By Sarah Wengert
When you sign your contract for a travel nursing assignment, you should do so knowing it’s an important, binding agreement. Travel nursing contracts are there to protect clinicians, facilities, and agencies, and to ensure a staffing need is adequately filled and patient care standards are properly met. That said, there are infrequent circumstances that may merit a contract cancellation.
Who Can Cancel a Travel Nurse Contract?
Both facilities and travelers can cancel contracts, and there are many unique scenarios that could lead to either party doing so.
Hospitals cancel contracts for several reasons. Often it’s due to an error or unforeseen change in seasonal demand forecasts — either of which could lead to an overstaffing problem. EMR/EHR conversion contracts are sometimes canceled for various reasons, too. The healthcare staffing industry also saw many hospitals cancel contracts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, as elective surgeries were canceled in droves, travel OR nurse contracts followed suit. However, probably the most common reason a hospital might cancel a travel nurse contract is that a traveler’s performance is unacceptable.
Travelers can also cancel a contract in dire circumstances. A supportive recruiter/agency should help you try to troubleshoot to avoid cancelation, when possible, before guiding you through a last-resort cancelation.
Reasons for Breaking a Travel Nurse Contract
In two words: Life happens. But, of course, it’s always more complex than that!
If a traveler legitimately needs to seek a contract cancelation, it’s usually due to a situation like major personal health problems, a family emergency/serious family illness, an unacceptable work environment that may even endanger a traveler’s license, or other such valid reasons.
In the case of an unacceptable work environment, a traveler should make a good faith effort to resolve the issue in other ways before going straight to the level of contract cancelation. First, express your concern to your recruiter. Discuss the issue with them and ask to speak to a member of the agency’s internal clinical team — a quality healthcare staffing agency will have one to better support their travelers on clinical issues! Let your agency’s support system work with the facility as necessary to correct any work environment issues you feel may be endangering you personally or putting your nursing license in jeopardy.
When it comes to a serious personal health problem, well, you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you need time to manage and heal from an illness or other personal health emergency, most agencies and facilities will understand. And it’s similar with an unavoidable family emergency.
Depending on your specific circumstance, you might also consider that a total contract cancelation could be avoided and perhaps the contract could just be amended. For example, you have to go home to help with a family emergency, but you would be able to resume the contract in three weeks. In that case, you might consider discussing all possibilities with your recruiter and potentially avoiding an outright cancelation.
Bad reasons for breaking a travel nurse contract? You found a better assignment with higher pay and decided to bail on this one. You’re just not feeling it. You don’t love (fill-in-the-blank location) like you thought you would. If you find yourself wanting to cancel for these or other such frivolous reasons, just don’t!
Remember, it’s not just about a contract. Your patients, colleagues, facility, and agency are all depending on you, so you should just bide your time and meet your commitment in these types of situations. The contract will be over before you know it and you can move on then — with your professional reputation and integrity intact.
Canceling a Travel Nurse Contract the Right Way
The first thing to ask yourself is, “What does the contract say?” Every travel nursing contract should specifically address what happens in the event of a cancellation by either you or the facility. If your contract does not cover this situation, then you might also check any service agreements you signed with your travel nursing agency. Some agencies will have you sign a service agreement that covers the professional conduct travelers are required to maintain while on assignment. These types of agreements can also cover what happens in the event of a cancellation by the facility and/or the traveler. If an agency uses service agreements, they’re usually signed on a yearly basis and cover all assignments a traveler might work during the year.
After you review what your contract stipulates — or, in some cases, what it does not state — you should call your recruiter immediately. Be 100% up front with them and explain the reason you want to dissolve your contract. As a healthcare professional, you agreed to a contract and should have a good reason for wanting to sever it.
After you fully explain your situation and reasoning to your recruiter, then it’s your turn to listen. A great recruiter is willing to listen and provide helpful feedback and solutions. In fact, in this trying situation, you’ll see just how good your recruiter and agency are. When you come to a recruiter with a legitimate need to cancel, you should never feel threatened or bullied by them or the agency. You might also find that they’re willing to work with you to minimize the damage and provide you with other travel opportunities in the future.
Open communication is key if you ever need to modify or cancel a travel nursing contract. If you intend on traveling again once the situation is resolved, make sure to tell your recruiter that. As previously mentioned, with the blessing of your agency and facility it might even be possible for you to take off a few weeks and then return to your assignment when you’re able. The point is, don’t just call your recruiter and say, “I need to break my contract.” Explain your situation and work with your recruiter to find a solution that will make you, the facility, and your company as happy as possible.
Also, you should give as much notice as possible. If you foresee a potential contract-canceling issue on the horizon, it’s never too early to bring it up as a possibility to your recruiter. That way they can help you monitor the situation and plan ahead. If it never ends up happening, they’ll be elated for you and the contract. Depending on your situation you should also attempt to cover as many of your scheduled shifts as you can. This is a show of good faith and will mean a lot to the other parties involved.
Canceling a contract is never something we’d encourage. However, things do happen that are beyond our control and might require such a drastic decision. If you handle yourself properly, you can minimize any costs and negative outcomes from breaking your contract.
Consequences of Canceling a Travel Nursing Contract
Depending on the terms of your contract, there may be repercussions that fall on you, your recruiter, and/or the agency you’re working with. For example, if your agency provided housing, it’s probably still on the line for that, and you may be required to pay the remainder of the lease. If you secured your own housing, you will have to navigate that situation on your own. Another example: Your health benefits may lapse when your employment ends — something to especially consider if you or a covered family member is facing a health emergency — so you can make a plan to maintain benefits through another channel. Again, much of this should be outlined in your contract.
Canceling contracts can also affect your future contracts and employment opportunities, even for permanent staff positions. It may make it more difficult for you to get good references. You may have to face tough questions during future interviews. Depending on the circumstances, your agency might have your back, or you might not be invited back to work with them again. Travel nursing agencies thrive on having good relationships with facilities and travelers. If the facility is in the wrong, your agency should side with you. However, if you’re in the wrong, you may find that your agency will decline working with you on future contracts. Some facilities will also move you to a DNU or DNR status and be unwilling to hire you in the future.
Also, finding yourself in a situation where you need to cancel an assignment is often very stressful. First, your reason for wanting to cancel is likely a major stressor. Then on top of that, you have a lot of work to do and hard conversations to have if you’re going to cancel the right way. Throughout this process, don’t forget to take care of yourself to manage these types of consequences to your mental and physical health.
Contract cancelations should be avoided at all costs. However, certain circumstances can make them necessary. Travelers don’t appreciate having their contracts canceled by a facility, so it’s important to practice a “golden rule” approach here and only move to cancel as a last resort and due to an emergency situation. Remember that your patients and colleagues may be the ones who suffer the most, but that you’re also putting the facility, your recruiter, and the agency in a real pinch.
If you do wish to cancel, communicate openly and honestly with your recruiter, work with them on the best solution, give as much notice as possible, and try to work your scheduled shifts. Also understand that you may face professional, financial, and other consequences. Above all, we hope you never have to face the kind of situation that necessitates a travel nursing contract cancelation, but if you do, please take care of yourself and lean on your recruiter!