Assuming that you’re still having fun as a travel nurse, you will need to continue to secure travel nursing jobs on an ongoing basis. The easiest job to secure is the extension assignment. Essentially, an extension assignment is when you extend your current contract for an additional number of weeks. Of course, if you don’t sign an extension, then you’ll need to look for a new job. In this blog post, we’ll provide 8 tips for travel nursing contract extensions.
1: Travel Nursing Contract Extensions Are Easier for Everyone
There are several important variables to keep in mind when it comes to extension contracts. First, extensions are easy for both you and the travel nursing company. You are already on location so there won’t be any additional traveling involved. You’ll already know your way around the city so you won’t have to spend any time researching. You already have all your paperwork in order, so you won’t have to go through the onboarding process again. And you’re already oriented, so you won’t have to go through that again.
Your recruiter and agency will save a ton of time as well. Your recruiter won’t have to conduct a job search and get your profile submitted to new opportunities. They won’t have to audit your documentation or go through the compliance process with the hospital again. They won’t have to make any travel arrangements or find housing. All of this saves tons of time.
2: Companies Typically Have Lower Expenses on Extensions
The second important variable to keep in mind regarding travel nursing extension contracts is that the agency will most likely avoid costs that were incurred on the original contract. In addition, it is most likely that the bill rate will be the same for the extension contract as it was for the original contract. This may not be true if the first contract was offered at a crisis rate and the extension is offered at the lower standard rate, but that is rarely the case.
As a result, when you negotiate an extension you should be doing so with the understanding that it’s possible to get more money because the agency is incurring lower costs. However, you will routinely hear recruiters say that they can not give more money for the extension because they provided the best deal possible on the first contract. It’s possible that this is true, but it’s also possible that they provided the best deal given the costs involved with the first contract. Here are examples of costs that the agency may avoid on extension contracts:
- Travel Stipends
- Non-billable orientation costs (Per their contract with a hospital, agencies are often not allowed to bill for a certain number of orientation hours)
- Compliance and Credentialing Costs (Drug screens and background checks are common costs that agencies avoid on extension contracts)
- Man-hours (As mentioned above, the agency spends far less time with an extension versus a new contract)
Let’s take a look at two examples. First, your travel nursing agency may have been unable to bill for a certain number of orientation hours on the original contract. However, they still need to pay you for those hours, so this represents a cost. It’s quite common for contracts to include 4 to 12 non-billable orientation hours. Using a standard bill rate of $65 per hour, the cost would be $260 to $780. The agency will avoid this on an extension because you are already oriented.
Second, if a company provided $700 for a travel stipend on the original contract, then they may not incur this expense on the extension. This is because you may not need to do any traveling. It’s possible that you may want to return home between contracts, but not necessary. Regardless, the company may or may not add the travel stipend to your extension. If they keep it in, then there’s no problem. If they keep it out, then you should try to make sure that you get an equitable increase somewhere else, like your base rate or lodging stipend. Remember, to calculate the hourly value of the $700 travel stipend, simply divide the $700 by the total number of contracted hours.
3: Watch Out for Companies that Withhold Stipends
Something else to watch out for when it comes to travel stipends and extensions is companies holding the second half of your original travel stipend until your extension is complete. For example, let’s say the company offered a $700 travel stipend for the first contract to be paid $350 on the first paycheck and $350 on the last paycheck of the assignment.
When an extension is offered, they may try to hold the second $350 installment claiming that you’ll receive it when you complete the extension. Don’t fall for these gimmicks. You should demand that you’re paid what you’re due on the first contract, and then try to ensure that you receive another $700 travel stipend for the extension or the equivalent in some other compensation component.
4: The company doesn’t always have more money for extensions
All of this said, it’s also important to remember that a company may not be able to pay you additional money for the extension for a couple of reasons. First, they may have offered you a great deal on the original contract to get you to accept in hopes that you’d extend and they could even things out on the extension. Second, the company may have bonuses and other increases already built-in to their extension contracts. If they do, then it’s fair to assume that the cost savings described above are being used to provide any bonuses and/or pay increases.
