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What to Do if Your Travel Nurse Contract is Cancelled by the Healthcare Facility

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
November 9, 2022
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You are all set for your next travel nurse assignment: bags are packed, plane tickets booked, housing secured, you’ve learned the new emr system, and have your new nursing license in hand, and bam your recruiter calls you to tell you that the hospital has canceled your contract. Now, what do you do? 

Although contract cancellations are rare, they can happen when you least expect it; before your contract begins, or during a contract term or an extension, with virtually no warning. In most cases it's not a personal attack on the nurse, it's just the healthcare facility trying to save money. Having a travel nurse recruiter on your side to help navigate the situation can be a lifesaver if your travel nurse contract is unexpectedly canceled. 

Continue reading to find out what to do if your travel nurse contract is canceled and how to protect yourself. 

On what Grounds Are Travel Nurse Contracts Terminated?

Travel nurse contracts can be terminated for many reasons and both the nurse and travel nurse agency may be at risk. 

Sometimes a healthcare facility will terminate a travel nurse’s contract unexpectedly. This can occur for various reasons; census can drop leading to an unpredictably-low census, overstaffing, budget concerns, or if the hospital mistakenly hired you when your skill set doesn’t match the unit you were hired for.  

Contracts can also be canceled while a nurse is on assignment due to poor performance or behavior. Possible reasons may include insufficient knowledge of the specialty, staff complaints, attendance issues, or concerns for patient safety. 

Travel nurses also have the right to terminate a contract. However, it is recommended that you avoid canceling as much as possible. Of course there are legitimate reasons travel nurses cancel, especially for family emergencies, unsafe hospital practices that could put your license at risk, or breach of contracts where you are working different shifts than previously discussed. 

Consult your contract before making a decision, many times there are financial penalties if a travel nurse cancels. Some facilities may include a 2-4 week notice provision, where you can cancel your contract without any penalties. Other facilities may charge the staffing agency a fee if you cancel, in turn, you may be responsible for those fees. You may also be responsible for paying your housing and traveling fees if you cancel your contract mid-assignment.

Terminating a contract can affect your relationship with both the facility and staffing agency. It can also affect your chance of obtaining employment or other travel nursing contracts later on. Try not to take the decision to cancel a contract lightly.

How Do I Avoid Travel Nurse Contract Cancellation?

While you can’t completely avoid having your travel nurse contract canceled, there are a few things you can do to try to prevent it from happening. Follow these tips on how to try to prevent contract cancellations. 

Work with a travel nurse company that you trust

Choose a reputable company that has strong relationships with healthcare systems and knows how to place you in contracts that are less likely to be canceled. Find out your agency's track record. Ask how long they have retained their current contracts and how frequently nurses get canceled. Even though a travel nurse agency can’t always guarantee your contract will be honored, you want to know that you can trust them and that they will have your back. 

Do your research

Ask fellow travelers in travel nursing groups if they have had any experience with being canceled with that healthcare system before. You can’t always predict cancellation, but knowing that there are red flags is helpful. 

Keep your credentials current

All hospitals have requirements that nurses must keep up with. Utilize your nurse recruiter to help you stay on top of due dates and expiration dates. Keeping your credentials current will add an extra layer of protection against contract cancellation. 

Strong communication

Remain in contact with your travel nurse recruiter leading up to your assignment before securing housing and travel plans, you don’t want to incur avoidable travel expenses if your travel contract is in jeopardy. Communicating with your recruiter about any issues when you are on assignment is always helpful to resolve small issues before they become bigger ones. 

Show up for your assigned shifts

Make sure you show up on time for your scheduled shifts and try to have as few unexcused absences as possible. Anyone can get sick, especially with all you are exposed to in the hospital, but making a habit of calling out can lead to the early termination of your travel nurse contract. 

Review your contract 

Review your travel nurse assignment contract prior to signing it. Ask your recruiter to help explain anything that you don’t understand. If your contract is canceled you could possibly incur out-of-pocket expenses to travel back home or expenses for terminating your lease. You will want to make sure that you are prepared for any situation.

