transparent-marketplace / travel nurse contracts vs. permanent staff jobs
Career Resources

Travel Nurse Contracts vs. Staff Nurse Jobs

When comparing travel nursing to staff nursing, the roles have the same job duties, but many other aspects have distinct differences. Whether you’re a staff nurse considering traveling or a traveler thinking about settling into a permanent position, this informative guide gives you an overview of the differences to expect. Delve into the distinctions between travel nurse contracts and staff nurse jobs, including key variations in the hiring process, benefits, scheduling, paid time off, salary and other issues that could impact your career decisions.

Prerequisites of Employment

Staff Nurse
Travel Nurse
  • Travel nurses must also earn their degree and pass the NCLEX but need at least 1-2 years of experience, depending on the specialty, before traveling.
  • Having advanced certifications is recommended to be a prime candidate for a travel nurse position.
  • Travel nurses must have a compact license or current single-state license in each state where they plan to practice as a nurse.

Back to Top

Overview of the Hiring Process

Staff Nurse
  • Nurses looking for permanent positions can use Vivian to search for staff jobs across the country and talk directly with recruiters and hiring managers.
  • After finding a position, staff nurses must interview with the hiring manager and possibly a panel of peers. 
  • After the interview, there’s usually a 2-3 week wait for an official offer from Human Resources.
    • Vivian helps facilitate quicker hiring by maintaining communications between the facilities and our Clinician Advocate team.
  • Before the start date, the nurse completes their pre-employment screening at the facility’s employee health and security locations.
  • When all pre-employment requirements are fulfilled, there’s a formal facility and hospital orientation for the nurse.
Travel Nurse
  • Nurses can view thousands of positions when they use Vivian to search for travel jobs from hundreds of agencies and start chats with recruiters to get submitted to top-paying positions. 
    • Having a complete profile on Vivian makes your applications stand out.
  • When you find a job that meets your requirements, fill out the agency application, complete the skills checklists and submit all essential professional documentation via the agency. 
  • After the agency submits your application to the hospital, the travel nurse usually has a nursing interview over the telephone with someone at the hospital (not always the unit manager).
  • The agency requires that travel nurses sign a contract outlining the specifics of the job after being hired.
  • After signing the contract (electronically), you complete your pre-employment screening at a lab/clinic near your current location.
  • The last step is traveling to the job site and getting prepared for your first day of work.

Back to Top

Nurse organizations boost your career / nurses in class

Orientation Processes Vary

Staff Nurse
  • Your first week as a staff nurse is usually a general hospital orientation and facility/unit-specific education. 
  • The unit orientation can be between 2 weeks and 6 months, depending on the unit and the RN’s experience.
    • Higher acuity specialties may have a longer orientation period.
  • Staff nurses can expect to fill out orientation binders or online checklists for skills specific to their specialty and unit.
  • Unit educators hold serial meetings with new staff to check on the orientation process and their transition to their new roles. 
Travel Nurse
  • Be prepared to complete 4-15 hours of online pre-work, including clinical knowledge testing, human resources required paperwork and parts of general hospital orientation prior to starting.
    • Travel nurses are typically paid around $15 per hour for their time spent doing pre-work. 
  • Day 1 of a travel nurse assignment is usually a non-clinical day and includes basic paperwork, Joint Commission-required education for National Patient Safety Standards and skills like restraints and glucose monitoring that are checked off before the travel nurse begins working on their assigned unit.  
  • Clinical orientation can be between 4 hours and 2 days, depending on the facility, with time mostly spent locating items and making sure all system sign-ons work.
    • Due to this very short clinical orientation, new graduates aren’t good candidates for travel nursing positions.
  • Documentation of travel nurses’ orientation is short and sweet, including a quick online checklist or a few pieces of paper that need to be signed off for the travel nurse to be able to work on the unit.

