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How much does a medical surgical travel nurse make?

Average gross weekly pay: $1,543

Max gross weekly pay: $3,345

Average non-taxable compensation: $1,162

Average hours per week: 36.3

Salary and benefit estimates are based on NurseFly data of over 170,000 listings for US travel nurse jobs throughout 2019.

Medical Surgical “med-surg” nurses monitor patients who are acutely ill or recovering from surgery in a variety of hospital and clinical settings. There are many opportunities to work and travel as a med-surg nurse and earn a higher salary while doing it.

Last year, a travel nurse with a medical surgical specialty earned an average gross weekly salary of $1,543 working an average of 36.3 hours per week. This includes non-taxable compensation like living stipends, meal stipends, housing, and relocation which add up to an average value of $1,162 per week.

Medical surgical specialists earned 11.2% less than the average gross weekly salary across all travel nursing disciplines in 2019.

Jump ahead to explore salary trends for the current month by location and specialty.

What are the most common benefits for a medical surgical travel nurse?

While there are many benefits to working as a travel nurse, the most common benefits included as compensation are housing stipends, meal stipends, and health insurance. Be sure to asses how your benefits are taxed because this can affect your net income. For example, if you qualify as having a permanent tax home, many of these stipends are tax-free, which can mean thousands of dollars in savings.

Housing stipends can be used to cover costs associated with temporary housing like rent, utilities, and relocation expenses. In some cases employers will offer a choice between a stipend or employee housing. If you are confident your housing costs will be lower than the stipend amount, then you may be able to find your own place and save the difference.

On the other hand, housing provided by your employer can make the process of relocating a lot easier. Ask your recruiter how a stipend vs employee housing option is taxed. See our housing tips for travel nursing.

Avg housing stipend value: $584

It’s common for employers to cover living expenses, especially food costs since it is one of the largest expenses when relocating. Employers describe this benefit differently sometimes providing a “per diem” which is a maximum daily allowance for meals and incidental expenses. Others may offer a “stipend”, which is a lump sum paid periodically. It’s important to keep detailed records of your expenses and to verify whether you qualify for tax-free stipends.

Average meal stipend value: $668

Many travel nurse employers offer health insurance at a reasonable rate, however coverage may only apply throughout the duration of your assignment. You’ll want to understand the exact start/end dates of your coverage before signing an agreement to avoid gaps in coverage.

As an alternative, many travel nurses choose private coverage or elect COBRA in between jobs. In some cases, you may be able to negotiate a higher rate of pay by choosing private insurance and opting out of the employer’s insurance option.

Where do medical surgical travel nurses make the most money?

In locations where there is a greater need for nursing staff, pay tends to be higher. Some states also have a higher cost of living so employers offer higher compensation relative to those costs. Keep in mind, each state has specific licensing requirements. The tables below show the states with the highest med-surg travel nurse salaries throughout last year and up to the current month.

Top 10 highest paying states for medical surgical travel nurses last year

State Avg Weekly Salary Max Weekly Salary
Rhode Island $1,764 $2,534
California $1,853 $3,345
District of Columbia $1,764 $2,534
New Jersey $1,714 $2,534
South Dakota $1,670 $2,340
Alaska  $1,668 $2,379
Pennsylvania $1,616 $2,703
Nebraska $1,611 $1,930
New York $1,598 $2,800
North Dakota $1,598 $2,040

How does medical surgical compare to other travel nurse specialties?

Employers are often willing to pay more for certain specialties, particularly those that require extensive experience or education.

Medical surgical ranked 72 out of 82 RN specialties in 2019, earning 11.2% less on average than other specialties.

See how the Med Surg specialty compares to the top paying travel RN specialties over the past year and up to the current month.

Top 10 specialties earning top-dollar for a travel nurse last year

Specialty Avg Weekly Salary Max Weekly Salary
Director of Nursing $2,264 $3,196
CRNA – Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist $2,232 $3,347
Director of Nursing $2,408 $3,244
First Assist $2,179 $3,586
House Supervisor $2,133 $3,764
Manager $2,087 $3,105
Educator $2,232 $2,635
Cardiac Cath Lab $2,063 $3,175
CVOR $2,021 $4,341
Electrophysiology Lab $2,010 $3,600


Looking for the highest paying travel nursing med surg jobs?

Explore jobs and compare agencies with Vivian or create a profile and let the offers come to you.


Travel Med Surg Nurse Salary FAQs

Travel nurses are licensed medical staff that fill staffing needs in hospitals across the world. These roles are typically temporary on a contract-basis and include many specialties like the medical surgical specialty. Medical-surgical nursing is one of the largest nursing specialties in the United States. Registered nurses in this specialty practice primarily on hospital units and care for adult patients who are recovering from surgery or suffering from an acute medical issue. Nurses in the med-surg specialty are expert patient care coordinators with experience administering medications, educating families, discharging patients, and admitting new ones.

Learn more about the benefits of travel nursing or explore travel nurse jobs.

The three major factors that influence travel nurse pay are location, specialty, and shift. Locations in greater need of nursing jobs tend to offer higher compensation. Employers are also willing to pay more for certain specialties, particularly those that require extensive experience or education. Nurses who work night shifts may be eligible for a higher base pay. Finally, travel nurses can also accrue overtime, which provides higher hourly pay based on state regulations.

We cover all the ways travel nurses can maximize their income in our ultimate guide to how much you can make as a travel nurse.

One of the advantages of travel nursing over many staff nurse jobs is that it is common to receive compensation in addition to your base salary like housing stipends, travel reimbursement, and per diem meal costs. If you’re able to claim a permanent tax-home, then you can be paid a blended rate, meaning your salary is taxed as ordinary income but your additional stipends are tax-free.

When you factor additional compensation and the tax savings, travel nurses can expect to make more than staff nurses. Learn more in our breakdown of travel nurse pay.

There are two ways you can get paid as a travel nurse: 1) You can be paid a “blended rate” of tax-free stipends plus a taxable hourly wage, or, 2) You can be paid a fully taxable hourly wage that is taxed on the total rate of pay, similar to how you’d be paid as a staff nurse (but, you are still often paid at a higher rate than a staff nurse salary).

The advantage of the first scenario is that stipends for housing and living expenses aren’t taxed as income, which can mean thousands of dollars in savings. Learn more in our guide to travel nurse tax rules to see which scenario you qualify for.

If you’re already hold a license as a Registered Nurse, then you can work as a travel nurse in your state. Each state requires a license, and you can typically transfer your license from state to state for a fee. This process takes a few weeks, and sometimes longer, so it’s best to get a head start as you look for jobs. In accordance with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), a nurse that has a “compact license” can practice in any other compact license state without obtaining an additional license.

We cover compact licenses and more in our guide to travel nurse licensing. Another good place to start, is connecting with a staffing agency. They can often help with the logistics of finding and applying for jobs.

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Rachel Norton BSN, RN

I have been a critical care nurse since 2007. I grew up in the northeast but enjoy every corner of the country. My passions are people and travel. Travel nursing allows me to meet amazing people and satisfy my wanderlust. I love inspiring other nurses to travel and expand their practice.

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