Travel Nurse Guaranteed Pay: The Truth

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By The Gypsy Nurse Staff

January 6, 2023



The Truth About Travel Nurse “Guaranteed Pay”

In travel nursing, one of the most misunderstood and undervalued benefits is the travel nurse guaranteed pay or hours. Agencies use the terms quite often. However, their definitions can vary drastically. What’s more, it’s up to you, the travel nurse, to decipher and ensure realistic expectations.

One of the greatest concerns when going on a travel nurse assignment is whether you will be working enough to support yourself and cover all the uncertainties with your new experience. You might wonder what happens if there is low census. What if I don’t get scheduled as often as expected? The pay protection benefits many agencies claim to provide are supposed to be “insurance” so that you don’t find yourself in a tough financial spot. However, not all agency pay protections are equal. The Gypsy Nurse team has researched some common misconceptions. We explore your options and help you to navigate this important topic.

The Reality of  Travel Nurse “Guaranteed” Pay

Of course, travel nurses want some type of “guarantee” arrangement to ensure that they can count on a steady income. But what may not be immediately obvious is that agencies also seek this protection from the facility. It costs them money to recruit, place and pay travel nurses. Once a travel nurse is placed, both the agency and the nurse want assurance that the hospital will pay and fulfill a contract. No one makes money if hours are not worked.

Furthermore, census predictions are not always correct. Hospitals seek the maximum amount of flexibility. The hospital wants some allowance in variance in the number of hours they will contractually agree to guarantee the agency (which impacts hours worked by the traveler) in order to better manage their costs. A majority of agreements allow the hospitals to cancel some number of shifts — a typical allotment in today’s market is up to 3 shifts within a 13-week period.  Some even allow the hospital to cancel one shift a week.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that agencies do not want to pay nurses for hours they cannot bill the hospital—neither the nurses, agencies, nor hospitals want to lose money.

Although the agency’s contract with the facility may say one thing, the benefit they provide you, the travel nurse, does not have to reflect word for word the terms of that agency-hospital contract.  Agencies may repackage this “guarantee,” and in some cases, they actually provide the travel nurse a better benefit than the facility is giving them (which can result in a direct cost/loss to the agency). This is why paying attention to the details of your agreements is so important.

Top 10 Things to Ask Your Agency About Your Contract’s Pay Stipulations

To get the most protection possible around your pay, look for answers to these questions as you evaluate your agency and contract:

  1. How is your guaranteed pay applied? Biweekly, monthly, length of the contract?
  2. Are you assured a certain amount on your paycheck, even if your shift gets canceled?
  3. Will you get paid regularly each check/pay period, or must you wait until your travel nursing assignment ends?
  4. How do low census situations impact your pay?
  5. What happens to your contracted hours if you call in sick?
  6. How many shifts in what time period is the hospital permitted to cancel, and what is the allowed call-off policy?
  7. What is your obligation regarding make-up shifts?
  8. Is floating required to secure your guaranteed hours? How far must you travel?
  9. If you are called off for low census or missing shifts for other reasons: How does this impact potential bonuses in your pay package?
  10. How do hours of work affect your living expenses stipend?

Choosing Higher Rate vs. Guaranteed Hours – Some Example Scenarios

Two Agencies offer a travel nursing assignment with 36 hours per week for 13 weeks; for a total of 468 hours.  The pay packages differ as follows:

  • Agency A offers an hourly equivalent of $38 per hour but no protection if low census occurs (true travel nurse guaranteed pay)
  • Agency B offers guaranteed pay when shifts are canceled due to low census but pays $2 an hour less, so $36 per hour.

Let’s do a few calculations to see how these offers really stack up.

Scenario 1:  If no hours are canceled during the travel nurse assignment:

 Agency AAgency B
468 hours X $38 = $17,784*468 hours X $36 = $16,848

* You would have been better off by $936 with Agency A ($17,784 – $16,848 = $936) since they had a higher hourly equivalent and low census protection never came into play.

Scenario 2:  If 36 hours are canceled—a very common canceled shift policy of one shift per month:

Agency AAgency B
(468 hours – 36 hours = 432 hours) x $38 = $16,416468 hours X $36 = $16,848*

*You would have been better by $432 with Agency B since the hospital exercised its right to cancel 36 hours.

Scenario 3:  If 72 hours are canceled—a very common canceled shift policy of one shift per two weeks:

Agency AAgency B
(468 hours – 72 hours = 396 hours) x $38 = $15,048468 hours X $36 = $16,848*

*You would have been better by $1,800 with Agency B since the hospital exercised its right to cancel within 72 hours.

The Gypsy Nurse Summary: Smarter Choices Add Up to More Money

Many agencies promote a travel nurse guaranteed pay, guaranteed minimum pay, or guaranteed hours in a contract. However, the terms of these promises can vary considerably—and whether intentional or not—mislead travel nurses with regard to pay.

Consider these key points with every contract:

  • Look for an agency that offers the travel nurse guaranteed pay. Even if the hospital cancels a shift due to “low census.”
  • Find a plan that provides dependable income and protects you from pay gaps. Accounting for situations where you are ready to work but the shift gets canceled.
  • True travel nurse guaranteed pay should guarantee you’ll make a certain amount of gross wages. This should reflect what is stated in the summary of your travel nurse assignment details. Additionally, this safeguards you against lost wages due to low census.
  • Timing matters. This means no matter what happens with your schedule at the facility, and the agency will pay you during the pay period you earned it.
  • Do the math—don’t assume a higher pay rate outweighs the benefits of guaranteed hours.
  • Think in terms of each paycheck. Know how situations will impact your finances on a weekly basis, not just the entire contract duration.

In Conclusion: Leverage every advantage when negotiating a pay structure

  • Do your homework
  • Understand all the details and fine print
  • Ask for protection against low census call-offs
  • Get it in writing

Our job board is a great place to search for your next travel nurse assignment. We have you covered with our housing page if housing is an issue. You can search for what you are looking for.

If you are a new traveler or looking into becoming a Travel Nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step by Step

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