Back to Top

Staff Benefits vs. Travel Packages

Staff Nurse
  • Full-time employees are eligible for health, dental and vision benefits. Part-time and per diem nurses may also be eligible for prorated benefits, depending on the facility. 
  • Most healthcare institutions offer some form of tuition reimbursement for their staff to use for advancing their degree in healthcare.
  • Some health systems offer reimbursement for advanced certifications. 
  • Full-time nurses can save for retirement with 401K or 403b options.
    • After a certain period of time, the nurse may become “vested” and can take their retirement with them if they choose to change jobs. 
  • Many facilities have a program designed to help nurses advance their careers and “climb the clinical ladder,” with advancement often achieved through specialty certification, engagement in the unit and hospital-based quality improvement committees, and taking on roles such as charge nurse or preceptor.
  • Staff nurses can earn merit raises and further their careers in the nursing profession. 
Travel Nurse
  • Most agencies provide some form of insurance during the assignment.
    • It’s important to ask if these benefits start on Day 1 or if there’s a delay. 
  • Some travel nursing benefits may be more expensive than what you would pay as a staff nurse, especially for coverage of more than just an individual.
  • If you change agencies between assignments you must change benefits each time or enroll in state-provided marketplace insurance to provide consistent coverage.
  • Nurses may need to supplement their insurance with additional carriers during time off between jobs, with various options available for travel nurse health insurance.
  • Few agencies offer tuition reimbursement, and it usually only applies to nurses that stay with that agency for a prolonged period of time.

Back to Top

Paid Time Off (PTO) and Vacations

Staff Nurse
  • PTO is offered for full-time and part-time employees, but per diem or PRN staff usually aren’t eligible to be paid for any missed shifts or vacation time.
  • The paid leave time may accrue with hourly deposits in each paycheck or some staff may be front-loaded at the beginning of each year with all their hours. 
  • Covers sick days and vacation time
Travel Nurse
  • Very few agencies offer some version of PTO, and most won’t cover sick days.
    • Additionally, nurses may only be eligible if they work with the same agency for multiple assignments. 
  • Vacation time during an assignment may need to be made up at the end of the contract as days/weeks added on to ensure you work the total amount of hours you were contracted for. 
  • Travel nurses aren’t paid for time off in between assignments.

Back to Top

Expectations of Staff vs. Travel Nurses

Staff Nurse
  • As staff nurses, the leadership expects you to be dedicated to and engaged in actions for your unit goals and quality improvement initiatives.
  • Most staff don’t float often if they’re not in a float pool position.
    • PRN staff and travelers are usually the first to float to other units if needed. 
  • Over time, staff nurses are encouraged to engage in the roles of preceptor and/or charge nurse to help staff nurses advance through clinical ladder programs. 
  • Many facilities want their staff to become involved in unit-based and hospital-based committees to improve the quality of care and patient safety. 
  • Most nurses have yearly reviews by a member of their leadership team that may or may not include a performance-based merit raise, depending on the facility.
Travel Nurse
  • Travelers are expected to be highly skilled and active team players hired for their experience and ability to start a job with minimal training.
  • Travel nurses often float first, so flexibility and adaptability are essential as you may have to float to equal or lesser acuity floors.
  • Unit managers prefer minimal complaining about scheduling or patient assignments (within reason!).
    • Travel nurses are there to help an already strapped unit and shouldn’t be causing additional stress on the unit.
  • As a travel nurse, you can’t gain “seniority” on a unit due to the short length of employment.
  • Travelers must be excellent communicators to constantly work with staff unfamiliar with their skillset and prior experience. 
  • Travelers don’t get annual reviews by managers, but if you’re not performing well on a job, you will most likely be contacted by your agency. 

Back to Top

RN Salary Guide

Length of Employment

Staff Nurse
  • Employment as a permanent staff nurse can be indefinite. It’s up to the nurse to decide when they’re done working for a healthcare system. 
  • Some hospitals have sign-on bonuses that require a contracted time commitment, usually a year or two, but otherwise, there’s no signed commitment to the facility. 
  • A normal full-time hourly commitment is 36-40 hours per week, depending on the position and workflow of the unit. 
  • Staff nurses have the option of using PTO for any shifts that are canceled due to low census.
  • Some nurses may work multiple positions in the same facility over the course of time through lateral or vertical movement in the healthcare hierarchy.
Travel Nurse
  • Traditional travel nurse contracts are 36-48 hours per week for 13 weeks. Nurses can often extend beyond that in shorter increments or for an additional 13 weeks. 
    • During the coronavirus pandemic, crisis contracts offered 2-8 week assignments but often required 48-plus hours per week.
  • Travelers can’t stay in one location for more than 12 months out of rolling 24 months based on a general IRS rule. 
  • Travel nurses aren’t paid for canceled shifts unless they have a guaranteed hours clause in their contract. 
  • There’s always the risk of contract cancellation due to a low census or various other reasons.
    • Only a few agencies have a clause in their contracts that requires advance notice to the traveler, and it’s usually 2 weeks or less.

