Is my base pay high enough?

Ask a Travel Nurse, Benefits and Pay

Ask a Travel Nurse: Is my base pay high enough?
Ask a Travel Nurse: Is my base pay high enough?

Ask a Travel Nurse Question:

I’m a med surg nurse with almost two years’ experience. The place I want to go is around Los Angeles and I just got recruited by one of the largest travel companies. My recruiter said there are lots of jobs and gave me quotes with really good money at first. But after talking to her more and breaking it down, my hourly base pay seems really low and even with the other perks added in is only $4-$5 more per hour. So I wanted to know what you think, is my base pay enough or should I negotiate?

Ask a Travel Nurse Answer:

I’m sorry, but it’s almost impossible to give any advice on contracts without knowing the full scope.

First, since I travel in critical care, I don’t know what the rates are for tele, OB, med-surg, or any other specialties. I also am just not able to keep up on going rates for any given area (which could change from month to month). The only way to know if you are getting a competitive rate is to be with at least three travel companies and get a quote from each.

After that, you must take into account how each company will allocate the monies they are paid for your contract. For example, one company may pay a higher hourly rate, but maybe their cost for healthcare coverage is hundreds more a month. You could also throw housing into the equation when one company will put you up in a nice one-bedroom apartment and the other is looking to put you in an extended stay hotel. You first need to assess your priorities (highest pay, best medical benefits, nicest housing … or equally divided among the three) and then look for a company that satisfies the priorities you deem most important.
It’s also very hard to assess a contract rate without knowing if you are participating in a tax advantage program ( and knowing without doubt that you are eligible to do so), and the other benefits you will receive — How good is your insurance? Are you taking a stipend and if so how much? If taking their housing, are you in a one-bedroom apartment or an extended stay? Then you throw California into the mix and it brings into question if you are working 12-hour shifts, and if so, is your base rate just for the first 8 hours and you will then be paid time and a half after 8? Is the rate you were quoted a “base” rate or your “blended” rate? But there are many facets of a travel contract and it cannot be assessed on rate alone.

Finally, the bottom line will ALWAYS be, is it a rate that will allow you to pay all of your monthly bills and have a little “play money” left over at the end of the month? If so, how bad do you want to go? Maybe an assignment will be a pay cut for you. But if you will spend all your days off skiing in the fresh powder in Colorado or lying on a beach in Miami, would you rather take a pay cut or earn more working in Fargo all winter?

Again, to compare rates, you have to have other companies involved to know what the going rate of any given area would be. However, if you can pay your bills and are happy with the location, take the assignment, use it as a learning experience, and be better poised to research and negotiate your contract on your next assignment.

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