Crystal Gustafson
Crystal Gustafson
December 2, 2016 - 5 min read

Canceled Contracts can Happen – Here is Why You Shouldn’t Panic

When I started traveling I never even considered that fact that I would or could be canceled for any reason; after all isn’t there a huge demand for qualified nurses throughout the country?

Well, let me tell you that having your contract canceled as a travel nurse is a real phenomenon and believe me it happens.

I personally have had my contract canceled early once, one threat of cancellation and in one instance, canceled my own contract.

Hospitals can Cancel Contracts

There are a few reasons hospitals will cancel travel nursing contracts. In my case, I was working in a facility in Florida, which is a seasonal type of place, and my contract was canceled early because of low census; I was supposed to be there until March and ended up leaving a month early.

What happens in seasonal places such as Florida and Arizona is snowbirds flock there in the winter, so there is a huge influx of people and hospitals have to increase staff. This makes it difficult to predict staffing so if the census stays low for a few weeks then facilities will cancel travel contracts early.

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There are instances when facilities will cancel your contract prior to you even starting; this usually happens in cases where hospitals are staffing for EMR (electronic medical record) conversion. Hospitals like to have increased staff on hand so their own employees have enough time to learn the new EMR system.

Sometimes the EMR conversion will be pushed back, leading to canceled travel contracts at the last minute. In this instance they will cancel you a week before you are supposed to start orientation, leaving you scrounging for a new assignments.

The third most common reason facilities will cancel a travel contract is because of poor nursing performance. This topic can include patient complaints, attendance issues and even personality conflicts with staff. I personally had an issue with a staff member at a facility I was working at and was threatened with cancellation.

The facility contacted my agency letting them know that I was suspended from work for 2 days until they came up with a resolution. In the end, the manager of the unit made me write an apology letter to the other staff member involved and that was that. I ended up finishing my contract and declining their offer to have me extend. I was lucky enough to have an awesome recruiter who I had been working with for a while and knew that the accusations against me were false.

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Nurses can Cancel Contracts

Travel nurses do have the ability to cancel their own contracts but it is not recommended. The majority of reasons travel nurses cancel are because of family emergencies, personal health problems, facilities not adhering to agreed time off and schedule, and a poor working environment.

Cancelling a contract for family emergencies and health problems are valid reasons, just don’t make a habit of it. If this issue comes up in more than one assignment, then it may be time to go home. If you have an emergency and a good working relationship with your agency, your recruiter will do his/her best to find another traveler to take over your assignment and housing, without any financial penalty towards you.

When it comes to scheduling conflicts and poor working environment I would tell you that unless you feel your nursing license is being threatened, it’s probably best to choose your battles and bite the bullet because the financial and professional penalties can be devastating.

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Consequences of Cancelling a Contract

If a travel nurse has the agency’s housing and decides to cancel his/her contract, then that nurse may be responsible for paying for the remainder of the lease if his/her recruiter can’t find a replacement.

If a nurse sets up his/her own housing, then he/she will have to deal with ending their lease early, if he/she can’t find another contract in the same city. If you get in the habit of cancelling contracts then it will be very difficult for you to obtain references for future employment. If you absolutely feel that you cannot finish an assignment then give your recruiter plenty of notice so he/she can fill your place with a new travel nurse so you don’t have any financial penalties.

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Are there any Guarantees?

I personally do not believe there is a way to prevent a facility from cancelling you. The best you can do is have a clause written into your contract that prevents the agency from holding you financially responsible for anything if your contract is canceled.

You can also write in your contract that you expect to be reimbursed for any travel and licensing expenses you incurred if your contract happens to be canceled prior to you starting; this will be between you and your agency.  You have to remember that the facility that is contracted with your travel nurse agency is a customer. Your agency is going to do everything in its power to keep them happy. If that means replacing you with someone else, then that is what’s going to happen. It may not be fair but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

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What to do if you are canceled?

I can’t say that having a contract canceled happens often, but I do know it happens and it has happened to me personally. Flexibility has to be the ultimate character trait of every travel nurse. The field of travel nursing can be very unpredictable. It is always best to have a plan B just in case Plan A doesn’t work. If you get canceled, try to find a facility as close to you as possible to cut down on travel and housing expenses, always get your references for future employment early on in the contract in case a cancellation occurs by either you or the facility and make sure you have some money in the bank; it could take weeks to find another assignment.  I have always thought that travel nurses needed a union. I personally feel that we get the short end of the stick sometimes and not much representation. Having a good recruiter and agency to back you up is of utmost importance; or if you are loaded, get a lawyer and fight for your rights.

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If you have been canceled or have canceled a travel nursing contract, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Even after my unexpected cancellation and conflict with that nurse, I still have multiple recruiters calling me every week with travel assignments. There are hundreds of companies out there who are looking for great nurses. Becoming a travel nurse is a huge commitment and it is important to understand that even though you are temporary, your presence will last a lifetime; make the best of it, be flexible and choose your assignments and battles your wisely. 

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