RELATED: Understanding 2022 Travel Nursing Tax Rules

Back to Top

Schedule Flexibility Varies

Staff Nurse
  • Full-time staff either self-schedule or work with the unit scheduler, and they usually have their schedules at least 4-6 weeks ahead of time. 
  • Staff nurses must request any vacation time off in advance and get it approved by leadership. 
  • Time off can be limited to available PTO hours and can’t conflict with other requests, causing short staffing on the unit. 
  • Full-time staff nurses aren’t usually allowed to have prolonged time off unless it’s due to injury/illness/disability/pregnancy.
Travel Nurse
  • Travel nurses usually don’t receive their schedule very far in advance and are scheduled by the unit scheduler or a central staffing team.
  • Travelers should request any necessary time off during assignment in their initial contract for manager approval and mention it in the interview to make sure it isn’t a deal-breaker for the facility.
  • One of the huge benefits of travel nursing is being able to take unlimited amounts of time off between assignments to explore/spend time at home (just remember it’s not paid!).
  • Travel nurses can also arrange to take time off between the end of an assignment and an extension. 

Back to Top

Earn more money in per diem nursing

Wages & Income Taxes

Staff Nurse
  • Pay for staff nurses typically fall within norms for the region where the facility is located.
  • Base pay is usually based on experience or calculated via a tiered system determined by the facility.
  • Wages are fully taxed in your paycheck
  • Staff nurses can be eligible for hospital bonus pay programs if the facility offers permanent staff incentives to work extra shifts.
  • Full-time nurses are paid at least 1.5x their hourly rate for holidays and overtime shifts. 
  • Paychecks are usually bi-weekly.
Travel Nurse
  • Pay packages for travel nurses are often significantly more than average regional and facility wages. 
  • Travelers have the opportunity to have portions of their pay untaxed if they can claim a permanent tax home, resulting in higher net pay or “take home” pay each paycheck.
  • Travel nurses are eligible for any bonus programs if the facility offers incentives for staff to work extra.
  • Holiday and OT rates are 1.5x the taxable hourly wage
    • These rates may appear low if the traveler has a large portion of pay in untaxed stipends, but they can negotiate with agencies for an appropriate OT rate. 
  • Paychecks are usually weekly.

RELATED: Check out our section on Money and Taxes for more insights on everything from student loan forgiveness to salary transparency.

Back to Top

Finding and Paying for Housing

Staff Nurse
  • Depending on size and amenities, housing for staff nurses is usually on par with the local cost of living.
  • Staff nurses usually rent or own a home in an area near their facility.
  • They provide their own furnishing for their home and don’t have to search for short-term housing unless something unexpected happens. 
Travel Nurse
  • To be legally eligible for tax-free housing and per diem stipends, a travel nurse must duplicate expenses, including paying for the cost of living in their “home” state.
    • If you aren’t eligible to claim a permanent tax home, you can opt to decline stipends and take wages fully taxed and you’ll still earn more than the staff nurses. 
  • Travelers can opt to use agency-provided housing, but that often means a huge pay cut and loss of the housing stipend.
    • It’s usually more financially prudent to arrange your own housing. 
  • Travel nurses can find temporary housing in the form of an extended-stay hotel or a furnished room/apartment/home.
  • Some travel nurses opt to stay in their RV and explore between assignments.
    • It’s a great way to see the country and can be a money-saver if you can find an affordable site to park.

RELATED: Travel Nurse Housing: Tips and Tricks

Whether you choose to work as a travel nurse or a staff nurse, Vivian wants to help you make the most of your career. Start by filling out a Universal Profile today, so you can easily apply to multiple jobs from a single application today.

Rachel Norton BSN, RN

Rachel Norton became an RN in 2007 and has been part of the Vivian team since 2019. She has always worked in critical care, and spent the first 12 years of her career working in a surgical neuroscience trauma ICU. She's also worked as a flight nurse, started travel nursing in 2010 and continued working in the ICU until joining Vivian full-time in 2022. As a user researcher, Rachel advocates for healthcare workers to help bridge the gap between employee and employer expectations.

Comments (2)

I have years of experience in many nursing fields but have Extensive experience and training in the Cardiac field. Im interested in the short term 2-8 week assignments.


Thanks for reaching out, Tina. Please browse our current job posts at to view and apply for travel positions that might interest you. You can filter listings by duration of the assignment. We currently have several 100 listings for travel jobs lasting between 1 week and 8 weeks, but most are 8-week gigs. By filling out a universal profile on Vivian, you can apply to multiple jobs without filling out multiple applications. Good luck in your job search!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular on Community Hub