How to Negotiate Your Nursing Contract

The one rule of contracts is to get everything in writing. This is for travel nursing or for any other type of job. Oral agreements mean very little, and even if you love your recruiter, you should insist on getting everything on paper and signed.

Keep in mind that this contract will be between you and the agency, not you and the hospital. The hospital and agency already have an agreement (which is why the agency is sending applicants to the hospital). So make sure you discuss every detail with your recruiter before you take a job, and especially before you sign a contract.

Don’t sign anything until you’ve read -- and understood -- every word. Make sure nothing is missing, and ask questions if you have them. If you feel like you’re being annoying -- don’t. Travel nursing requires uprooting your life and moving, so you need to have as much certainty as possible.

Points you'll need to clarify before signing on the dotted line

Guaranteed Hours
This means the hospital has to give you a certain number of hours per week, which can help you budget and know how much take-home pay to expect. But make sure you understand how their policy works: Can you make up sick days? Do you get weekly hours or just hours over the course of your session?

Permanent Positions
Every agency handles this differently, so be sure to ask what happens if you are offered a permanent position. In some cases, your contract might prohibit you from taking it -- so ask!

Dates
What date do you start and end your assignment?

Housing
Treat this the same way you would signing a lease. Ask all the same questions, from pet policy to who pays for burnt out light bulbs to move-in date to whether or not there is trash pick-up. If you have free or reimbursed housing, make sure you understand how that works, particularly if your assignment is delayed or cancelled.

Pay
Are there different rates for overtime or on-call hours? Do you get paid for orientation? How much? Who pays you (the agency or facility)? How will they pay you (direct deposit, check -- if a check, can you cash it without needing to open a bank account in the area?) When will they pay you? How do you track your hours?

Insurance
How much is your health insurance? What does it cover? How long do you have it for? Does it cover dependants or spouses?

CUEs
What does the agency offer? Are these free? Which courses? How many?

Travel Expenses
What will the agency cover? How will it be paid for? What happens if the assignment changes? If you need to change plans? Who makes the travel arrangements?

The Facility
You can find out most things online about hospitals and medical facilities, but ask your agency or the facility anything and everything you might want to know about your future work environment, from nurse/patient ratio, to dress code, to dining options, to procedure for taking sick days.

Most importantly, ask about the “what ifs.” You might think it’s highly unlikely for a hospital to completely cancel your assignment -- but what if they do? What if you have already moved and were planning to start work on Monday? What if you suddenly get ill? Or need to stay home with a dying relative? Does the agency offer any recourse or reimbursement?

You can’t anticipate every upset in life, but it is a good idea to ask as many questions as possible to be as prepared as possible.