What Should I Do If My Contract is Canceled?

In the unfortunate event your contract is canceled, try not to panic.

Reach out to your recruiter (if they haven’t already contacted you) to discuss your next steps. Your recruiter should gather information about any available jobs near your current location and see if there are any immediate needs. If there is something available, it will make the transition much easier by eliminating the need to relocate or find new housing. This may be the most cost-effective option if you have already incurred travel expenses like flights and housing rather than jetting off to another state.

Some facilities may even offer you an alternative unit to work on instead of complete cancellation. Ask your recruiter to advocate for you.

Check the cancellation clause on your contract

All contracts have a cancellation policy and your responsibility for fees depends on the agency, your contract, and the cause of cancellation. Most contracts are designed to protect the agency, agencies must be able to bill healthcare facilities for hours of work to cover expenses. Most travel nurse contracts are at-will-employment, have your recruiter review the terms of your contract to help you understand what you are signing before your next assignment.

Hospitals must typically pay a penalty fee to the agency for any fees that may have been incurred while setting up for the assignment. This usually leaves you off the hook. However, this is dependent upon how your contract was structured. You may have to pay if you decide to arrange for your own housing instead of using the agencies provided housing. You could also be responsible for any fees required to break your lease. 

Oftentimes your contract will contain a clause that states the traveler is responsible for reimbursing the agency for expenses incurred as a result of a contract being canceled for “good cause.” This is often reserved for willful disregard for duty or performance issues. Make sure you review this part of the contract with your recruiter so you understand exactly which kind of fees you may be dealing with. 

Be financially prepared

Having your travel nurse contract canceled can put you in a financial bind. Unfortunately, there is no safety net for travel nurses. Travelers aren’t not entitled to paid time off. Try to always have enough money saved up (ideally at least 3 months) in case of emergency, unexpected travel expenses, or canceled contracts so that you aren’t in a panic and can live comfortably until your next assignment. 

Always have your documentation available

aNothing is more frustrating than trying to obtain a new contract and having your travel nurse agency ask for licensing and credentials, but your documents are locked in a cabinet a thousand miles away from home. Keep all of your documents in a secure folder online so that you can access them even while you are away.

Maintain relationships

While it’s usually not necessary to work with multiple recruiters, maintaining relationships can help you in a bind should your current recruiter not be able to help you. You also want to keep things civil if you decide to leave a contract for any reason. Healthcare facilities and travel nurse agencies talk amongst each other and you don’t want to get a bad reputation for canceling or end up blacklisted from an agency or facility. 

Move on

If you’ve exhausted all means in the location of your original contract and are coming up short, maybe it’s time to take that assignment that's next on your travel nursing destination bucket list. Work with your recruiter to see what else is available to you. 

Take a break 

Maybe you need to take this time to rest and recharge. Utilize this unexpected break to return home and visit with friends and family until you can get organized and find your next assignment. 

Flexibility is essential when it comes to travel nursing. If your travel nursing contract is canceled don’t despair. Canceled contracts can be frustrating and disappointing, especially after lining up housing and travel plans. However, there are many travel assignments available and you will be able to find another one easily. Speak with our trusted recruiters at HCTN to learn how we can help secure your next travel assignment. 

Can I cancel my travel contract if I have a family emergency? 

Family emergencies may happen and that is ok. Most hospitals and travel nurse agencies will be understanding and accommodating in emergency situations. The best thing you can do is communicate your needs and try to come to an agreement about whether you should terminate the contract early or if you will be able to return once things are taken care of. 

Author Bio

Lauren Rivera is a nationally certified neonatal intensive care nurse with over 15 years of experience. She serves as a nurse expert offering support and educational classes for women from preconception through childhood. Lauren is also a freelance health and wellness writer with works published on several nursing sites. She develops and curates content for various healthcare companies, and writes continuing education modules for other healthcare professionals.

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