This article is the second in a series of articles we’re calling “Truth in Travel Nursing.” Designed to provide reliable information to travel nurses, we hope these articles help clear up what we feel are some common misconceptions in the travel nursing profession today.
In travel nursing, one of the most misunderstood and undervalued benefits is that of travel nurse guaranteed pay or hours. Agencies use the terms quite often, however, their definitions can vary drastically. What’s more, it’s left up to you, the travel nurse, to decipher and ensure expectations are realistic.
One of the greatest concerns when going on 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 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
is that agencies do not want to pay nurses for hours that they cannot bill the hospital—neither the nurses, nor agencies, or 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 it is so important to pay attention to the details of your agreements.
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:
- How is your guaranteed pay applied? Biweekly, monthly, length of contract?
- Are you assured a certain amount on your paycheck, even if your shift gets cancelled?
- Will you get paid regularly each check/pay period or must you wait until your assignment ends?
- How do low census situations impact your pay?
- What happens to your contracted hours if you call in sick?
- How many shifts in what time period is the hospital permitted to cancel, what is the allowed call off policy?
- What is your obligation regarding make-up shifts?
- Is floating required to secure your guaranteed hours? How far must you travel?
- If you are called off for low census, or missing shifts for other reasons: How does this impact potential bonuses in your pay package?
- How do hours worked affect your living expenses stipend?
Choosing Higher Rate vs. Guaranteed Hours – Some Example Scenarios
Two Agencies are offering an 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 cancelled 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.
Scenerio 1: If no hours are cancelled during the assignment:
|Agency A||Agency 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.
Scenerio 2: If 36 hours are cancelled—a very common cancelled shift policy of one shift per month:
|Agency A||Agency B|
|(468 hours – 36 hours = 432 hours) x $38 = $16,416||468 hours X $36 = $16,848*|
*You would have been better by $432 with Agency B since the hospital exercised their right to cancel 36 hours.
Scenerio 3: If 72 hours are cancelled—a very common cancelled shift policy of one shift per two weeks:
|Agency A||Agency B|
|(468 hours – 72 hours = 396 hours) x $38 = $15,048||468 hours X $36 = $16,848*|
*You would have been better by $1,800 with Agency B since the hospital exercised their right to cancel 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 a shift is cancelled by the hospital 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 cancelled.
- 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 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 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 pay structure
- Do your homework
- Understand all the details and fine print
- Ask for protection against low census call-offs
- Get it in writing