The world of travel nursing can seem scary and daunting. You might want to be a travel nurse, but leaping to do it? Now that is scary. And negotiating your travel nurse contract? Daunting! On the one hand, you see and hear about all of the great memories and experiences other travel nurses are making! Traveling state to state, chasing summer all year round. Making way more money than a staff nurse, working much fewer hours, and dealing with way fewer unit politics. But then there are those occasional horror stories. Housing falls through last minute, the contract gets canceled halfway through the assignment, and not getting everything that you’re entitled to in your contract.
Negotiating your Travel Nurse Contract – Non-Negotiables vs Negotiables
Having signed seven different contracts, I now know what is worth negotiating as a travel nurse, and what isn’t! Knowing when to walk away from a contract that doesn’t suit you… but also knowing when to shut your mouth and deal. Below are examples of what I find to be important when looking for a new assignment.
Negotiating Your Travel Nurse Contract; Figuring Out Your Non-Negotiables
When negotiating your travel nurse contract, it’s important to remember that everyone’s non-negotiables are going to be different. Do you hate the night shift? Do you despise weekends? Before you even get submitted for an assignment, sit down and make a list of things that are absolutely, positively non-negotiable. That way when you’re interviewed you have a good idea of whether or not this assignment is for you. For me, what shift I work, reimbursements, and the hospital cancellation policy are all non-negotiable things. If any of these three things don’t align with what I want, I know that I won’t be happy. With tons of assignments out there, why settle for something that doesn’t truly suit you?
Shift – AM, PM, Rotating
*This will be a hospital issue. If the hospital is offering you a shift you don’t want, look for a different assignment at a different hospital.*
I am a day person through and through. When I’m on vacation, relaxing, I choose to wake up at 7 am. For that reason, I will absolutely, positively not agree to work a “straight nights” contract. I will sign a rotating contract if it is somewhere I truly want to go but turn down every night position that comes my way.
What shift do you like to work on? Do you wake up early like me? Or live among the vampires at night? Are you comfortable switching back and forth between days and nights? Figure out what you’re comfortable with and stick with it.
When I started travel nursing I gave in to the notion that I was new, desperate, and would take anything that came my way just to get experience. I was whole-heartedly unhappy when I chose to sign a night shift contract just because I thought that was all I could get. I was a mess the entire three-months and wish I would have stood my ground when I told myself “no night shifts”. You may think that something else won’t come around… but trust me, it always does.
If you’re a nightshift nurse and need some helpful tips for staying awake, make sure to read 10 Tips for Working Night Shift
Hospital Cancellation Policy
*This will be either/or a hospital or company issue. If the hospital doesn’t offer guaranteed hours, find a new hospital. If the company doesn’t give you your stipend if you’re canceled… stick with the hospital but find a new company. In the rare case a company can persuade the hospital to give you guaranteed hours.*
Each hospital has its policy when it comes to canceling travelers due to low census. I learned the hard way when I was a new travel nurse and did not know to ask about the cancellation policy (you can read about my experience here). I found myself in Santa Barbara, one of the most expensive places I’ve been, paying $3,200 a month in rent, and getting canceled 1-2 times per week. Talk about STRESS.
The first thing that I learned is to always ask the recruiter before you’re submitted to an assignment, what the cancellation policy for the hospital is. Some hospitals offer guaranteed hours and if you’re canceled you still get paid. Some hospitals are allowed to cancel you once per week without pay. And some can cancel you four times in one contract before having to pay you. Figure out what you’re comfortable with. Do you think you could get by without a day or two of pay? Do you want to have guaranteed hours?
Then to take it a step further… once you know the hospital cancellation policy, you need to know your companies cancellation policy. I truly can’t express the importance of this. If the hospital cancels you due to low census, some companies also take away your travel and meal stipend. They claim it’s because they are losing money for you being canceled. However, it’s important to remember that you didn’t cancel yourself… the hospital did. And that you are also losing money. If the company chooses to withhold your meal and travel stipend you will lose your hourly pay, plus more!
This isn’t the case with all companies though, so it’s important to ask beforehand! I will absolutely, positively not sign a contract with a company that will withhold my travel and meal stipend if the hospital cancels me. It’s not fair or right.
Please note that if you cancel yourself, don’t expect to get your stipend. This is only the case when the hospital cancels you.
