Understanding and knowing how to negotiate your travel nurse contract is crucial to your success as a healthcare traveler. Each travel nursing company’s verbiage and wording may vary, so I want to make sure to point out some key points to consider. I had to learn some things the hard way in my past travel nursing assignments, and understanding my travel nurse contract was one of them. Here’s what you need to know to approach this complex document confidently!
What Is a Travel Nursing Contract?
Essentially, this contract is the most important document you will sign during the travel nursing process. In a way, it is like the saying we nurses use with patient charting: “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.” The same holds true with your travel nurse contract. This legal document establishes the contractual obligations between you, the facility, and your travel nursing agency. Not only does your contract specify your job requirements and responsibilities, but it also defines your compensation package and serves as a tax document that you’ll need to verify your per diems. Be aware that most companies will also have a non-compete clause, which can prevent you from working at the contracted hospital in any capacity for a specified amount of time. This means you can’t work there with another agency or take a job directly with the hospital until after the time established in the clause. I recommend doing some research and seeking legal advice if needed to understand this clause in your contract.
Basics Included In Your Travel Nurse Contract
- Travel nursing agency name and location
- Hospital name and location
- Your full name and permanent address
- Hospital unit where you will be working
- Start and end dates
- Shift time
- Number of shifts per week and how many hours per week (Ex. three shifts a week/36 hours a week)
- Number of contracted OT hours
- Hourly taxable rate for regular, over-time, and on-call hours
- Holiday pay rate and which holidays you will receive these rates for (True story: I volunteered to work Christmas Eve and learned the hard way that many facilities do not consider it a holiday.)
- Your meal and incidental expenditure and lodging (a.k.a. per diems) and travel reimbursement rates, if applicable
- Pay period specifications and how often you will be paid
- Details on any benefits you’ll be receiving
- Details of guaranteed hours
Mentor tip: This is a policy from the facility and means they can call you off a certain number of hours, and you will not be paid your hourly rate. Any cancellations over this amount have to be paid to you. This does not affect your per diems. This should be communicated by your agency when you ask to be submitted to a facility. This varies from facility to facility, so double- and triple-check this. My advice is not to take an assignment where the facility can call you off more than 36 hours in a 13-week contract.
- What units you are required to float to for patient care
Mentor tip: You may also be asked to float to other units not designated on the contract to be “helping hands only” and perform tasks like starting IVs, drawing labs, checking vital signs, answering phones, etc.
- Penalties for missed shifts/hours – This is a call-in on your behalf, not a cancellation by the facility.
- Penalty amount for breaking your travel nursing contract. These are fees associated on your behalf if you decide to cancel your contract early. The amount charged by your company typically represents a small percentage of the total cost they incur.
- Penalty if the facility cancels your contract for low census
- Time off that was requested and approved by the manager during your interview
- Any other special inclusions you had approved by the hiring manager (Ex. Block scheduling and nurse-patient ratios)
The process may seem overwhelming as a first-time traveler, and you may not know what to ask. You are your own advocate, and you have to do what is in your best interest at the end of the day. Make sure to speak up to make sure you get the protection you need and have it in writing. Keep in mind all negotiations should take place before you sign the legal document. Lastly, never leave to relocate to your travel assignment or put down a deposit for housing until you have looked over your contract with a fine-tooth comb, approved it, and all parties have signed it. Print out this document and keep a copy of it with you at all times for quick access. It can save you if you are faced with an unpleasant circumstance or asked to do something you are not comfortable doing.