Crystal Gustafson
Crystal Gustafson
March 4, 2016 - 4 min read

How to Negotiate Your Travel Nurse Contract

Negotiating, in my opinion, is something that nurses are innately good at. We often times negotiate with our patients, “if you let me put this NG tube in your nose, I will give you all the ice chips in the world” or with our managers, “If I work extra this week, I want a day off next week.” We understand what it means to give and take and we don’t often take too much, especially when it comes to salary.

As a staff nurse, your ability to negotiate is very small since the pay scale is based on experience, certifications and apparently gender according to some sources, and it is against the norm to discuss your salary with your co-workers.

Travel nursing on the other hand not only provides a unique opportunity to choose when and where you want to work and what shift, but it also allows you to negotiate your salary (to an extent).

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Figure Out Your True Rate of Pay

The most important part of negotiating your salary as a travel nurse is to understand how both you and your agency get paid in the first place.

Your agency has a contract with each facility that determines how much each travel nurse gets paid. This number is set in stone so there is no negotiating that can occur with the hospital directly. Your agency takes that dollar amount and breaks it down in to your hourly rate, your benefits, and your non-taxable reimbursements for housing, meals, stipends/incidentals, your travel reimbursement, and then of course the agency’s cut.

Many agencies will combine the hourly rate with the non-taxable items into a “blended” rate making it even more confusing to figure out. For more about pay structure visit out salary and benefits page.

Make Agencies Fight for You

If you are new to travel nursing or haven’t established a relationship with a recruiter yet the easiest way to negotiate your salary is to compare one agency’s pay to another’s.

You may find that agency X offers a blended rate of $30/hr while agency Y offers a blended rate of $32/hr. If you really want to work with agency X, you can tell them that agency Y is paying $32/hr and ask them if they can match that. Bidding companies against each other will probably work in the beginning but I wouldn’t get into the habit of doing this all the time.

I would also make sure you understand how each blended rate is broken down before you do this. You might find that the lower blended rate has higher non-taxable wages or travel reimbursements which means more money depending on your situation.

On the same note, in the traveling world it is encouraged to talk to your fellow travelers about salary with the same idea that you understand how their pay is broken down before confronting your recruiter.

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Cover Your Real Travel Expenses

If you have an established rapport with a recruiter and don’t want to hassle with constantly comparing prices, there are other negotiables to consider.

When it comes to travel reimbursement, agencies usually pay based on the miles traveled with a maximum of $500. I can tell you personally that driving from California to Florida will cost you more than $500. If you anticipate your travel costs to be more than your agency’s maximum, it may be wise to ask for a higher travel reimbursement, especially if this is a crisis pay situation. If your agency is not willing to reimburse you for your travels at a higher rate, this may be a contract to pass up, especially if money is tight.

Know Your Extension Bonus Options

If you choose to accept your contract and it turns out you want to extend, you may want to ask for an extension bonus.

Hospitals usually write whether or not they offer extension bonuses in their contracts so if you think you may be staying somewhere for a while, it may be wise to ask your recruiter is that particular hospital offers extension bonuses. I have also been in a situation where the hospital offered me an extra $1/hr to extend.

Ask About Other Reimbursements

If asking for money isn’t your thing, not to worry. According to my former recruiter Kevin Mccormack with Healthcare Pros, agencies these days are very transparent and they try to give you the best deal right out of the gate.

Because it costs money to get new nurses on board, many agencies focus on retention so they are quick to offer reimbursements for things like subway passes, licensing fees and even healthcare benefits if you choose to get your own.

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Don’t Fear “No”

The best thing you can do for yourself is understand how you get paid and let your intuition do the rest. If you feel like you are being treated unfair or should be reimbursed for certain expenses than all you have to do is ask. The worst thing they can do is say no. If “no” doesn’t sit well with you then guess what, there are hundreds of other travel agencies to choose from. 

By Crystal Gustafson, RN

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Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal on her blog at https://grassrootsprevention.blogspot.com/.

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