Licensure Reimbursements and Travel Reimbursements
*This is a company issue. If they are telling you you aren’t eligible for reimbursements… find a new company.*
While most companies will offer you licensure and travel reimbursements without giving you any trouble, others try to put up a fight. If you find yourself in squabbles with a recruiter over reimbursing you for travel, licenses, or certifications hang up the phone and go elsewhere. This isn’t something that you should be fighting over.
As far as licensure reimbursement, make sure to keep all of your receipts until you are reimbursed. A company can’t reimburse you without them, which is understandable. Also, don’t expect to get reimbursed right away. I applied for my MA license and didn’t get a job there until two years later. I wasn’t able to be reimbursed for two years, but I made sure to hold on to my receipts and was reimbursed once I signed my contract!
For travel reimbursements, companies will offer you a set amount of money, no matter how much you spend traveling there. Legally they have to go by the number of miles, etc… so your travel pay will oftentimes be an amount that isn’t negotiable. And while you can negotiate, usually the cost is split in two. For example, if my company offers me $600 in travel reimbursement… I will get $300 on my first check, and $300 on my last check. Make sure to ask about this upfront and put it in your contract if necessary. I once had a recruiter try to withhold my guaranteed (as advertised on the website) $500 travel reimbursement because I never brought it up before my contract was drawn up.
Negotiating Your Travel Nurse Contract; Figuring Out Your Negotiables
Just like my non-negotiables, these negotiables may or may not be your negotiables. They may instead be your non-negotiables and that’s okay! These are the things that are important to know about before you sign your contract, however, they never deter me from signing a contract.
Time Off Requests
*This will be a hospital issue.*
While my time off requests is sometimes imperative, sometimes they aren’t! Sometimes I just want to know I have a weekend or two free so that I can plan activities. The downside to traveling nursing is that some hospitals will look over your application if you request too much time off.
For that reason, I tend to only request the time off that I absolutely, positively HAVE to have off. Time for weddings, doctor appointments, etc. And for the time that I want to have off, I wait to ask for that during my interview. This ensures that my application is seen and gives me a better chance to be interviewed. Once I’m on the phone with the manager I bring it up. “I’d like to address my time off requests. I would like to have X weekend off for X reason. Would this be okay with you? If it isn’t I want you to know that I still want the job and am willing to be flexible.” If I can have open communication with the manager, I tend to get what I want.
*This is a hospital issue.*
While this could be on your non-negotiable list, it’s something that I’m willing to be flexible with. Will I take an assignment that requires me to work every single weekend? (Yes, those hospitals are out there). No. But will I take an assignment that requires me to work three out of four weekends? Sure! Figure out what you like/don’t like. If you’re okay working one, two, or three weekends a month then great! Just make sure to find out before you show up to the hospital so that you aren’t blindsided!
To me, I’m okay negotiating this in my travel nurse contract because unfortunately, in nursing there are always going to be weekend requirements. As a new grad, I was expected to work every other weekend, which is relatively normal. You have to remember… that as a traveler you are there to help. You will probably get the shaft and you’re expected to pick up where they are short. Unfortunately, that tends to be the weekend shifts!
Note: I always get the weekend requirement put in my contract. I was once told I had to work every other weekend. When I showed up to my assignment they scheduled me for three out of four weekends a month and I wasn’t able to argue because it was never in my contract that I would be every other.
*This will be a hospital issue.*
Another negotiable for me are the holidays. This is because travelers tend to bring in the big money working holidays. (Double-check with your recruiter what your company considers to be holidays). I prefer to work on holidays for this reason! If you aren’t okay with working holidays then make sure to ask for them off. It’s best to arrive at your assignment fully aware that you may or may not be working holidays.
If you don’t get off what you request, this very well may move to your non-negotiable list.
Always remember your reason for becoming a travel nurse. Perhaps it is the flexibility you get with unlimited time off. Or more pay than a staff nurse. Or you just plain old wanted to move to a different state! You didn’t do it to split hairs with your recruiter and go head to head on every little thing in your contract. While it’s important to stand up for yourself, don’t lose sight of what is truly important. Your reason for becoming a travel nurse.
Lastly… remember that there will always be an assignment out there. It is okay to wait for the perfect one. And remember that you have the power to be negotiating your travel nurse contract. The company doesn’t get paid until you get what you want. There are tons of travel nurse companies out there who will provide you with just that. Don’t settle for one that won’t.
For more information on travel nursing, check out these articles…