Just like any new contract, extension contracts are a negotiation. It’s very difficult to know if you’re getting a good deal. It’s fair to assume that most agencies are giving good deals these days because the competition for travelers is so fierce. However, you should still negotiate to get the best deal possible. For more on negotiating, you can get a copy of free eBook on how to negotiate travel healthcare compensation packages.
If an agency seems to be shorting you on an extension based on the variables discussed here, then you can always politely let your recruiter know that you may still want to extend, but you’re going to look for contracts elsewhere that have better compensation. This may be all it takes to squeeze juice from the turnip. Your recruiter won’t want to lose you to another company and it’ll be more work for them to move you to another hospital. It may be worth it for them to just increase your compensation if it’s possible.
5: Check with Competing Travel Nursing Agencies for the Extension
If you’re very intent on getting the best deal and want to take a shrewd approach, then you can look into other companies that might be able to bring you on for the extension. It’s important to note that sometimes your contract will have a non-compete clause. These clauses typically prevent you from working at the same hospital through another agency for a specified amount of time. However, it’s also important to note that these clauses are not enforceable in many states.
If you choose to take this approach, you can seek out other travelers at the hospital who are working through other companies and ask them for their recruiters’ contact information. Then, you can call and speak with these recruiters about the possibility of extending through them. The recruiters should know if it’s possible and/or should be able to provide you with a compensation quote at the very least.
When taking this approach, it is highly recommended that you keep your current recruiter in the loop. Let them know that you are exploring other options and the possibility of extending through another agency. Again, this may be all that’s needed to squeeze juice from the turnip and get the increased rate you’re after. Moreover, it’s best to not burn bridges with recruiters because having more of them working for you is always best. Communication is key to maintaining strong relationships.
6: Travel Nursing Contract Extension Time-Frames Can Be More Flexible
It is quite common for travel nursing contract extensions to be more flexible regarding the length of the contract. There are several reasons for this. First, because you’re already oriented and acclimated to the unit, the hospital recognizes that 100% of your time is productive. Moreover, they understand that bringing on new people is always more expensive, so they’d like to keep experienced people on the schedule for longer periods if they have the need.
Your agency is also more flexible with regard to the length of extension contracts. Again, the process is easier for them. As a result, it’s common to be able to extend for an unorthodox number of weeks, like 6, 7, or 10 weeks.
7: Be Mindful of the Tax Implications
As a traveler, it’s important to maintain your permanent tax-home if you are accepting tax-free stipends. There are a lot of conflicting stories out there about how long you can work in one location before your tax-home home shifts. The most common story is that you can work someplace for 1 year and then return home for a few weeks and then return to the same place to continue working travel assignments. This is not true.
Tax issues are too convoluted to go into in this blog post. There are simply too many scenarios. You can review the articles in our Travel Nursing Tax Category for more detail.
That said, it’s important to understand that travelers should not be extending at the same hospitals continuously over a period of years. Ultimately, you could shift your tax home to the hospital’s location. Additionally, if you do not pay duplicate lodging expenses at your tax home, then extensions may not be advisable. This is because working too long in one location can make it your tax home.
8: When Should You Start Inquiring About a Travel Nursing Contract Extension?
Extension requests can be initiated by the hospital or the traveler. After all, it never hurts to ask. You’ll find that most agencies and recruiters will tell you that discussing extensions shouldn’t be done until 4 to 5 weeks before the contract is scheduled to come to an end. In fact, you’ll find many travelers who say this as well.
This advice is based on the widely held belief that hospitals won’t consider an extension until 4 to 5 weeks before the current contract ends. Moreover, there is a commonly held belief that assignments don’t become available until 1 to 4 weeks before the desired start-date.
This is why you will routinely hear people say that you’ll be wasting your time if you get started any sooner. You’ll hear them say that when you’re a travel nurse, you just have to be prepared to go wherever the jobs are available when you’re available to go.
