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Negotiating Your Travel Nursing Contract

Negotiating Your Travel Nursing Contract

I know I have been out of nursing school for a while, but I don’t remember a class on negotiations while in school, do you? When did nurses start needing to learn the art and skill of negotiating?

Travel nursing has evolved into a big business. This evolving landscape has created the need for more wiggle room in travel nursing contract negotiations. Research from George Mason University and Temple University showed that those who negotiated salary, on average, showed a $5,000-a-year increase over those who didn’t. Pay is not the only thing to negotiate. To achieve a successful win-win contract negotiation, you may also need to have frank discussions about expense reimbursements, stipends, time off, unit type, schedule type, etc.

Of course, some things are negotiable and other things are not. However, you’ll never know what you can get if you don’t attempt to talk about it. Today is the time to work all the facts out – always negotiate before you accept.

The number one rule when negotiating with a recruiter is knowing your limit or bottom line. Never go below that line.  Have in mind what is the lowest pay, the furthest you can/will travel, and the shortest contract you will take. Harvard Professor Michael Wheeler explains that negotiating is a dynamic process. Know what your bottom line is but be prepared to alter your position in order to achieve that win-win agreement. Always remain respectful and positive. Remember that old saying – “you get more with honey than with vinegar”.


Here are a few tips for better travel nursing contract negotiations:


Information is Power

Know what is in your staffing agreement before you decide. Ask your agency for a sample blank agreement in advance. Here you can take your time to read the “fine” print. Contracts can vary per facility but in general, there are some basic points. Things like float policy, call-out expectations, and cancellation notices, to name a few. It is rare for a recruiter to cover every single clause of every contract. Taking the initiative to review it yourself carefully ahead of time gives you the opportunity to pay attention to the things important to you.

Don’t get swayed by inaccurate travel nursing pay quotes

When you are browsing social media, you will see countless pay packages that are extreme. Know that most of these are highly inaccurate. Job boards provide very basic job data including pay. The software used for data management is not able to automatically calculate accurate pay rates for every job. This type of erroneous information can hinder your negotiating ability. Find out the true ranges in the areas you are interested in and be reasonable.

Ask questions

Ask those questions you want the answers to. Don’t just ask if you could float to other units. Instead, ask if you are told to float, what units would that include? Don’t just ask if there is an orientation, ask about what type of orientation you will receive. Be very specific when discussing weekly schedule preferences – if you want to work three shifts in a row, say that instead of asking for “block” scheduling. Make sure you ask about the current patient ratio, patient types, and which procedures you will be expected to perform on the unit. Here is where you negotiate your skills and expertise to their needs. The higher their patient acuity + your higher level of skill = a more lucrative negotiation agreement.

Be willing to compromise

Remember the client has the need because their staff is taking time off.  They need someone who will be productive and work difficult days, holidays, etc. If you do need any guaranteed dates off, you need to list those dates in the contract. Now is the time to negotiate – the day after accepting the assignment is NOT the time to notify the facility about the days you can’t work. If you do need something during the contract – be willing to give the client something in return.  Compromise is where the win–win agreements will be achieved.

Remember the extension

Contract extensions are another time to renegotiate.  It is easier for a client to extend your contract than start from scratch with someone new.  Time frames, days off, and bonus pay are all points to negotiate. Now that they know you and want you to stick around you have a bit more leverage. The overall cost of taking on a new person is always more than that of extending the already trained you. Remember what is left in the pot depends greatly on what you agreed on during the original negotiations.  Here is where compromise comes in – the more flexible you were then the more flexible and willing they may be now.

Negotiating is a collaborative encounter between you, your recruiter, the agency, and the facility.  Everyone wants the same thing: the best agreement.  Open communications will result in a better understanding of the clinical experience and an overall better contract. For more information on staffing agreements and what you can negotiate, talk with your recruiter. As poet and author Maya Angelou said, “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!“



Wheeler, Michael. The Art of Negotiation. EISBN13:9781451690446. Simon&Schuster.


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