While many aspects of the travel nursing profession lean towards ideal, pay packages can be tricky to interpret. They vary by travel nursing agency, can be complex, and seemingly promise more than they deliver. To set the record straight and help you manage your fiscal expectations from assignment to assignment, here are five misconceptions about travel nursing compensation that demand a closer look.
Travel nursing myth #1: The agency will pay 100 percent of your housing costs.
This statement is true if you don’t ask for any upgrades—which will cost you extra. Upgrades can include two bedrooms (one bedroom is the standard), dishes, linens, bedding, and a TV. A vacuum, a washer and dryer, and even a microwave are not necessarily part of your housing package. Furnishings are adequate, but sparse. Most agencies will pay for utilities (gas, electric, water) up to a certain limit. Cable and internet are usually your own expense. When it comes down to it, you can expect to be placed in the most convenient, currently available, and least expensive apartment the agency’s housing department can find. Depending on housing market variables and locale you might be placed in more posh housing from time to time, but that’s not a scenario you can count on.
Travel nursing myth #2: Taking a housing stipend and finding your own place is a cost-effective alternative.
While finding the destination or city for travel nurses is a priority for most, staying in budget can be a challenge. Travel nurse housing stipends often don’t cover the cost of short-term private rentals—which are harder to find and can be double and triple the rent of agency housing—so you might need to kick in more of your own money or consider rolling into your travel allowance and/or any bonuses to pay the difference. Choosing a private rental over agency housing is also riskier. If you find your own place and your travel contract gets cancelled, you are still liable for the rent. If you are staying in agency-provided housing and your contract gets cancelled, the agency absorbs the rental fees.
Travel nursing myth #3: Company-provided health benefits cost you less out of pocket than a private plan.
- Accepting medical benefits as part of your pay package can be a sound choice, but the cost of these benefits may take away from your hourly pay, travel reimbursements or another area of your pay package. Usually, as long as you are on assignment with the same agency, your coverage continues without interruption. However, if you take time off between assignments, you may be required to catch up your premium payments at the onset of your next assignment or extend your coverage through COBRA, and pay steep premiums.
Purchasing a private plan ensures that you won’t have to change your insurance if you switch agencies. It also keeps you covered between assignments. The decision to take company insurance over private insurance requires research. Evaluate both plans’ schedule of benefits such as co-pay amounts, the annual maximum for hospital stays, the monthly maximum for prescription drugs and other plan details so you know how your decision affects your total compensation.
Travel nursing myth #4: Travel nurse agencies guarantee paid time off (PTO).
Hospitals that employ travel nurses are usually short-staffed and in dire need of healthcare professionals. They expect the traveler to be there for all scheduled shifts and they frown upon sick days. As a result, hospital and agency policies are designed to ensure that travelers don’t miss time while on assignment. Here are several things to note:
- Many agencies advertise PTO, but when you scrutinize the details of their policy, you find PTO includes vacation days, but does not pay for sick days.
- Many agencies only allow PTO to be used in between assignments.
- Many agencies will not pay out for unused PTO if a traveler leaves the company, but they will bank it so it can be used if the traveler returns to the agency for another contract.
- Agencies will attach an expiration policy to PTO. All unused accrued hours may expire on an annual basis which means that travelers start the new year with zero days to carry forward.
- If PTO is negotiated into your contract, nursing recruiters and agencies will attempt to account for these costs in their rate calculations. Ultimately, the cost will be passed off to you in the form of lower compensation.
Travel nursing myth #5: You will not be penalized for cancelled shifts initiated by the hospital.
When missed shifts are initiated by the traveler it’s fair to argue that the traveler is accountable for costs associated with the unworked hours. Unfortunately, some agencies will hold travelers accountable for hospital-initiated shift cancellations. To get ahead of this issue, make sure you go over your contract’s guaranteed hours’ policy very carefully. If the contract guarantees 100 percent of the contracted hours, it should say so. The more standard clause allows the facility to cancel 2 to 3 shifts per 13-week contract without compensation. Some hospitals will offer an additional shift if they cancel your scheduled shift, but if you don’t work it, you don’t get paid. The bottom line: Clarify this issue with your recruiter before you sign your contract.
Getting ready for your next travel assignment?
Turn to Cross Country Nurses, one of the most trusted recruitment agencies in the nursing industry. Call us now at 800.530.6125 or search for your next travel nurse destination.