As COVID-19 continues to impact the travel nursing industry, there’s a lot of talk about travel nurse contract cancellations right now. Hospitals are experiencing low census due to COVID-19 restrictions and prolonged reopening plans, which means that hospitals may cancel nurses’ assignments if there’s not enough need for them at that facility. Let’s review the basics of a travel nursing contract, the reasons why nursing contracts get canceled, and tips to prepare in case your contract gets canceled.
The Basics of a Travel Nurse Contract
Before we get into why you may have a canceled contract, let’s review the basics of a travel nurse contract. Travel nursing agencies work with healthcare facilities to fill in the gaps of nurse staffing shortages. They offer travel nurse assignments through posted job openings for travel nurses to search. If a travel nurse is interested in a particular assignment, the travel agency then helps a travel nurse get an interview with the desired healthcare facility and unit based on their nursing skills and experience. If the hospital decides to hire a travel nurse, then they send the staffing agency an offer for the travel nurse. A travel nursing agency acts as the liaison between hospital systems and the travel nurse and helps review the contract terms.
Travel nurse contracts entail basic employment terms such as pay rate, overtime pay, required hours, assigned shifts, and contract length. Additional items include housing arrangements or housing and meal stipends, travel expenses, etc. Contracts also discuss legal contract terms such as early termination, and unexpected travel expenses, and have almost always have a cancellation clause. If you decide to cancel your contract for reasons other than medical, typically the facility will charge you a cancellation penalty. Terms of the cancellation penalty are outlined in your contract as well. Make sure with any new or even your next travel nurse assignment and contract that you read and understand all the details. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your recruiter before signing.
Why Do Nursing Contracts Get Canceled?
Travel nurse contracts can get canceled for various reasons. Since travel nurses fill in the gaps of nursing staffing shortages, assignments can be short or long-term. Short-term assignments are usually for four to six weeks, while long-term contracts can be up to one year. However, the standard travel nurse contract length is around 13 weeks.
Sometimes contracts are canceled before a travel nurse begins their assignment because the unit census has changed or the healthcare facility overestimated the number of travel nurses they needed. Typically, travel nurses are not reimbursed if their contract is canceled before they begin. So always work with your recruiter to have a backup assignment in mind.
A healthcare facility may also cancel your travel contract if you haven’t completed the background and credentialing requirements before your start date or deadline. Most of the time, if credentialing requirements aren’t met, then your start date is delayed. However, this can also be a reason to just cancel the contract for the healthcare facility. Make sure that you complete all of the credentialing requirements, including a state or compact nursing license after signing your contract to meet the deadlines.
Another reason a healthcare facility may cancel your contract early is if you had a patient safety violation. A patient safety violation can range from anything to a medication error, a patient fall, or something resulting in patient harm. If you have a patient safety violation, this is usually reported to your travel nursing agency and may impact future employment opportunities.
Since travel nurses travel to different healthcare facilities based on staffing shortages, they are also often required to float to other units within the hospital. Many travel nursing contracts have this disclosure in the contract. If you refuse to float to another unit, your contract could be at risk for cancellation. You can also write this into your contract if you don’t want to float to other units. However, choose wisely because it may be denied or get your contract canceled altogether. Hospitals need their travel nurses to be flexible and reliable.
There are some instances when a travel nurse cancels their own travel nurse contract and not the healthcare facility. Usually, this is limited to family emergencies or medical reasons and is outlined in the contract. However, you should always strive to give at least two weeks notice in this event, to avoid fines or negative consequences. If you need certain days off for holidays or upcoming events, have these written into your contract to protect you.
What Should I Do If My Contract is Canceled?
Now that we’ve reviewed the basics of travel nurse contracts and reasons why contracts are canceled - So, what can you do to be prepared on the off-chance that this happens to you? Here are four tips to prepare yourself if your travel nursing contract gets canceled:
#1: KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR RECRUITER
If you’re worried about an assignment being canceled, your recruiter can help work quickly to find assignments that will have a quick turnaround in case anything happens. If shifts are being canceled, the census is declining or already low, or you’re hearing of other staff’s contracts being canceled or shortened, make sure to get in touch with your recruiter so that you both can start exploring your options. Remember, your recruiter is your liaison with the healthcare facility. They may be able to help you temporarily float to a different area of the hospital for the same pay rate and under the same contract assignment.
