Travel Nurse Contracts 101 – What to Know Before You Sign

Nursing Contracts 101Taking on your first assignment as a traveling nurse can be both exciting and scary. Breaking down the facts about your travel contract and what to expect is the first step to making your experiences more rewarding and less intimidating.  Below are few points to help make the process easier.

Be Prepared

There are plenty of agencies ready to meet you and discuss potential assignments. You should start by making a list of questions that are important to you.  Be honest with yourself about what potential “deal breakers” you might have. These are key for communicating with your recruiter to find you the best fitting assignments.

Decide where you might like to go, but have some options and back up options in case those areas don’t have the need that is right for you. Ask questions about the hospital, the surrounding area, the number of beds, etc. Is the hospital in a metro area or in a rural area?  These answers will determine your comfort level in taking on your first assignment.

The more confident you are about submitting to and accepting an assignment, the higher the likelihood of you being successful and happy during your placement. Above all, remember that a great recruiter will answer all the questions you have and some you didn’t think to ask.

Important Note

Know and understand that once you accept an assignment from your agency, you will be signing a contract that commits you to certain responsibilities and legal obligations that you must fulfill. Unforeseen situations can occur that may limit your ability to start or complete an assignment once you have accepted it. Be aware, this is a LEGAL document. Action can possibly be taken against you if you fail to complete the requirements, so be sure and review your travel contract thoroughly.

Some agencies have clauses that allow them to charge a fine against you for cancellation of a signed contract or missed shifts. Remember, your contract is with your agency and your agency has a contract with the hospital. However, the hospital may act against your agency if you choose to not fulfill your contract once it’s signed. Hospital fines and other negative outcomes are possible when these contracts are breached.

Take time to consider your availability and all the important facts of your first assignment before you accept. In some states, a verbal agreement is legally binding, so do not commit verbally to anything until you are sure of your intentions to commit. Your word as a travel nurse is your bond and your reputation. So how do you make sure your contract is what you are looking for?

Key Aspects to Remember

NEVER RELY SOLELY ON VERBAL AGREEMENTS. Protect yourself and be sure that any negotiations agreed upon with your agency are in writing. If you receive a contract that is not as discussed, immediately contact your recruiter for clarification.

Ask Questions

Clarify meanings within the contract and get specifics. If you don’t understand verbiage in your contract, ask for clarification or question their policy, but do so in a respectful manner.

Find out what the guarantee is on your hours. Every agency may do this differently.  Some agencies guarantee pay for a certain set of hours even if you have worked them or not if you have called off due to illness.

Know your reimbursement. What day are you getting paid? When should you expect your first paycheck? If you are given an hourly rate for gross pay, there are websites that can closely predict what your net pay will be so that you are not surprised come pay day.

Negotiating your First Contract

If you don’t require health insurance, consider asking for an insurance stipend or reimbursement pay in lieu of the medical benefits. Clarify who pays for your licensure and CEU’s; some agencies will agree to cover those additional expenses to keep you employable and meeting all the necessary requirements.

Bonuses may be negotiable depending on the agreement the hospital has with your agency.  Often, some agencies will offer bonuses for completing the entire assignment successfully.  Travel expenses can also be a point of negotiation depending on the situation and needs of both the hospital and the agency.  You can ask for many different things, but it is important to understand that all items come from the same “bucket” of money produced by the hospital bill rate from the hours you work. So, requesting pay for some things can and usually will affect how the rest of the pay package is structured.

Keys to Negotiations

Your pay rate – be aware that your agency may be limited based on their contract with the hospital. Discuss, upfront, your expectations regarding pay, housing, insurance and other key factors.

The length of your assignment can sometimes be negotiated depending on the needs of the hospital. The standard is 13 weeks, but assignments can come in all lengths.

Reimbursements such as rental car, housing, food, etc. – Consult with a tax professional about the benefits and draw backs of these tax-free allowances. Make sure you are clear on how these will be paid.

Extending your contract assignment. When the time comes, there may be extension bonuses available. Just ask your recruiter.

Bonuses may be available or offered, but remember that they are fully taxable at a bonus tax rate. In lieu of bonuses, you can ask for more per hour to save on the taxes.

Knowledge is the key to great contract negotiations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make a list of what is important to you before you seek out an agency. Once you are in discussions with your recruiter, be sure and discuss any concerns that you have about taking your first travel assignment. Be honest and open in your communications with your recruiter or recruiters.  Once you sign the contract, you are now under obligation to fulfill the agreement. Pay attention, ask questions, and have fun on your new adventure! Happy travels!

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