Travel Nurses Know Your Worth 7 Tips to Help You Negotiate Your Next Contract

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Okay so you’ve done it! You’ve decided to take the plunge and become a travel nurse. Do you understand what goes into a travel nurse’s salary and how to calculate a travel nurse paycheck? In March 2013 when I decided to become a travel nurse, I didn’t have anyone to talk to or ask questions about it. It was just me and my recruiter and she knew this was my first travel contract. I felt I was at a disadvantage due to my knowledge deficit about the subject. Even now after negotiating almost 10 contracts/extensions, I still feel that I don’t know everything I need to know about travel nurse contracts. I’m so glad I found, a website/blog geared towards travel nurses and other  travel healthcare professionals. gives nurses real value on the subject of contract negotiation. I especially found their download, “Negotiating The Best Travel Healthcare Compensation Packages, Basics, Methods and Tips” extremely informative and helpful to me. Here are some things says you must consider when negotiating your next travel nurse contract:

1. Know Basic Negotiating Tactics says you should know some basic negotiating tactics in order to score the best nurse travel contracts. I know many of us don’t have a clue about negotiating, I didn’t when I started travel nursing. Knowing a few basics about this subject will help you to negotiate from a point of strength not weakness. Knowledge is definitely power when it comes to negotiating your next travel nurse contract.
Basically, there are 2 negotiating approaches you should familiarize yourself with. One is Distributive and the other is Integrative. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.
The Distributive approach can be described as a fixed amount of resources being divided up between winners and loser’s. says we should look at the travel contract as a pie. For example if the travel contract were to be considered a pie then the winner would have negotiated more slices than the loser.

Within Distributive negotiating there are 2 positions.

Soft Bargaining and Hard Bargaining.

When you position yourself as a Soft Bargainer, you’re essentially saying you’re friendly with the travel agency/recruiter and, that friendly relationship between you two is integral to your contract. You don’t want to be seen as pushy or demanding so you’re trusting and give in for the sake of maintaining the friendly relationship.

The Hard Bargaining approach trusts no one. You negotiate more of the pie by pressuring your opponent. You have a winner take most attitude. says using the Integrative approach to negotiating your best travel nurse contract asserts there are no win/loose situations.

With Integrative there is a win/win approach to negotiation. Through cooperation the pie isn’t a fixed amount of slices. The pie can be enlarged to accomodate everyone’s preferences and positions.

2. Know Your Bill Rate

According to you should know what the bill rate is. The bill rate is the dollar amount the agency bills the hospital for your time.  This is easier said than done. One reason is that most travel agencies are very reluctant to tell you what they’re charging as a bill rate. Basically, the agency will bill the hospital a set hourly rate for your services.  The bill rate can be calculated in a few different ways. For example, you may be making $40 per hour for your total package and the agency bill rate to the hospital is $80 per hour. As you can see the agency is making 50% of the bill rate which is a substantial amount of money. When you look at the entire compensation package as a pie, you should take into account all of the components, even if you won’t need to sign on to everything. Items that go into a compensation package include but aren’t limited to:

A. Base rate of pay – this is taxable income usually listed as per hour.

B. Meals & Incidental Expenditures aka M&IE’s – this is the amount the agency will pay you for your meals and other personal items. It could be listed either weekly or monthly.

C. Lodging Stipend – this is the amount that is paid to you for your housing rental should you elect to take the stipend over the agency paid housing. Usually listed monthly.

D. Travel Stipend – this is the amount paid to you to cover your travel expenses. Usually listed for the entire contract, may be paid in 1 or 2 payments over the contract.

E. Medical Insurance – this can be tricky and should be evaluated separately before adding it into your compensation package.

F. There could be other benefits too like PTO, completion and/or sign on bonuses, holiday pay, etc;.

You definitely have to make the decision about how much money you need to live on. If you’re maintaining your home while you’re working as a travel nurse, meaning you have a home tax base that you need to financially maintain by paying the mortgage/rent, utilities and other household bills then you need to take that into consideration when negotiating your contract.

According to most agencies strive to make 20% to 25% of the bill rate. Anything over 25% of the bill rate is highly desirable for the agency. The agency has expenses too. Those expenses could include:

G. Paying for all or part of your medical benefits.

H. Paying for your liability insurance.

I. Paying for your license renewals and certifications.

J. Paying for your annual expenses such as your annual physical, annual vaccinations like flu shots, PPD, etc;,

K. Paying for Vendor Management Services, (timecard management services), this expense could typically be calculated at 2% to 4% of the bill rate

3. A Formula To Help You Make an Educated Guess as to What Your Bill Rate is

As I stated earlier, Agencies are very reluctant to reveal to you their bill rate, what they bill the hospital for your services. In their download, “Negotiating The Best Travel Healthcare Compensation Packages, Basics, Methods and Tips”, has a formula to help you figure out the bill rate just in case you’re unsuccessful at obtaining that information from your agency.