In addition, depending on the nursing demand for the area, many times your recruiter can find another travel assignment in the same hospital system. Many large hospital systems have multiple facilities, so since you are already credentialed, you may be able to float between facilities or even change shifts. Another option your recruiter can provide is finding another assignment within the same general location. You may have to move to the next town or city over and change housing, but at least you will have a new assignment quickly and not incur as many travel expenses.
#2: KEEP YOUR PROFILE FRESH
Some contracts have a higher cancellation risk than others. This often depends on the demand for the area and the season. For example, if many travelers are looking to go to Florida for the winter and there are many travel nurses available, then this would impact your chances of getting an offer due to the high demand. Or if the contract is COVID-19 relief specific due to an influx of COVID-19 patients, then you may get canceled early if the demand for patient care declines.
If you take an assignment that looks great, but you’re still worried about being canceled, it’s a great idea to be proactive and have all your documents ready for your next assignment if you need to find one on short notice. This can include state or compact nursing licenses, immunizations, basic life support (BLS) certification, and other required documents. Health Carousel Travel Nursing’s (HCTN) On Demand portal is a great way to keep all your documents organized in one place, and will make submitting to your next assignment easy. It even sends you notifications for upcoming expirations of your licenses and certifications.
At Health Carousel Travel Nursing, our recruiters will be able to discuss how safe an assignment is from cancellation. So feel free to ask them any questions about assignments that you’re interested in if you’re nervous about cancellations. They can also review contract cancellation terms with you.
#3: BE FLEXIBLE
If you’re a seasoned travel nurse, being flexible is probably one of your strengths by now! If a facility cancels your contract, they might have an opportunity in a different unit or on a different shift. Your recruiter can help communicate with the facility and explore these opportunities with you. Providing your nurse manager on assignment and your recruiter with specialties and shifts you’re open to can help this process as well. Most large healthcare facilities have different locations, so also consider working at varying locations. You may be able to float for a day or two a week to meet your hours and then stay on with your current facility assignment.
If you and your recruiter can’t work something out with the facility, being flexible will help when looking for your next assignment. If you’re willing to work a different shift than you usually do, or you have past experience in a different specialty, you’ll have a larger pool of travel nursing assignments to choose from. It’s important to communicate your nursing skillset to your recruiter. Oftentimes nursing skills are transferable between units and specialties. For instance, if you’re an experienced trauma ICU nurse, you can most likely take an assignment on a surgical ICU unit. Or if you’re a cardiac ICU nurse, you can float to a cardiac step-down unit easily. Keep your options open by being flexible and open to varying specialties.
#4: PREPARE A FINANCIAL CUSHION
As a travel nurse, it’s always a good idea to have some money in savings that you can reach into in the case of contract cancellation. If you have savings already, great! If not, this is a good time to start putting some money away for a rainy day. Even in some cases, complications can arise when traveling to or from assignments, especially if you are driving your own vehicle to your travel assignment. You never know when your car may break down and need repair. Before driving long distances, have your car serviced and maintenance completed to prevent any potential issues. Keep a portion of your savings aside in case any issues arise, as car repairs can get expensive. You may decide that renting a car may be a more cost-effective option.
If you’re looking for ways to increase your contributions to your savings, consider finding less expensive housing on your next assignment so that more of your pay goes into your pocket. Also, instead of using your meal stipend on restaurants and to-go orders, shop at the grocery store and create a meal plan. Preparing meals at home can save lots of money in the long run. If your travel assignment is located in a less congested city or small town, riding a bike to work is also a great way to save money on regular expenses. Whenever possible during your travel assignment, it’s also a good idea to pick up extra shifts. It shows your nurse manager that you’re willing to help out where needed and even may prevent you from getting canceled since you’re flexible. Picking up extra shifts is a great way to earn overtime pay and build your savings as well.
Also, if you chose to use the provided corporate housing instead of the housing stipend, it’s best to always have a backup for your own housing. Also, if you chose to use the provided corporate housing instead of the housing stipend keep in mind that if you contract is cancelled you will have to move out of the provided housing too. So having some extra money saved to account for the unexpected travel expenses is a good idea.
If you find your contract is canceled and you don’t have a nest egg, you can file for unemployment in the last state you worked. If you’re interested in other money-saving ideas, join a travel nursing community or group that can provide some valuable insights. Join one of the Facebook travel nursing groups or talk to a fellow travel nurse who may have had their contract canceled too. They may be able to give you job leads for future employers.