In today’s competitive market for the best healthcare travel rates and locations, knowing how to negotiate travel nurse pay and other contract elements is key. Seasoned travel couple, Chase and Lindsay, otherwise known as @wereoutnabout, offer tried and true advice they’ve implemented when landing travel assignments. Here are their do’s and don’ts for how to negotiate travel nurse pay!
What are some negotiation do’s?
We share a lot about negotiating, the current travel nursing market, and how to achieve the most success in your travel nurse career on our Instagram @wereoutnabout — make sure you follow along, so you don’t miss anything!
- When it comes to negotiating, the most important tip is to actually DO IT! If you don’t ask you will never know if there was a chance to get a better pay package.
- Research the market prior to negotiating. What are the average rates across the country for your specialty and for this particular city/state?
- Use multiple resources such as Fusion Marketplace to compare rates across multiple agencies.
- Be professional when communicating with your recruiter. Having an entitled approach is a turn off in general — especially when negotiating.
Our advice is to approach your recruiter by saying something like, “I am really interested in XYZ job; however, the pay is a little lower than what I'm aiming for in the current market. I would be willing to submit right now if I could get the rates as close to $$$ as possible! I would also really like to ensure that the tax-free stipends are maximized so I can make the most out of this contract. Is there any chance you can see if these could be adjusted at all? Please let me know if these changes can be made so I can submit ASAP. Thank you so much!”
What are some negotiation don'ts?
- Please don’t have an entitled and demanding approach. It’s all about being polite and professional. If you can’t get the pay rate that you want, be open and direct with your recruiter and politely decline, and state that you will be passing on the offer and browsing opportunities with other agencies. When your recruiter knows you are looking at other agencies, they can sometimes pull some strings to get you to stay with them.
- Don’t wait until after you’ve been submitted to negotiate.
- Don’t avoid negotiating.
- When a recruiter says “these are the best rates” don’t immediately choose not to negotiate. Back to rule #1 — always try! If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
What research should travelers do before negotiating?
Research the current market for your specialty as well as the locations you’re interested in. You can use several different platforms to browse job openings, and many are transparent with rates openly advertised. Fusion Marketplace is one of our go-to resources in addition to several others.
There are other platforms that you may see job availability but have to inquire for rates. It can take time and effort to research market trends, but your extra time could be the difference in a couple extra thousand dollars in your pocket a month.
What parts of a contract can travelers negotiate?
You can negotiate both work related things and monetary things! Here are just a few of the things that can be negotiated.
Work related things include:
- Shift times
- Parking pass
- Floating requirements
- Guaranteed hours
- Requested time off
Monetary things include:
- Hourly rate
- Overtime rate
- Holiday rate
- Housing stipend
- Meals & incidentals stipend
- Travel/relocation stipend
- Extension bonuses/raise
- Licenses (new state/renewal)
- Uniform/supplies (scrubs, shoes, stethoscope, etc.)
Who do you negotiate with?
You will always start all negotiations with your recruiter. They will then take it up the chain of command to whoever their agency requires them to communicate with. Sometimes they will discuss with the hospital if certain things need to be negotiated with the facility.
You rarely ever need to negotiate with your hospital manager. This would only happen if you needed to talk about scheduling issues or if you learn of pay discrepancies from traveler to traveler and your agency won’t renegotiate with you.
At this point, we move to the manager and find out what we can regarding rates if they care to share this info. If we learn that rates are varying from agency to agency, we may extend at the hospital with a new agency to get the better rates. Again, this is last resort, and your recruiter should be very much be aware of what you’ve discovered and notified that unless your rates are changed to match the other agencies, you will be re-extended with the other agency instead.
At what point of the process should you negotiate?
Before submitting is the prime time to negotiate. Never submit to a job that you aren’t happy with the original pay package or unaware of the rates.
You can also occasionally negotiate after your interview, and you were offered the job. If after your interview you learned some new things about the facility, you could also then ask your recruiter for a pay raise due to what you’ve learned. Let's say they won’t honor your time off or you’ll be required to float to an area you don’t typically float. You can negotiate that in order to sacrifice your time off and float somewhere you don’t normally agree to float, but for a pay increase.
You can also negotiate after you start your contract if you learn that the other travelers are making more than you. It’s best to ensure they started the same time as you or after you before you try to get this pay increase.
