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 essential to understand the ins and outs of the travel nursing contract that accompanies choosing a new location to work.
What Are Travel Nurse Contracts?
Travel nurses can view travel nursing jobs that travel nursing agencies have to offer. Travel nursing companies are the liaison between the healthcare facility and the travel nurse. When a hospital or healthcare facility needs a travel nurse, they work with travel nursing agencies to fill the gaps in nursing staff shortages. A travel nurse agrees and is contracted to work for a hospital for a certain duration of time, which is called an assignment. This agreement between the healthcare facility, travel nursing agency, and travel nurse is a travel nursing contract. While most assignments are full-time, there are some per diem nurse staffing firms out there as well.
Why Negotiate Travel Nurse Contracts?
As a travel nurse, it's important to negotiate your travel nursing contract. By negotiating, you could get a higher pay package. Since you're also able to view travel nursing jobs in the same area, use this to your advantage. See if a nearby hospital is paying a higher rate for the same unit. Some per diem nurse staffing firms offer higher rates than full-time nurses receive. Even with per diem nurse staffing firms, you may be able to negotiate a higher hourly pay rate. Some travel nursing jobs allow you to negotiate your start date or assignment length. Remember, since you're contracted with the healthcare facility, you have the ability to ask for what you need (of course, within reason). Your travel nurse recruiter will help you be able to negotiate.
LANDING THE CONTRACT
Since there are many travel nursing jobs out there, 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 agreement 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 travel nursing jobs and contracts before signing them, requesting changes, or turning them 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 agree to with the organization. All travel nursing jobs and travel nursing contracts are different but have similar components. For example, if you're working with a per diem nurse staffing firm, you most likely won't receive tax-free stipends for meals or housing.
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)
- Benefits, such as health or dental insurance (including mental health support)
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, any travel nursing licenses, or purchasing scrubs for the assignment. If you're contracted with a per diem nurse staffing firm, make sure to ask about this too!
A travel assignment may boast a high weekly rate with direct deposit payroll. It’s important to get a 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. Before signing your contract, make sure to ask your recruiter about what other benefits the agency has to offer, such as medical insurance with mental health support or reimbursement for travel nursing licenses. Many travel nursing agencies also offer free continued education program classes and weekly direct deposit payroll.
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 travel nursing agency. If you're not sure, read travel nurse testimonials or frequently asked questions blogs. 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.
Learn More with Health Carousel Travel Nursing
Use our job board or On Demand platform to view travel nursing jobs Health Carousel has to offer! If you're interested in learning more and reading some frequently asked questions of travel nurses, visit our travel nursing blog. View travel nursing jobs or read our many travel nurse testimonials.
HCTN offers travel nurses many benefits, including health insurance with mental health support, retirement savings, and free continued education program classes. With our Full Circle of Support, learn how to use your benefits (like mental health support) and make them work for you!