By April 13, 2010 0 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: What things are included in the pay rate?

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What's included in pay rates for traveling nurses?A recent question from a would-be traveler seemed easy enough to answer. She wondered, “How do you tell what things are included in the pay rate my travel company quotes me?”

My instant reaction was, “um, ask?”  While that answer is essentially what I conveyed, her question does bring about an interesting point. When did a pay rate start to include more than what you are to be paid on an hourly basis? If that last sentence seems clear as mud, let me try to add some clarity.

Most of the time when you apply for a job, you are told what you will make as an hourly wage. Then, they tell you what things you will receive in addition to your salary such as health insurance, dental plan, number of paid vacation days, etc. However, some travel companies have now developed sort of an a la carte menu when it comes to what things are thrown in when quoting you an hourly wage.

As an example, when I was looking for an assignment last year and trying to determine which company I would use, I had several companies that had contracts at the same hospital. However, the pay rates seemed to be all over the board. It was only with a close examination of each that I was able to compare apples to apples.

One company quoted me an hourly wage at $28 an hour, with day one benefits and a $1200 a month housing stipend (we’ll call them Company A). Another company told me that they could get me into the same hospital at a rate of $35 an hour with day one benefits and a housing stipend of $1000 a month (Company B). A third company told me that their “effective rate” for that hospital was over $40 an hour (Company C). With such drastic differences in an hourly wage, I needed to investigate further to find out which company was truly offering the best contract.

I used Company A as a basis. I wrote down everything they were offering and then went to Company B to find out why their rate was so much higher. It was not until after a few conversations with my recruiter that I learned that when Company B said my rate was to be $35 an hour, they had already factored my $1000 a month housing stipend into the rate. Company A’s quote was an hourly rate of $28 an hour PLUS $1200 a month for housing. If you divide $1200 by 144 (the number of hours I would have worked in one month), then you have $8.33. This is how much extra I would earn an hour if I figured my housing allowance from Company A into their hourly rate ($28 an hour plus the housing at $8.33 an hour, would bring my hourly wage to $36.33). Otherwise, both Company A and Company B had similar benefits and finding no other surprises, that meant that Company A (whose original hourly rate quote was much lower than Company B) would actually pay me about $200 a month more than Company B ($1.33 an hour difference in rate times 144 hours worked in a month = $191.52 a month difference).

Now all I had left to compare was Company C. First, I had to have a conversation with my recruiter to learn what this new “effective rate” meant. It turns out that the company was now starting to break down all of its services and include them in their hourly rate quote. Which means that while Company B factored the housing stipend in to my hourly rate, Company C was factoring in everything AND the kitchen sink (this included the base salary, a housing stipend of $1150, health and dental insurance, travel allowance, and even reimbursement for my state license). When everything factored in was removed except for the base rate, Company C was actually paying the lowest of all three companies.

What you can take from all of this is simply to scrutinize the quotes you receive from recruiters. Ask them “Will I receive $1000 a month for my housing stipend in addition to making $30 an hour OR is the $1000 stipend already figured into that $30 an hour rate?”

When in doubt, ask, and ask again. Once you fully understand what they are offering, ask for it in writing. Everyone should sign a contract before starting work on a travel assignment. If the contract does not say the things you were promised, you need to have your company amend the contract to wording that makes you feel secure or simply tell them it does not reflect what you were promised and you would prefer to work with someone else.

Bottom line, ask tons of questions until you develop a good working relationship with your recruiter. Always get things in writing, and don’t be afraid to walk away from an assignment if things don’t feel on the up and up. Next week we’ll take a look at getting the most out of your contract.

Find yourself a career that fits

About the Author:

Hello everyone. I’m a travel nurse originally from Ohio who graduated in 1993 from Mount Carmel School of Nursing in Columbus. I completed a critical care fellowship at Riverside Methodist Hospital in 1994 and started traveling in that specialty a year later. My first travel assignment was in Maui and since that time I have completed close to 40 different contracts in various states with multiple travel companies. I am the author of Travel Nurse’s Bible (A Guide to Everything on Travel Nursing), in addition to my writings here and in the pages of Travel Nursing publications such as Healthcare Traveler Magazine and American Nurse Today. I am presently on assignment in Phoenix, AZ and travel anywhere from six to eleven months of the year.

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