earn between $70,000-$90,000 per year depending on experience and location. In addition to base salary, staff nurses can take advantage of benefits like health insurance and 401k options.

Agency Nurse Salary

Agency nurse salaries tend to be higher than staff nurses, but many agency nurses do not get employment benefits like staff nurses, which is often seen as an extension of compensation. Agency nurses earn between $60,000-90,000 per year. Depending on how far your agency assignment is, you may also be able to factor in reimbursements for travel and food to your pay.

Pros and Cons of Travel, Agency, and Staff Nurse Jobs

Learn about the pros and cons of each type of nurse job.

Travel Nurse Pros

  • Flexibility: Being a travel nurse lets you decide where and when you want to work.
  • Adventurous Lifestyle: As a travel nurse, you’ll get to chart your own travel adventures and explore new states, cities, healthcare systems, and communities.
  • Higher Pay and Benefits: Travel nurses often get paid more than any other kind of nurse. Plus, they get reimbursed for travel, housing, and other on-the-job expenses.

Travel Nurse Cons

  • Relocation: A career in travel nursing requires frequent relocation, which may not appeal to those who prefer a more settled lifestyle.
  • Less Job Security: As a travel nurse, transitioning from one travel assignment to another might cause stress and anxiety. 
  • New Facilities: Travel nurses are constantly working in new facilities and environments, requiring them to be adaptable. Nurses who prefer consistency may face difficulties with this on a travel assignment.

Staff Nurse Pros

  • Job Stability: Staff nurses have long-term job security that offers a regular schedule in consistent settings.
  • Relationships: Because staff nurses work in a consistent environment, they are able to foster relationships with their coworkers and patients.
  • Specializations: Staff nurses often specialize in one specific area of healthcare.

Staff Nurse Cons

  • Less Flexibility: Because they work set schedules, staff nurses have less room for flexibility when deciding when they want to work.
  • Lower Pay: Staff nurses tend to get paid less than travel or agency nurses.
  • Less Variety: Working the same routine over and over can become boring to some nurses who seek new challenges in their work.

Agency Nurse Pros

  • Flexibility: Agency nurses have flexibility in terms of what assignments they choose to take on. For example, an agency nurse may be able to take on planned assignments or take on last-minute shifts.
  • Pay Potential: Agency nurses have the ability to negotiate higher hourly rates, especially with assignments that arrive on short notice.
  • Exposure: Agency nurses get exposed to diverse healthcare settings and have the opportunity to learn new protocols and practices.

Agency Nurse Cons

  • Inconsistency: Agency nurses sometimes experience periods where assignment availability fluctuates, making it hard to find an assignment that works for them.
  • Lack of benefits: Agency nurses often do not get the same kind of employment benefits that travel nurses or staff nurses have such as health insurance and a 401k plan.
  • Lack of Relationships: Because agency nurses move between assignments frequently, it can be hard to establish a consistent relationship with colleagues.

Frequently Asked Questions About Different Types of Nurses

Hospitals pay travel nurses more than staff nurses because of high demand and urgency. When hospitals are facing staffing shortages, travel nurses are able to quickly fill critical staffing needs with skill and experience.
Travel nurses are hired instead of staff nurses at hospitals and other healthcare facilities because travel nurses provide facilities with staffing flexibility, specialized skills and expertise, and are sometimes a cost-effective solution compared to training a staff nurse on a particular skill or procedure.
The fastest way to become a travel nurse is to obtain a two-year Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree instead of a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. After passing the NCLEX, obtain a minimum of one year of nursing experience in your chosen specialty. Most facilities require nurses to have a minimum of 12 months of recent, relevant nursing experience; from then, you can search travel nurse jobs and apply!
Yes, travel nursing is still worth it because it affords nurses a way to earn a higher pay while having greater flexibility with when and where they want to work. Job security for travel nurses remains strong due to factors like staffing shortages, fluctuating seasonal needs, and an increasing population of individuals requiring skilled care.
There are many factors that contribute to travel nurse salaries being so high such as a healthy demand for travel nurses due to a nationwide nursing shortage. The demand for experienced nurses is also driven by an aging population living longer with more acute and chronic diseases. Also, staffing shortages can create negative physical, emotional, and financial effects for both patients and fellow healthcare workers; thus, facilities often pay generous salaries for these needs to be met.

Nurse Resources

  1. ZipRecruiter: Agency Nurse Salary. (n.d.). Retrieved from

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020 - 29-1141 Registered Nurses. (n.d.). Retrieved from

  3. Nursing Process: Travel Nurse Salary - Pay, Job Outlook, and More. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Author profile

Midge Lee, BSN, RN.
Midge is a registered nurse with eight years of clinical experience in ER, ICU, and home health. After travel nursing for a couple of years, she transitioned from the bedside to writing full-time. She’s passionate about diversity and trauma-informed care and will write hospital haikus if you ask nicely. Currently, she’s an SEO content writer at Nomad Health.