6 Tips for Negotiating Your Travel Nurse Contract

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated January 14, 2023
    Travel nursing is a fluid environment as patient populations are in flux across the country. Use these tips to improve your contract and benefits package.
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    • Travel nurses earn more than their full-time colleagues, including nontaxable benefits and a higher salary.
    • Travel nurse contract negotiations can help improve a travel nurse’s salary or benefits package.
    • Nurses must begin by understanding how the pay is structured and work collaboratively with the recruiter to create a mutually beneficial arrangement.

    Hospitals and clinics across the country have used travel nurses to fill vacant positions since the late 1970s. The practice grew throughout the pandemic when the nursing shortage, rising patient admissions, and nurses leaving the profession increased the need for healthcare providers.

    The evolving healthcare landscape created an opportunity for nurses and a need for travel nurse contract negotiations to evolve with it. Check out these tips to help you negotiate your next travel nurse contract.

    6 Tips for Negotiating Your Next Travel Nursing Contract

    Travel nursing can be an adventurous and rewarding career. Travel nurses can see the world or the country as residents and not tourists. During the pandemic, the pay rate for travel nurses rose significantly. A 2022 survey from Kaufman Hall found labor expenses increased by 33% from prepandemic levels.

    Much of that increase was from the need to hire more travel nurses, whose salary can be triple what their full-time colleagues are making. As the inpatient population begins to dip, so are these salaries. However, according to ZipRecruiter as of December 2022, travel nurses continue to make high salaries.

    There are basic areas where travel nurses can negotiate in their assignment contracts. These include benefits, salary, tax-free money, and overtime. Before negotiating your next assignment contract, consider these tips.

    1 | Understand Your Pay Rate

    The most important part of negotiating your salary is understanding how your pay rate is determined. Agencies have a contract with facilities that sets how much the hospital pays the agency. This number is not negotiable. Your pay and the agency fee come out of this number.

    In many instances, the agency will give you a “blended” number — an hourly rate that includes your pay after deducting taxes and adding the nontaxable reimbursements. Stan John, a travel registered nurse from Chicago, advises nurses to work with several agencies to find the best assignment.

    Since each agency can use a different process to determine your pay rate, you must understand how your agency determines the blended rate to compare apples to apples.

    2 | Don’t Advertise Your Bottom Line

    Some negotiators advise that you stick to your bottom line. Yet, this can be unsuccessful with travel nurse contract negotiations. For example, you might pass on an assignment that doesn’t meet your financial bottom line when you don’t have another opportunity.

    While you shouldn’t negotiate solely on your bottom line, it is important to know the number. Most recruiters will ask you what your bottom line is; you should keep that number private. Some experts argue that this will shorten negotiations. Others call it a ‘glaring mistake.’

    Instead, you must know all the information pertinent to this job. This gives you an indication of your goal for this assignment and helps you determine what is and is not a good offer.

    However, John reminds nurses that it’s OK to make a mistake because it’s part of the learning process.

    3 | Include Reimbursement for Travel Expenses

    Agencies usually offer reimbursement for travel expenses based on the miles you travel to get to your assignment; some have a maximum allowance. However, travel from your home base to your contract assignment may cost more than the maximum allowance. This is another factor you can include in your travel nurse contract negotiations.

    4 | Negotiate Other Reimbursements and Benefits

    Travel nurse contracts include reimbursements that are not directly related to your pay rate. These reimbursements can include housing, stipends, and meals. Some agencies may also include reimbursements for scrubs, mass transit passes, and supplies.

    As full-time employees in a healthcare institution, most registered nurses can get healthcare insurance. Travel nurses must carry their own health insurance or participate in the agency’s policy. See if the contract can include health insurance.

    5 | Be Flexible

    During your negotiations, it’s helpful to have a flexible approach to your pay rate and benefits. While some things may be nonnegotiable, it is important to have a dynamic approach and be prepared as a travel nurse to alter your position to find a win-win agreement.

    Negotiation is a collaborative engagement with your travel nurse recruiter. You and your recruiter want the same thing: to reach the best agreement for the assignment. Flexibility means being open to various benefits or payment options to meet your needs.

    6 | Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

    Be prepared to trust your gut as you move through the negotiation process. It is OK to say no to an assignment if something doesn’t seem right. If you feel the contract terms are unfair, you’re expected to work more overtime than you want, or you aren’t getting the benefits you need, saying no may be your best option.

    Remember to discuss your concerns with your travel recruiter and have realistic expectations. John recommends travel nurses also consider the nurse-to-patient ratios at the desired location. While this may change after your arrival, you should not be expected to work in an unsafe environment.

    If the agency is unwilling to negotiate, it may be time to walk away and find another travel nurse agency. During your travel nurse contract negotiations, it is crucial to remember that you are a valuable asset to the healthcare team. Your salary and benefits should align with the experience and nursing care you bring to your assignment.

    Meet Our Contributor

    Portrait of Stan John, RN, BSN

    Stan John, RN, BSN

    Stan John moved to Chicago, Illinois, from Mumbai, India, about eight years ago. Starting from scratch, John found a love for working in healthcare. He graduated with his ADN in May 2019 and immediately started working on his BSN. As a new grad, John realized there was much more he could do with his nursing degree, especially after the pandemic hit. After one year, John received his BSN and took a leap of faith to become a travel nurse. Wanting to make a difference, John has served communities with nursing staff shortages. He loves traveling and exploring new areas, gaining new insights about life, and meeting new people.