Travel nurses in the current market can make almost triple the salary of nurses working in permanent positions. In 2021, there were an estimated 100,000 travel nurse opportunities. A 2022 Nursing World Organization report estimated that 500,000 nurses will retire this year, leaving the nursing profession with 1.1 million vacant positions.
A nursing shortage combined with the stress and burnout of a global pandemic has made it easier than ever to work as a travel nurse. For those new to traveling, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of the contract that accompanies choosing a new location to work.
Landing the Contract
Choosing a location where you want to travel is only the beginning of the contract process. After the interview process, if the organization wants to offer a position, it will come with a contract to sign. To actually start working at a new hospital, you must sign a contract. Details of the contract are first worked out between the travel agency and the organization, and then the travel agency with the travel nurse.
Once a contract is sent to a travel nurse by their recruiter, there can be a limited timeframe to make a decision regarding whether or not to sign the contract. Some organizations will pressure nurses to make a decision within 24-48 hours to keep the position available before offering it to another travel nurse.
Because there is such a tight timeframe to make a decision, it’s important to know what to look for in the contract before signing it, requesting changes, or turning it down.
Read the Contract
It’s incredibly important to read the whole contract before signing on the dotted line. Contracts are legally binding and will affect the life of the travel nurse for the duration of the contract. The contract should be clear and easy to understand, with numerous specific details. It’s crucial to read the entire contract to fully comprehend what you are agreeing to with the organization. Every travel contract is different, but has similar components.
The contract should include many specific details regarding the unit where the nurse will work (if applicable), such as:
- Individual unit(s) where the nurse will work
- Shift (day, night, evening, rotating)
- Hours (ex: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
- Mandatory overtime
- Rotation to charge nurse responsibilities
- Call requirements
- Holiday requirements
- Weekend rotation
- Float requirements (should list possible units that the nurse would be expected to go to)
- Requirement to float to another hospital within the healthcare system
- Guaranteed hours (this is a set amount of hours guaranteed to be paid by the organization even if the travel nurse is sent home for low census)
Some companies offer bonuses or financial incentives for completing a whole 13-week contract or signing a contract extension with the same hospital. These financial details should be clearly listed in the contract, outlining the requirements for receiving the bonus.
Travel agencies will typically reimburse for traveling to the location (up to a certain amount of money) or even offer reimbursement for CEUs, license renewal, or purchasing scrubs for the assignment.
A travel assignment may boast a high weekly rate. It’s important to get the specific breakdown of how that rate of pay. The rate of pay is made up of the hourly rate and the housing stipend. The reason travel nurses end up making such large amounts of money (besides a high hourly rate) is the tax-exempt housing stipend. Working as a travel nurse far enough away from your tax home allows a tax free housing stipend in addition to the high hourly rate.
The overtime rate, holiday rate, and any other financial rates should be listed. Look through the contract to determine if there is a shift cancellation fee. This can be applied if a nurse calls out sick for a shift or for any other reason. This may be a small fee of $8 per day, in addition to the lost income from not working that shift. There should also be details regarding penalties for ending a contract early.
Requested days off should be listed in the contract. Do not just take a manager’s word in an interview that days off will be approved. Vacation time should be directly outlined in the contract with approval before signing the contract.
Mandatory Vaccines and Health Requirements
An organization may list certain health requirements that are absolutely mandatory to work. This could include things like the flu vaccine, Covid vaccine, and TB testing. N-95 fit tests are another common requirement in addition to routine health physicals.
Talk with your recruiter about anything specific you want added to the contract. Anything not in writing in the contract is not required to be upheld by either party.
Travel nurse contracts can feel intimidating if you have never signed one before. It’s important to know what to look for in the contract and advocate for any changes prior to signing the contract. Make sure the details fit your expectations before signing and ask your recruiter if you have any questions or concerns.