Travel nursing pay packages are complex. There are many more variables to consider than your typical pay package and everyone seems to have a different way of evaluating and explaining them. As a result, important factors often get lost in translation when evaluating travel nursing pay. One of the most routinely neglected factors is Time. Unfortunately, Time is also the foundation of the compensation package. In this blog post, we’ll illustrate 4 ways that time can affect pay for travel nurses.
Hours per week in a travel nursing contract
In general, the total number of hours to be worked during a contract has a major impact on the travel nursing pay package. And of course, the number of hours per week has an impact of the total number of hours in a contract. A thirteen week contract for 36 hours per week has 468 total hours. Change it to 48 hours per week and you end up with 624 total hours.
Why is this important? At first glance, you may answer that it’s important because you’re going to get overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a week. This is important, and we’ll discuss overtime below, but it’s not the key consideration here.
More importantly, more hours means that the fixed costs like travel nurse housing, insurance and travel expenses are a lower percentage of the overall pay package, so that could translate into a higher overall rate for the traveler. For example, let’s say housing costs the agency $500 per week. If the contract is for 36 hours, then housing is costing the agency $13.88 per hour. If the contract is for 48 hours, then housing is costing the agency $10.41 per hour. That’s a difference of $3.47 per hour!
What happens to that extra money? It could be added to the traveler’s compensation. It could be pocketed by the agency. It could be a combination of the two. It all depends on how well you negotiate your pay package. The important thing to remember is that, all else being equal, the pay rate for a 48 hour contract should be higher than the pay rate for a 36 hour contract.
This is why it’s important to watch out for Gross and Net pay quotes. When a recruiter quotes pay as a gross or net weekly figure, ALWAYS inquire how many hours are to be worked per week. Gross and Net figures are obviously bigger for 48 hour contracts because you’ll be working more hours. However, in order to properly evaluate and compare pay packages, you should know the blended hourly rate. In other words, have all the compensation variables broken into an hourly figure and add them up, or “blend them.” Your recruiter should be able to quickly run this calculation for you.
Weeks in the travel nursing contract
As mentioned above, the total number of hours in a contract has an impact on the compensation package. A typical travel nursing contract is for 13 weeks. Of course, a shorter contract has fewer total hours and a longer contract has more total hours.
When it comes to total fixed costs, like a travel stipend or a contract bonus, the outcomes are pretty much the same as they are for total weekly hours as described above. In other words, simply divide the total amount of money by the number of hours to arrive at the hourly value. Fewer hours will result in a higher hourly value and therefore a higher percentage of the total value of the contract, and vice-versa for contracts with more hours.
For example, an 8 week contract for 36 hours per week has 288 total hours while a 26 week contract for 36 hours per week has 936 total hours. A $700 travel stipend would be worth $2.43 per hour on the 8 week contract and only $.74 on the 26 week contract.
However, the issues at play are little different when it comes to some of the other compensation variables. Take housing for example. On a 26 week contract, the cost of housing could be less because the lease is longer and apartments typically give more favorable rates for longer term stays. The agency may get a better deal on furniture as well.
However, if the contract is shorter, then the agency may have to pay a premium for the lease. Or, they may be unable to find a lease at all and instead be stuck with hotel options. Extended Stays may offer good rates, but if there isn’t an Extended Stay option in the area, then the agency may be stuck with only expensive options to choose from.
All else being equal, travelers should anticipate shorter term contracts to pay less overall. On the flip-side, travelers should remember that they should be able to negotiate a better deal on longer term contracts.
Overtime hours and travel nursing pay
Another time variable to consider is overtime. Some contracts have overtime hours and others don’t. Most often, you’ll find overtime hours for contracts in states that require overtime to be paid after 8 regular hours are worked in a day. This is because most travel nursing contracts are for 12 hour shifts.
The thing about overtime is that it’s often not all it’s cracked-up to be. In the vast majority of cases, the overtime rate is based on the taxable base rate for the contract. As you know, the taxable base rate for travel nursing contracts is often fairly low due to the fact that there are so many other pay variables. It’s fairly common these days for the taxable base rate to be $20 to $25 per hour. So the overtime pay rate ends up being $30 to 37.50 per hour.
Moreover, and once again, it’s ultimately the total value of the contract that matters in the end. For example, a contract may offer a high taxable base rate and therefore a higher overtime rate. But perhaps the rest of the compensation package is on the low side, so in the end, you’re really not making any more money. This is why is so important to consider all the variables when evaluating travel nursing pay.
Travelers should also understand the overtime pay rules in order to properly anticipate their pay. Many people assume that states which require overtime to be paid after 8 regular hours in a day also require overtime to be paid after 40 total hours in a week. However, that’s not the case. Instead, these states require overtime to be paid after 8 regular hours in a day and after 40 regular hours in a week.
This means that you’re not going to hit the 40 hour overtime rule until your 6th day of work in the week. And on that day, you’ll get overtime for all hours worked. Obviously, this will be pretty rare as it’s really difficult to work 6 12 hour shifts in 7 days as an acute care nurse.
The bottom line is that overtime hours are just another variable in the pay package. Like all the others, they must be scrutinized. Don’t fall for catchy sales pitches that tout overtime as a huge selling point as they may or may not be beneficial. Moreover, don’t get caught working 4 or 5 shifts to make overtime pay only to find that your paycheck isn’t nearly what you thought it would be.
Extra hours and travel nursing pay
We’ve discussed extra hours at great length in previous blog posts so we won’t rehash all of the issues here. However, it’s important to know that “extra hours” are different than “overtime” hours. Extra hours are hours worked in addition to your contracted hours, while overtime hours are hours that are legally mandated to be paid at an overtime rate.
For example, if your contract is for 3 12 hour shifts per week, and you’re in California, then you will have 12 overtime hours as part of your contract. Now, every hour that you work in addition to the 36 hours you’re contracted to work is an “extra hour.” And to be fair to agencies, extra hours are actually the hours that you work in addition to the total number of contracted hours. For example, if the total number of hours in the contract is 468, then any hour over 468 is an extra hour.
Why is this important? Because the agency bases the compensation package off the total number of hours in the contract. And your compensation package includes housing or a housing stipend, an M&IE stipend, a travel stipend, and perhaps more. Once you’ve worked all your contracted hours, you’ve paid for all of these variables. So if the agency only pays you the base rate for the extra hours you worked, then they’re making out like bandits. So you should always try to negotiate a favorable extra hours rate and never settle for the base rate alone.