Top 4 Things You Need to Know When Negotiating a Travel Nurse Contract

In your quest to become a travel nurse, you may have gotten the impression that you will just need to accept whatever contracts your travel nurse agency brings you. Not so! With a little knowledge and forethought, you can negotiate your contracts. Here are some tips to help you with your negotiations. 

Be Knowledgeable

Right off the bat, it’s crucial that you understand how travel nursing contracts work. What details are normally included? What items are negotiable? What additional reimbursements or benefits are possible? As you’re beginning your contract negotiations, consider asking for a sample contract so you can see what’s included.

Next, figure out the true rate of pay being offered. Since travel nursing pay rates often include things beyond just the hourly rate, make sure the contract is clear about the true rate. For example, health benefits will usually come out of your overall pay, reducing your hourly rate. 

Does the contract cover real travel expenses? For example, the contract might offer a $500 relocation stipend, but traveling from California to New York would cost far more than $500. Knowing this up front can help you decide if this contract would cost you more than it would pay. 

Are there contract extension bonuses? Some agencies will offer a one-time signing bonus for contract extensions, while others may increase the hourly pay ($1 per hour might be reasonable). And some do not offer such extension bonuses at all. Be sure you understand these options up front, before signing. 

Perhaps your travel staffing agency offers other reimbursements, such as mass transit passes (for those locations where available), additional licensing fees, or healthcare benefits if you choose to carry your own health insurance. Ask in advance if these are potentially part of a contract, and negotiate for those that fit your needs. 

Remember Your Value 

One of your strongest negotiating points is your value as a travel nurse. When discussing a contract with your travel nurse recruiter, it puts you on solid ground if you can claim how valuable you are as an employee:

  • Your attendance record is impeccable. You arrive on time, and you never leave early. Any shifts that must be missed for whatever reason are reported as far in advance as possible, and made up quickly.
  • You follow all hospital and facility protocols. You learn the ropes quickly, and you follow them to a T. 
  • You are pleasant at work. This isn’t to say that you’re not a strong advocate for your patients (often a selling point for hospitals), but that you’re a team player who works well with others.
  • You do what is asked of you. Assignments are fully completed in a timely and excellent manner. 
  • You work extra shifts … IF you have a good rate of pay for extra shifts. 
  • You are prompt with your time reporting. Never make hospital personnel hunt you down for your time cards. Turn them in ASAP!
  • You complete every contract you start. 
  • You are something of a “brand ambassador” for your agency. Speaking well of, and recruiting others for your travel nurse staffing agency can go a long way in how your travel agency views you. Travel nurse staffing agencies often depend on word-of-mouth referrals, and will likely reward your loyalty. 

Be Flexible 

Negotiating a contract is just that: negotiating. It involves give and take–it involves collaboration. Understanding that you and your staffing agency are on the same page, that both of you want the best situation possible for you and the hospital, can help you stay open as you are working on an agreement. You may discover that one option has a lower rate of pay but offers better housing options; or you might decide that location is a higher priority than a signing bonus. 

Part of flexibility, however, can mean that you choose to have more than one travel nurse staffing agency working for you. Different agencies offer different pay packages and have different relationships with a variety of hospitals, keeping your options open. Be mindful of pitting one agency against another, however, as this could backfire. That’s not to say that you can’t use benefits at one agency to give you a strong negotiating position at another agency, but be careful of your language if you choose to go this route. Saying something like, “I’ve been offered X, but I’d prefer to work with you. What can we do?” can paint you in a stronger light than trying to strong-arm your recruiter. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

Especially when you’re first starting out, it can be tempting to take the first offer given. But that offer may not be good for you, financially or otherwise. If the cost of traveling to the location overshadows your earnings when you finally get there, this contract would not be a good option. Or if the true rate of pay isn’t commensurate with your experience and what the travel nurse job would entail, you might not want to take it. Be open to advocating for yourself and your needs, and not taking contracts that don’t fit. 

One quick note: many recruiters will ask you about your “bottom line”; be cautious in giving out that information. Of course this means you may be offered contracts below your bottom line, but it will mean that you will not consistently be offered contracts that sit right at your bottom line. You know what you need to make your travel nursing jobs tenable; hold to that line for yourself. 

Whatever contract you end up signing, commit wholeheartedly to honoring it to the best of your ability. That will help ensure that next time you negotiate a contract, you’re in an even better position than you were this time! 

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