Psych Travel Nurse Jobs: What to Expect During a Psych Travel Nurse Assignment

Are you a new nurse interested as a career as a psych travel nurse? Or are you an experienced nurse looking to expand your skills before working as a psychiatric nurse? Remember, you’ll need two years of recent, hospital experience in order to take a job as a travel psych nurse. Read on and then check out our board full of travel nurse jobs (many with pay included) and connect with a Triage recruiter to get started.  

What Exactly is the Psychiatric Treatment Ward or Hospital?

These are sometimes called mental health or behavioral health wards. They’re places where patients go when they need mental health support. 

If you’re working in a psych ward, you may be in a larger facility that includes a mental health department. But if you’re working in a psychiatric hospital, you may have more long-term patients with severe mental health concerns. If you’re looking for a specific type of facility, make sure to clarify with your recruiter before accepting so you’re not surprised on Day One of your assignment.  

These facilities offer a variety of care, including inpatient and outpatient care, as well as day programs. Inpatient facilities offer round-the-clock observation and care. Patients can be admitted voluntarily or involuntarily, but if a patient is admitted voluntarily, they can check themself out at any time. 

What Are Travel Psychiatric Nurse Requirements?

How do you actually become a psych nurse? First, you’ll need your RN license, which means attending and graduating from nursing school and then passing the NCLEX test. You will also need special certifications like Basic Life Saving and Crisis Prevention Institute training. Certain facilities may also require additional certifications so before you take an assignment, check with your recruiter to make sure you have all the necessary certifications. The last thing you want to do is find out that you need an extra certification during the compliance process and need to scramble at the last minute.  

Most psych nurses start out in another specialty before working in behavioral health or psychiatry.
If you’re looking to switch to psychiatry, know that you’ll need at least two years of recent facility experience before you can take a travel job. This will help you understand if psychiatry is the right specialty for you.  

Being a psych nurse can be incredibly stressful. Chances are good that you’ll be exposed to traumatic events, stress and even depression. The work can seem thankless as patients are mentally unwell and may seem unappreciative. But that doesn’t mean the work isn’t vitally important. It just means that you’ll need to make an effort to take care of yourself. It’s kind of like on an airplane when they say to put your own mask on before helping others—you can’t take care of others if you’re not well yourself. Look to see if your travel company’s benefits include an Employee Assistance Program. These EAP’s offer free counseling and programs designed to help you take care of your own mental health

Patients, Floating and Psychiatric Travel Nurse Duties

Patients in behavioral health facilities can be there for a variety of reasons and facilities can have adolescents, adults and geriatric patients. People can be admitted for concerns such as: 

  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Physical harm to self or others 
  • Mood disorders, including emotional distress or anxiety 
  • Alcohol and substance dependency 

It’s unlikely that behavioral health nurses float to a different unit because of their specialized duties. However, check your contract for float possibilities before signing just to double check that you won’t be expected to float. 

How Much Is a Psych Travel Nurse Salary, Per Hour?

So let’s get down to it—how much does a psychiatric travel nurse make? Like most other nursing specialties, the career outlook is good. Nursing in general is expected to be a growing career field because as many as 800,000 nurses are expected to leave the profession in the next 3-5 years. This labor shortage means that every career field will grow within nursing and mental health is no exception.  

The average salary for these nurses is about $91,000, though this can definitely vary by location. For instance, in California, the average salary is $102,000, but in West Virginia the average salary is just over $80,000. It’s a wide range of averages that can depend on location and experience.  

Currently (as of May 2023), weekly rates for psych ward travel nurse salary range from $1500 – $3500 per week, meaning if you work 36 hours a week, your travel psych nurse salary per day works out to be $500-$1100. Before you take an assignment, talk to your recruiter and make sure that the area’s cost of living meets your needs for the average psych travel nurse salary in that area. For example, a psychiatric travel nurse salary in California of $3500 might be comparable to a rate closer to $2500 in a lower cost of living area. If you still want to take assignment in the higher cost of living area, that’s completely your choice, but our job is to make sure you have all the relevant details before taking the assignment.  

Finding Psych Travel Nurse Jobs Near Me (Or Even Far)

When you’re starting your search for a psych travel nurse job, the first step is to have a conversation with a Triage recruiter. Psych is a small specialty, which means that you may not have as many choices as a med surge or tele nurse. This doesn’t mean we can’t find you a job, it just means that you might have to be a little flexible with your location or pay requirements. It’s possible that your recruiter might not be able to find an assignment that checks all your boxes, but after a conversation, he or she will be able to understand what are the most important factors in your choice.  

After you have a conversation with your recruiter, you’ll also want to make sure you have a license in the state you want to go. If your main license is in a compact state, you’re in luck because that opens up a lot of other opportunities in any state that’s a part of the compact agreement. However, if you’re looking in a non-compact state, it can take a while to get your license in order. California, for example, can take up to 8-10 weeks for a temporary license and 10-12 weeks for a permanent license. So if you’re considering a job in California, make sure to have your ducks in a row before signing your contract.  

Lastly, before you accept a contract, look into housing. Housing can be difficult to find, especially if the facility is located in a rural area or small town. Many travelers prefer to live in a hotel for the first week while they figure out the area’s best places to live. This also lets you determine whether the assignment is a good one before signing a three month lease. What if you get there and determine that the assignment is unsafe? A good recruiter wants to take care of you (and protect your license) so if this is the case, have a conversation with your recruiter or clinical liaison. If something goes wrong, as least you won’t be stuck into a lease.  

But back to housing. Before you accept an assignment, you’ll need to make sure that you can find affordable housing. If your assignment is in a small town or rural area, housing may be scarce or require a lengthy commute in order to find something in the range you want to pay. It’s a great idea to do this before you actually sign a contract so you know whether the pay is enough to support your expenses at home and enough to duplicate expenses while on the road. 

Triage recruiters will work tirelessly to find our travelers the right assignment, but won’t tell you what you want to hear, just to get you to sign on the dotted line. If that gig near the ocean isn’t a day at the beach, they’ll tell you and then hustle like hell to get you an assignment that checks as many boxes as you want.  

To find a travel psych nurse job, check out our travel nurse jobs board today.