While it is generally true that hospitals don’t consider extensions until 4 to 5 weeks from the end of the current contract, it doesn’t mean that travelers should wait until 4 to 5 weeks are left in their current contract before they start inquiring. In fact, this conventional wisdom tends to blind us from conducting a more thorough analysis and utilizing effective strategies designed to help travelers maximize income and improve their job search results. Here are some things to consider:
Negotiate Travel Nursing Extension Pay Early
You can discuss the compensation package for an extension assignment whenever you want. The simple fact of the matter is that your travel nursing recruiter has all the details they need to provide you with an extension pay quote. The only variable that could possibly get in the way would be not knowing the length of the extension contract. Simply request that your recruiter provide a quote assuming that the extension will be the same length as the current contract.
More importantly, ironing out the details of the extension pay package early gives the traveler an advantage. Negotiating under a time-crunch can give the traveler a sense of urgency and desire to get a deal done that naturally weakens the negotiating resolve. By discussing pay early, you can avoid these obstacles.
Many Assignments Give Advanced Noticed
Contrary to conventional wisdom, assignments regularly become available in advance. In fact, there is a cyclical pattern that a large percentage of travel assignments follow. A large number of assignments start in January, April, July, and October. This cycle revolves around the holidays. Hospitals need to make sure that they have coverage for the holidays. Therefore, they start many assignments in October which end at the beginning of January.
There’s a huge turnover when these October contracts end and that takes us straight into winter when hospitals in many regions experience spikes in census. The rest of the year flows from there in 13 week intervals. Hospitals routinely release their holiday and winter needs well in advance, and they’re more prone to release their April and July needs in advance as well.
How does this relate to contract extensions? The conventional wisdom that there is no need to start thinking about an extension until the current contract is 4 to 5 weeks from ending tends to hide the fact that you could be looking for new assignments whenever you want.
Sometimes, the best way to get to your desired destination is to start looking early. One of the great things about having a contract is that you have an end date, which means that you typically know when you can start your next assignment. Just because, the hospital won’t talk about extensions until 4 to 5 weeks before your contract ends, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be on the hunt for your next assignment. The hospital is looking out for itself and you need to lookout for yourself to ensure that you don’t miss weeks of work between assignments.
Know About The Travel Nursing Job Market
That said, there are times when waiting until the last minute to decide on your next assignment could be financially advantageous. When the travel nursing job market is tight, there tends to be an increase in hospitals offering crisis rates and bonuses. This is because a tight job market exhibits more demand for workers than there are workers available to meet the demand. So hospitals will sweeten the pot to get travelers to accept assignments with them.
Often times, these assignments require that you start within a short period of time, sometimes within a week or two. If money is a primary objective, then you might want to hold out on agreeing to an extension offer until the last minute to see if you’re able to find a high paying assignment.
On the flip side, in a loose labor market, there are are more workers than there are jobs. So employers have the advantage. In this case, you may want to try and lock down an extension as early as possible or at least try to determine if an extension will be available.
BluePipes has several features that help travelers manage contract extensions and land their ideal future assignments. By providing members with the capability to control their own resume, application and skills checklists, BluePipes reduces the initial paperwork involved in working with new companies. This makes it easier for you to work with multiple companies and thereby maximize your exposure to the job market. You can send your BluePipes documents to an any agency you want, but here is a list of agencies that have contacted us to verify they will accept the documents.
BluePipes also allows you to connect with recruiters and colleagues. Additionally, you can display your availability for your next assignment on your profile and leverage your professional network for your job search. This way, recruiters can see what you’re looking for in your next assignment and message you via the BluePipes messaging system with matching assignments. And the best part is that you won’t have to compromise your personal contact information, so you will avoid telemarketing calls and email spam.
As always, please share your thoughts, experiences, and questions with us in the comments section. For an experienced travel nurse’s insight on contract extensions, I highly recommend this article from the Gypsy Nurse.