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5 Steps to Lock down Your Perfect Contract

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Step 1: Deciding What You Want or Do Not Want

What do you prioritize? What is important to you? What can you compromise on?

When I started travel nursing I struggled with what I prioritized and what I was willing to do and not do as a travel nurse. For me, the money was a very high priority (#1 Priority).

I was concerned if I would have to compromise on other priorities to find a high-paying contract. After lots of research and talking to several recruiters I was able to set some realistic priorities as a Travel Nurse and find my FIRST travel contract.

Knowing what you are willing to do as a travel nurse helps you and your recruiter(s) find you the contract that matches your needs and desires the most. Knowing what you are not willing to do is just as helpful when searching for a contract.

Things to consider:
  • Pay package – pay packages come in many different forms and sizes but regardless of how you prioritize the pay package you should always strive to get the most pay possible when negotiating a contract.

  • Location – Are you willing to travel anywhere even if it is several hundred or maybe even thousands of miles from your home? Do you prefer to stay within a few hours from home? Do you like a certain type of climate/region? Are you willing to accept a contract at a hospital in a nearby town from where you really want to be? Where are you not willing to travel?

  • Shift requirements- Are you willing to work any shift? Are you only willing to work the day shift/night shift? Are you willing to work on-call shifts? Weekends? Holidays? Overtime?

  • Hospital- Are you willing to work at any hospital? Do you prefer small rural hospitals? Large Teaching hospitals?

  • Length of Contract – Most contracts are 13 weeks (3 months) but some hospitals will offer short contracts (6-8 weeks) while others offer extended contracts (18-26 weeks). The main question is will you be able to complete the contract while meeting all the obligations? Breaking a contract can sometimes have penalties.

  • Goals – What are your goals? Enhance your resume, life experiences, and new friends, increase income and increase knowledge as a nurse.

Step 2: Preparing to Travel

I can remember the day I turned in my letter of resignation at my staff/permanent job before starting to travel. I was excited to be making the jump of becoming a travel nurse but I was also very nervous to be walking away from a hospital that I was comfortable working at to take a chance with travel nursing.

My immediate thoughts and fears were:

  • If I would actually find the “perfect” contract

  • Filing taxes and avoiding IRS audits

  • If I would be unhappy due to missing home

  • Finding housing and making sure all the other small things would line up and fall into place

  • How long would I have to go without a paycheck between quitting my staff job and my first travel contract paycheck?

These fears are completely normal especially since Travel nurses live their lives one contract at a time with lots of unknowns. Becoming a travel nurse requires preparation, planning, and “some” risks. These risks can be decreased by being prepared.

How to be prepared:

  1. Nursing Experience- Having adequate experience in your specialty is very important. Travel nurses are expected to be able to” hit the ground running” in a hospital with only minimal orientation to the floor/facility. Policies and protocols vary slightly from hospital to hospital and it is the travel nurse’s responsibility to know them to provide quality care but also to protect their own nursing license.

  2. Emergency fund – An emergency fund is not required but I highly recommend having one. I would recommend at least 2-3 months of living expenses in an accessible account. Having an emergency fund will help cut down on the amount of panic and stress if an emergency were to happen such as a Contract getting canceled, a medical emergency while in contract, a car breakdown/wreck, etc…

  3. Health Insurance - Obtaining and maintaining health insurance as a travel nurse can be slightly more complex than you anticipated. Be aware of all your options and the pros and cons of each option.

  4. A reliable source of transportation – Don’t let your form of transportation turn into one of the unknowns of travel nursing. Make sure you have reliable transportation. Does your vehicle crank every time you need it? Is your vehicle suitable for the weather conditions you are traveling to? Does the location already have adequate public transportation?

  5. Do your research:

A) Start learning everything you can about travel nursing now.

Talk to serval recruiters – Talking to several recruiters will give you lots of opportunities to learn more about travel nursing. Be cautious about giving your phone number to several recruiters (especially night shift nurses) Recruiters will call you every day!! After getting a good understanding of travel nursing I started telling recruiters the best way to communicate with me was through email.

B) Start searching for your next travel nurse contract at least 4-8 weeks before the desired start date. Hospitals typically do not know how many travel nurses they will need until about 4-8 weeks away.

C) Be sure to join several travel nurse groups, communities, and channels

6. Have all licenses and certifications ready – There are several documents needed by an agency to complete your application and submit you for a contract. These documents include Driver’s license, Social Security Card, Physical form, Fit test, flu vaccination, PPD test (x2), Nursing License, and any nursing certifications required by the hospital.

7. Understanding Tax Free Stipends – To legally receive tax-free housing and M&I stipends there are three requirements. If you are going to receive income in the form of tax fee stipends make sure you qualify for those stipends. Just because your agency is willing to pay you tax free stipends does not mean you qualify for them per the IRS laws.

Step 3: Understanding and Negotiating a Contract

The contract is not signed until after the nurse has received the offer from the hospital and agrees to all terms but once the contract is signed by all parties involved (travel nurse, agency, and hospital) it becomes the rule book for the duration of the contract. By signing the contract you are agreeing to fulfill all obligations within the contract as a travel nurse. A standard contract will include but is not limited to:

  1. Which shift nurse will work ( 7a-7p)

  2. Number of shifts required per week (3 shifts/36 hours)

  3. Number of weekends per month

  4. Holiday requirements

  5. On-call requirements

  6. Hourly Pay rate/Tax stipends/Benefits (most negotiable topic)

  7. Requested time off by nurse (Nurse asked off July 1-5)

  8. Guaranteed hours (if applicable)

  9. Penalty for breaking contract

The negotiation aspect of travel nursing is what makes being a Travel nurse so different from working as a staff nurse. As a staff nurse, you most likely accept whatever pay and work conditions the hospitals give you, however, as a Travel nurse you get to negotiate or at least decide if you want to agree to the work conditions.

