Staffing shortages have long plagued the healthcare industry in all types of facilities and within all specialties. Whether you’re a registered nurse or an allied health professional, facilities around the nation depend on travel healthcare workers to fill the gaps while they attempt to recruit and train permanent staff. While this provides you with plenty of job opportunities, it’s vital to evaluate each new healthcare travel contract to ensure you’re getting the best deal and the position matches your preferences.
Consider Employer Expectations
Facilities expect travel workers, especially travel nurses, to be highly skilled and have the experience and skills to tackle a job with minimal training. Therefore, your first priority when evaluating a new healthcare travel contract should be to determine whether you can fulfill the employer’s expectations. For example, as a newer nurse that is traveling, you may not be able to meet expectations in a high acuity level I facility, unless you are used to that environment.
Carefully review the job and all the related duties outlined in the travel contract to ensure you’re capable of hitting the ground running after only a few hours of orientation on the unit. That’s why new graduates aren’t typically considered for travel nursing assignments because they lack the experience necessary to jump right in. Evaluating exactly what the job entails ensures you understand what you’re agreeing to in the contract.
Working With a Staffing Agency
While some hospitals won’t require travel workers to sign on with their facility through a travel staffing agency, most of them do. When you work with a staffing agency, you work with a recruiter. Recruiters can answer many of the questions you have about a travel contract, which can take a lot of the guesswork out of the process and help with your evaluation of a travel contract.
Recruiters also ensure you have access to housing options, insurance, tax information, and other vital items. While this service comes with a price, it’s generally worth it in the long run. Travel staffing agencies take a percentage of the total money being paid by the facility to hire a travel worker and you get the remaining amount. Agencies take varying amounts. Before you begin your travel job search, evaluate staffing agencies to find one you like working with that doesn’t take too big a piece of the compensation pie.
Travel Pay Packages and Benefits
Evaluating travel pay packages included in a contract should be a priority. These aren’t as cut-and-dried as other industries and numerous details can vary from one contract to the next. Read through all the payment details and evaluate them carefully to ensure you’re being offered fair wages.
Travel nurses and allied health professionals usually make significantly more than permanent staff members in similar positions. Hourly wages are a small part of their overall pay package and generally don’t accurately reflect what you’ll really earn. Housing, meals, and incidental expenditures are usually listed separately as stipends in travel contracts. These reimbursements are untaxed and calculated using information from the U.S. General Services Administration. Overall, pay packages should include:
- Taxable base rate for contracted regular hours
- Taxable base rate for contracted overtime hours
- Meals and incidental expenditure reimbursements quoted as a per hour or a weekly amount
- Lodging reimbursement rate quoted as a monthly reimbursement but distributed per pay period
- Travel reimbursement, which is usually split between the first and last paychecks
Your travel contract may also include bonuses that make the contract even more lucrative, such as a sign-on bonus paid at the beginning of the assignment or a completion bonus paid at the end. Many compensation packages also include benefits like health insurance that may or may not be important to you. If you prefer money over health benefits, see if your recruiter can negotiate a higher hourly rate instead. However, if you want the medical benefits, be sure the contract indicates the activation date of these benefits and whether there’s any cost to you.
Finally, learn how you’ll be paid for non-standard hours worked, such as overtime, call back, on-call, and holidays. Paid holidays should be specifically listed or you may not earn anything extra for working one. Determine whether you’re paid weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Always ask for a copy of the entire pay package to ensure it matches what you were verbally promised. Having a hard copy also serves as a reminder if you’re evaluating more than one travel contract simultaneously.
Unlike healthcare professionals on staff who may remain in the same location for several years, travel healthcare workers may change locations numerous times in a single year. The advantage is if you don’t particularly like a location and/or position, it’s just temporary. As soon as your contract is complete, move on to the next one. However, it’s still important to consider location in your evaluation of a new travel contract to see whether the pay package meshes with the area’s cost of living.
The location of a travel position can greatly impact the travel salary offered. Generally, states in the Northeast and on the West Coast pay more because the cost of living is much higher in these areas. Most Southern states and states in the Midwest have lower wages because the cost of living is lower. Popular locations tend to be the higher paying, higher cost of living locales, but you may earn more overall in a lower-paying position.
Location considerations are two-fold. Besides job location, you must also consider the location of your temporary housing relative to the facility where you’ll be working. Whether you’re driving or taking public transportation back and forth to work each day, you must determine if transportation costs will eat up a substantial portion of your pay. Besides cost considerations, you don’t want a commute that wastes a large chunk of time every workday either.
When evaluating a travel contract, always make sure it includes all pertinent work-related details. These details help you decide whether you want to accept a contract and you need them for tax purposes. At a minimum, every healthcare travel contract for jobs in a hospital setting should include:
- Travel agency name, location, and contact information
- Hospital name, location, and contact information
- Travel worker’s name and permanent address
- Contract starting and ending dates
- Basic information about your role and responsibilities
- Hospital unit and shift start and end times
- Total number of shifts and hours per week, including overtime hours
- Hourly taxable rate for regular, overtime, and on-call hours
- Non-taxable meals and incidental expenditure
- Non-taxable lodging and travel reimbursement rates
- Pay period details (weekly, biweekly, or monthly)
- Timesheet reporting requirements and frequency of payroll processing
- Benefit details on medical, dental, vision, retirement, sick leave, PTO, etc.
- Details on guaranteed hours to ensure you’re paid for facility-canceled shifts
- Special agreement regarding working conditions, time off requests, etc.
A contract may also include traveler penalties for missed hours, facility penalties for canceled hours, cancellation clauses for the traveler and facility, and non-compete clauses.
Length of Assignment
Travel assignments typically last 13 weeks, but they can last for longer or shorter durations. It’s common for crisis areas to have shorter contract lengths. The length of an assignment is an important aspect to evaluate on travel contracts, especially if you’re hesitant to commit to a specific location for too long.
When the contracted time is up, you usually have the option to extend the contract for an additional 13 weeks or shorter increments. However, travel workers that are receiving stipends can’t stay in one location for more than 11 months due to tax laws. The healthcare facility may also ask to extend your contract, but you don’t have to if you’re ready to move on or take some time off. You’re allowed to take unlimited time off between contracts, but this time isn’t paid.
Tax-free stipends are huge perks of being a traveling healthcare professional. You should always evaluate these carefully and try to take most of your travel salary as tax-free stipends to increase your bottom line. To qualify for untaxed stipends, you must have a permanent tax home that’s at least 50 miles from the travel position. However, some facilities require the distance to be greater, one more thing to watch for when evaluating a travel contract.
Travel worker taxes can be complicated. You must evaluate a blended rate of taxed wages and untaxed stipends. Plus, you must consider the tax situation in the state(s) where you work. If there’s state income tax, you may have to pay this on top of your other tax burden. You may have the added expense of hiring a tax professional to help you keep it all straight.
There are numerous perks of being a traveling healthcare worker and just as many things to evaluate on a travel contract. As a travel nurse or allied health professional, you’ll be repeatedly evaluating contracts so it’s important to know what to look for. Ultimately, remember what’s most important to you regarding compensation packages, work locations, shifts, and positions to ensure your travel career is worthwhile. Always have a signed contract before you travel to a new worksite and begin working.
Compare travel healthcare positions on Vivian Health to find your next lucrative travel assignment at top facilities nationwide.