Some travel nurses are currently locked into “crisis” rates and are grand-fathered in. The hospital and agency may have agreed to keep them at these rates until they leave. For new travelers, they may not be offering “crisis” rates. That’s why timing is important. However, if someone starts after you and is being paid more, you can negotiate for the pay increase since there is clearly a need for nurses at a higher pay.
How do you negotiate your pay package for the max amount of earnings? (Maxing out stipends, etc.)
It’s important to look at the gross weekly pay which includes your hourly taxable rate and your tax-free stipends if you’re eligible. We always recommend running the numbers through a paycheck calculator to see what your take home pay will be (after taxes). It’s good to have a set weekly goal in mind and make sure you’re as close to it as you can get after taxes.
If you maintain a tax home, you are eligible for tax-free stipends. You can maintain your tax home one of two ways. You can do so by working and earning 1/4 of your annual income in the last location you lived and worked prior to travel nursing. The other way is by duplicating expenses. This means you are paying rent/mortgage/shared expenses year-round in the last location you lived and worked in prior to travel nursing. You are also required to spend 30+ days there annually to prove that you haven’t fully abandoned your tax home.
If you’re eligible, it’s best to ask to have your stipends maxed out at the highest rate! That’s more tax-free money. Although it is primarily used for covering costs for housing, if you find legitimate housing at a more affordable rate, you may have extra stipend money leftover that wasn’t taxed.
Can you negotiate bonuses or raises when you sign on for an extension?
Yes! This is something that is always worth negotiating! Current travel nurses working on a contract cost less to hospitals and agencies to keep them versus starting over with new staff.
We don’t have to onboard again, get paid for pre-employment modules, physicals, lab work, etc. They also don’t have to pay to orient us, and we already know the ins and outs of the facility. It’s easier for both parties to keep their current travelers vs start over with new ones.
A raise or bonus should almost always be expected — but only if you ask. In the current market, we’re seeing a lot of pay cuts with extensions which is poor practice. If travelers as a whole wouldn’t accept the pay cut for doing the same job description, there wouldn’t be pay cuts. It might take a while for agencies and hospitals to get the picture, but they will start to realize that if they change the rates, they’ll lose staff.
Should you negotiate with multiple agencies at a time?
Absolutely! This is actually best practice. Getting several pay packages for the same job will quickly show you which agencies are keeping a higher percentage of the bill rate. Most of the time the difference is $200-500/week, but we’ve seen up to $2000/week pay differences for the exact same job, start date, and shift time — no joke.
Why should you negotiate?
If you don’t at least try to negotiate — you’ll never know if you could have made more money. No, travel nursing isn’t all about money, but it is our career so why not try to get the best pay we can get!
What do you do if your negotiations aren't accepted?
When you negotiate, don’t always expect it to go your way! Have a number in mind that you want to achieve and if they match it — great! It’s time to move forward with submitting for the job. If they don’t meet it, move on, and keep searching. It’s simple!
Be warned — settling for rates lower than your financial goal will drive the entire travel nurse market down! We recommend running budget calculations along with the costs of duplicating expenses and knowing how much you need to earn each week to make traveling financially more beneficial than staff nursing! Don’t settle for anything less than this. We share a lot about this on our social media @wereoutnabout.
Have your negotiation tactics changed at all during this market shift?
No! We actually feel like the market is shifting is due travelers not holding their ground. There has been an increase in new travel nurses who are only accepting rates because “they’re better than staff rates.” Although this is driving rates down, there are other things happening behind the scenes.
We also think that there is a push coming from both hospitals and agencies to lower our rates back down. We think hospitals are decreasing rates so they can save money on travel nurses and also try to get nurses back to staff.
With all these market shifts, we all need to find a middle ground of what travel nurses deserve to be paid in order to keep up with minimum wage increases, cost of living increases, and inflation.
About Chase + Lindsay
We’re a married travel nurse couple. We met in nursing school at WVU and called West Virginia our home before we started traveling in 2018. We’ve explored 20 countries and 30+ states together. We’ve been living tiny in our RV for 4 years and absolutely love it. We became debt free after one year of traveling for work + have been able to experience financial freedom! We share a lot of the ins and outs of travel nursing and how to navigate the travel nursing world to be as successful as possible!
Follow along with us on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube.
Fusion Marketplace is the perfect tool to start practicing your negotiation skills! Our online job board allows you browse jobs from multiple agencies and compare transparent pay rates, so you can have a constant pulse on the market. Plus, you can apply for multiple jobs at a time so you can leverage the negotiation process for your next assignment.