The pay package is the biggest topic that is negotiated with the agency/recruiter. The negotiating process usually begins once a nurse finds a contract they are interested in and contacts the recruiter who is advertising the contract.

Learning to negotiate with recruiters takes some time and practice but here are a few tips:

1. Never tell the recruiter your bottom dollar (ex – Recruiter: what is the minimum amount of pay you would be happy with?) My usual responses to this question are:

  • I don’t know

  • It just depends

  • My bottom dollar is as much as possible

2. You do NOT owe your recruiter anything. A recruiter can be a very great resource but I’ve seen lots of first-time travelers feel obligated to only talk to one recruiter because “their first recruiter is so friendly and they feel bad about talking to other recruiters.” It is important to make sure your recruiters is aware you are talking to other agencies/recruiters. This will encourage your recruiters to make competitive offers to you since they know other recruiters/agencies are making offers as well. You have to remember you are the “prize” all the other agencies are competing for.

3. Recruiters are business partners NOT friends. Everyone is trying to make money. Some do it in an honest way……and some don’t. View recruiters as business partners until they prove themselves to be honest and have your absolute best interest in mind.

4. Let your recruiter know they have competition and you will use another agency if you find a better deal.

5. Ask for a Pre-tax (GROSS) pay package only – recruiters do not know your tax situation and can only assume what your Post-tax (NET) package would be.

6. Never say, “I am just traveling for the experience” (even if it’s true)

7. Understand the hospital pays the Agency. This amount is called the Bill Rate. The Agency pays the Travel Nurse. This is called the Pay Package. Everything included in your pay package comes from the Bill rate no matter what your recruiter calls it. This includes:

  • Taxable wage

  • Tax-free stipend

  • Health insurance coverage

  • Retirement match

  • Bonuses

  • Other benefits

8. The nurse should only negotiate pay with the Agency. Pay is never negotiated with the hospital.

9. The amount of travel nurse experience a nurse has does NOT affect the amount you are paid as a travel nurse. This is a tactic used by some dishonest recruiters. Travel nurse experience only affects your chance of getting the contract.

10. When I negotiate a Pay Package I choose to not include health insurance, PTO, student loan repayments, and other similar benefits because all monies paid to travel nurse come from the Bill rate and I would rather receive all money as income than chose the benefits that fit me best from the third-party provider of benefit.

Step 4: Applying for contract/Getting the Offer

Applying for the Contract

Once the nurse and agency have agreed upon a pay package for the contract the nurse can apply for the contract if he/she is still interested. This means the Agency is going to send the nurse’s application/resume to the hospital for the hospital to review and decide if the nurse is a good fit for the contract. If so, the nurse would likely receive a phone call from the hospital. This is the interview process.

There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting a phone interview:

  1. Apply/submit for contract quickly

  2. Be able to meet all hospital requirements. Certifications, experience, EMR system experience

  3. Do not ask for time off. The more accommodating to the hospital the more appealing you are.

  4. Do NOT submit twice to the same hospital. This usually gets both applications thrown out by the hospital/facility.

Hospital Phone Interview Process

The interview is usually conducted by a manager of the department from the hospital/facility you are submitting for. The manager usually spends several minutes explaining the department, how it is structured, how it works, and the expectations of the nurse. Also, during the interview the time for the nurse to ask any questions they would like. It is important to at least keep your questions in mind but I recommend having a list prepared at all times with a pen.

Questions to Ask:

  1. Orientation process?

  2. Charting system?

  3. Nurse to patient ratio

  4. Are there Techs and other ancillary staff?

  5. Are there other travelers in the department? How many?

  6. Will I be floated to other floors?

  7. Will I be called off if census is low?

  8. How is scheduling handled? Block schedule? Self-schedule? Holidays? On-Call?

  9. Am I allowed to work overtime?

  10. Uniform requirement? Scrub colors? Do I have to cover my tattoo(s)?

  11. Average experience level of other nurses in the department?

  12. Common patient demographics?

  13. Is English the main language spoken by patients?

  14. Parking? Free or paid?

  15. During the phone interview, it is important to sound excited to have gotten an interview.

Step 5: Making the Move and Starting New Contract

Finding housing

Resources to find short term housing

  1. Airbnb

  2. Ask the recruiter if they have other travelers who have found housing in the area

  3. Call local realtors

  4. VRBO

  5. Craigslist (I don’t recommend )

  6. I prefer furnished housing with utilities included in the rent

  7. It’s nice not having to worry about setting up utilities

  8. I also don’t like traveling with lots of furniture

Vehicle maintenance

  1. good, appropriate tires

  2. oil changed

  3. good battery

  4. Jumper cables/battery jump box

Stay in contact with the recruiter. Recruiters can offer resources to make your move easier and help with any issues.

Be prepared for first-day orientation

  1. First expect first day instructions to come at the last minute

  2. Know where and when to be there

  3. Dress appropriately

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