4. Ask About High Paying Assignments

Why are particular assignments paying more than other assignments? Things to take into consideration when asking about the higher paying assignments are, making sure the assignment is in your specialty. An ICU position may pay higher than a Med/Surg position. Do you feel comfortable working in a setting different than your specialty? Also, many positions rotate nurses’ shifts and may want you to work day and night shifts, 12 hour and/or 8 hour shifts. Are you willing to work both shifts or off shifts like 3pm to 11pm? Or 3am to 3pm? Is the pay higher because of the location of the hospital? Is it a remote location? Is the weather a factor in attracting nurses? Harsh winters? I actually think this question should be part of your negotiation strategy. says asking these questions could possibly help you to know if the recruiter is trying to lock you into a lower paying contract or not.

5. Ask Which Assignments Have Been Open The Longest

Many assignments go unfilled due to low pay. If you’ve determined that the hospital is in a desireable area for you to work in, you could possibly negotiate a higher rate of pay for yourself. This question is also a great negotiation tactic. It could possibly help you to figure out the bill rate that the hospital is being charged for a nurse’s services. suggests you should present your pay proposal to the recruiter and ask if the bill rate can be re-calculated with your proposed rate of pay. This isn’t usual practice however it could work to your advantage in 2 ways. You could land a travel position in the area you want, for the pay you desire and, you could possibly find out the bill rate for that position.

6. Guaranteed Hours and Missed Hours Penalties

So your travel nurse contract states you’ve got guaranteed hours, great! What happens if the census gets low? Do you have to float to other units in order to get paid for those hours? How about floating to the organizations other hospitals in the area? Some healthcare organizations have 2 or more hospitals in a metropolitan area. I once signed a travel nurse contract and didn’t know I had to float between 2 hospitals! You should definitely ask questions of your recruiter prior to signing the contract. Some hospitals have already negotiated in their agreement with the nurse travel agency that they can cancel up to 3 of your scheduled shifts. Do you still get paid? What if you get sick and need to call out?

7. Negotiating Extensions

I personally feel that if the hospital wants to extend your contract, it’s a compliment to you as a nurse. You’ve demonstrated your competence and compassion through your practice. Chances are the hospital has gotten great feedback about you from patients and staff alike. You are the kind of nurse the hospital wants to represent them so they want you to stay on and continue to make their patients happy. Your stellar performance and the fact that the hospital wants to extend your contract is a great bargaining tool for you. Remember timing is everything so inquire about an extension as early as possible. It’s possible to negotiate a higher rate of pay or some other type of compensation, however it’s also possible that the hospital sees your extension as the least expensive of other options like taking on a new traveler. You already know the computerized charting system, you’re familiar with the doctors and other staff and how things work around there. For the hospital, it would be cost effective to keep you since they don’t have to incur expenses like new hire orientation. Your nurse travel agency would benefit as well from the extension. They too are incurring less costs than they did on the original contract.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a staff nurse thinking of becoming a nurse traveler, I sincerely hope this post is helpful to you as you consider your options as a Nurse Traveler. Make sure you visit and download their booklet, “Negotiating The Best Travel Healthcare Compensation Packages, Basics, Methods and Tips”. I followed some of the tips in the booklet and I was able to negotiate a fantastic nurse travel contract!

As a Nurse Entrepreneur I’m grateful to my blogging platform, Kalatu Premium for the ongoing encouragement, inspiration and education I receive as I mentor other Nurse Entrepreneurs and develop a career alternative for Nurses using the Internet. Yes, it can be done! Why don’t you join us as we blaze a new and exciting career path for Nurses! Click now to find out more. Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to start your own Nurse Blog today?

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Toria Crews Johnson, RN, BSN, Nurse Entrepreneur

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3 Comments on “Travel Nurses Know Your Worth 7 Tips to Help You Negotiate Your Next Contract

  1. Thanks for the pointers of becoming a travel nurse and knowing your self worth . I know several people that was interested in becoming one but didn’t know how to get started. Thanks for the information

    • Tracey, You’re my longtime nurse friend and I’m so thankful that I was able to attend nursing school with you! Please don’t hesitate to ask more questions about a travel nurse career and spread the word about this great nurse specialty! Love you, Toria

  2. Although I never considered traveling, I know a couple friends that have. If only the information was available to them at the time. One is in Seattle and one in Honolulu. Thanks for.posting this valuable information that I could pass on, if I know others interested in the Travel position. Thanks for for ahedding.light on this subject.

    Katie B. , Philadelphia, Pa.

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