Are You Getting Paid Enough? 6 Things To Look For In A Travel Nursing Contract

Travel nursing has always offered unique opportunities for healthcare workers to explore the world while working. Demand for travel nurses increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many cities faced increased hospitalizations and were understaffed. 

Though the pandemic is nearing its end and the vaccine is being distributed, there is still a great need for travel nurses across the country.

For those interested in pursuing a travel nursing career, or those who want to get back at it after time off, there are important elements to consider when signing a contract. These protect both the travel nurse and the travel nurse agency, provide job stability, and make working as a travel nurse a more profitable vocation.

Now that cities are opening up a little bit more, we expect to see an influx of nurses in the travel sector because benefits of the occupation — more jobs, good pay, travel as part of work  — can be more widely enjoyed.

The best way to break down the financials of a travel nursing contract is to break all of the money that flows through the travel nurse agency into 3 pieces. Those pieces being: the travel nurse agency’s gross profit, the travel nurse’s compensation package, and the financial overhead that comes with employing the travel nurse. Starting with this information, here are 6 important factors to consider when picking a travel nursing contract.

What percentage will the travel nurse agency take?

All travel nurse agencies take a percentage of the total money that flows through to them from the facility in which the travel nurse is working. The travel nurse agency reserves this percentage as their gross profit margin. This then covers the onboarding expenses, internal operations costs and eventually trickles down to net profit. Understanding how much a travel nurse agency sets aside for their profit can directly shed insight into how big the travel nurse’s piece of the financial pie will be. At Nurse First Travel Agency, we take just a 10% profit margin.

You might think that the remaining 90% of the rate goes to you, but that’s not entirely the  case. When working with any travel nurse agency, they have to cover expenses related to employing you. This includes fees such as the employer’s contribution of state and federal salary taxes, insurance and worker’s compensation for the travel nurse agency.

If you are choosing between multiple travel nurse agencies, make sure that you understand where the money is going before it gets to you. You may find that some travel nurse agencies take a higher profit margin than others, or that fewer things are covered by the travel nurse agencies’ gross profit.

For more on how pay is calculated, take a look at this post.

Which expenses will be covered?

A travel nurse salary will certainly vary by location, by agency and by contract, as will expenses covered. Housing as well as Meals and Incidental expenditures are usually listed as stipends in a contract, and are calculated based upon information from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). Some stipends may be prorated if the nurse does not work the agreed-upon  hours in a given week.

Travel stipends are particularly important for a travel nurse’s salary, but they vary based upon the distance the facility in which the travel nurse is working from their permanent and/or temporary housing location. There is no standard rate. For example, if your permanent address is near the facility in which you are working, you may receive a lower travel stipend than someone traveling across the country. At Nurse First Travel Agency, depending on the contract, travel nurses are eligible for up to a $500 weekly travel stipend.

How will you be paid for non-standard hours worked such as overtime, on call, call back and holidays?

Overtime pay varies by location but is key to understanding how your pay might change within a specific period of time. There may also be limitations on the amount of overtime hours that can be worked. Make sure this is noted in the contract.

Other factors that may affect the amount of money you make during your assignment are on-call hours as well as call-back hours. There should be a fixed amount of pay for each.

Depending on which season you are working a specific contract, holiday hours can be very important to note as well. 

Are there additional bonuses during this contract?

It is important to factor in any potential bonuses when calculating how lucrative a travel nurse contract may be. Bonuses may be paid out at the end of a travel nurse assignment as a completion bonus, at the beginning of an assignment as a sign-on bonus or even throughout the duration of the contract if certain milestones are met. At Nurse First Travel Agency, it is quite common to have bonuses built in to many of our travel nurse contracts.

What is the guaranteed hours policy?

Each facility has its own unique set of rules when it comes to the expected hours to be worked during a travel nurse’s contract. Although the hospital is not directly paying the travel nurse, oftentimes travel nurse agencies will mirror the hospital’s guaranteed hours policy to avoid paying the travel nurse when the hospital is not paying the travel nurse agency. It is also not uncommon for hours in which the travel nurse voluntarily missed due to calling off or volunteering to leave a shift early to be treated differently than for hours being missed due to a hospital mandate such as low census.

Understanding what the guaranteed hours policy is for each travel nurse contract prior to beginning said contract is imperative when wanting to ensure the travel nurse has a complete understanding of how reliable their compensation will be. At Nurse First Travel Agency, it has been made standardized practice to clearly outline the guaranteed hours policy in the first section of the travel nurse contract to be executed by the travel nurse.

Will you have access to health insurance?

When searching for a nurse travel agency, it may be important that you look for one that offers health  insurance. This is especially important during the pandemic as the risk of health issues is increased both with travel and with the nature of your vocation.

Whether or not you opt-in to health insurance, it’s a valuable asset and one of the benefits of working with an established travel nurse agency.

Health insurance is usually calculated as a percentage of the bill rate, and will be separate out of your take-home pay.

Travel nursing offers a variety of benefits for healthcare workers, including flexibility, a high rate of pay, and the freedom to explore the country. When negotiating a contract, keep these factors in mind so that you can enjoy the maximum benefit of your career and make sure that your needs will be met. Working with Nurse First Travel Agency makes travel nursing a more accessible career, and puts more money in your pocket in the long run. 

Looking for your next assignment? Check out our job board for the latest travel nurse jobs!

learn more