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By December 15, 2010 2 Comments

Ask a Travel Nurse: Should I be able to negotiate my wages with my recruiter?


Question: Hi, I am currently a first time traveling nurse. I am at a hospital where there are a few ex traveling nurses and a few current traveling nurses. Both of these groups say that I am being walked all over with my wages. Is it true that traveling nurses should be able to negotiate wages with their recruiter? I am told by other nurses that I am being “hosed,” is this true?

Answer: Well, at least the first part of this question is easy to answer. Can you negotiate with your travel company? Yes, certainly. Most travelers do this all the time. When looking for a new assignment, many travelers contact several companies and tell them they are looking. When one company offers them $25/hr for a certain location, they get on the phone and call another company with this info and that company will often match the offer or offer more. However, before you do this, you first need to underst and how the game is played. You need to underst and allocation.

When a travel company agrees to work with a certain facility, they often sign what is known as a blanket contract. This means that no matter what travel company approaches that hospital, they will receive the same deal that any other travel company would. What differs from company to company is how that contract money is allocated to their travelers.

There have been assignments where I have earned a few dollars less an hour than other travelers. However, when I asked where they were housed, it was in a location that was not as nice. Maybe I make more an hour than another traveler, but his company has better health benefits. So you can see, it is not simply who makes more per hour that determines whether or not you are being “hosed”.

Another thing you must consider is how well your company treats you as an employee. It’s like car insurance. Sure, you can find a policy for hundreds of dollars less, but when you are in an accident, will that company st and behind you or drop you at the first sign of trouble. I worked for a travel company that seemed to be typically lower than others as far as hourly rate. However, my housing always seemed to be nicer than the other travelers and during a few assignments when I needed my company to step up, they did.

travel nurse shocked over paySo, you can always ask for more money, but there is the possibility that your company has allocated funds elsewhere and might not have much of a margin to work with in regard to hourly wages. For example, if your travel company carries a healthcare policy on its travelers that costs 1.2 million a year, they might need to take more from your allocated money than say a company that pays $750,000 a year for their traveler’s healthcare benefits.

Of course, you may never see the benefit of the 1.2 million policy if you seldom require healthcare. That is why many companies now days offer a sort of a la carte menu as far as what benefits you receive. If you have your own health insurance, or don’t need company housing, you can decline these things for a higher hourly rate. When any company quotes you an hourly rate, be sure to ask what is included in that rate. You might see a company that offers to pay you $8000 a month. However, if you have to provide your own insurance, housing, malpractice insurance, and state licensure, then is it really worth it?

Now I will say that there are a few companies out there that typically try to skim a little off the top. Arizona used to pay a $3000 bonus that was st and ard for most 13-week contracts during the winter (the busiest time of the year). I know that one traveler was pretty upset to learn that her $2500 bonus meant that her company was pocketing $500 of money that she should have received.

When you are on assignment, ask around if you like. After an assignment or two you should have a feel for whether or not your company is staying competitive with their wages. If not, then it’s time to find a new company. But, please don’t fall into the trap of always making sure you are the highest paid traveler on the floor. Sure traveler Nancy might make $2 more an hour than you, but when she has to go to the ER for eating bad take-out one night, she might be paying a huge ER bill whereas your travel company takes care of it with a $50 co-pay because your travel company allocated more of your earnings to top notch healthcare coverage.

Remember to compare apples to apples when deciding on a travel company and if you think the pastures might be greener elsewhere, don’t be afraid to try another company about which you have heard good things.

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.

2 Comments on "Ask a Travel Nurse: Should I be able to negotiate my wages with my recruiter?"

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  1. Jayne March


    Hello David,

    I worked as a Medical/Surgical Traveler for five years in the past. Since then I have earned my Masters as a CNS/Nurse Educator, taught at the University of Cincinnati and The Ohio State University. I lectured, but also had Junior level students on a Medical/Surgical unit at The Ohio State University four days a week. I now am wanting to travel again. I am a CPR instructor, travel to Honduras with a Brigade every Spring, volunteer locally at a homeless clinic and am up to date with all hospital electronic documentation and procedures. I do not need health insurance, because my husband has great insurance. I need guidance as to what I negotiate locally and out of my 50 mile radius. I have 20 plus experience, like bonuses and prefer a higher hourly wage than super fancy living accommodations. When I traveled in the late 80’s early 90’s it was different. We made time and a half after 8 hours, collected points for each work completed, which converted to cash bonuses. Now, as I am researching, it is different. I have read about you and trust your advice. I do not need health coverage and want the best hourly wage. What do you think I should ask in Ohio, California and NY?

    Thank you David and I look forward to hearing from you.


    Jayne Rose-March

  2. Lorena


    I’m currently working as an RN in the ER at a level one trauma center. I have one year of experience as a nurse and two years as an ER tech. I’m starting to look into traveling. My best friend lives in Honolulu and I’m hoping to land an assignment there. I was wondering if you have an idea about salary for travel nurses in that area.

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