The truth about travel nurse contract cancellations

Signing a travel nurse contract is a commitment to working that assignment, from beginning to end. It’s important to only sign a contract when you have fully considered all the details and have confidently made your decision. It doesn’t look good to cancel or leave early. But also, sometimes the unexpected can happen.

What if you have to break or cancel your assignment? It’s a tricky situation to be in. And hopefully, you can avoid this situation entirely and never cancel a contract!

I am here to educate you on contract cancellations, but let me first reassure you that they are not common. You should never let the fear of getting canceled keep you from living your travel dreams!

But on the off chance, you do need to cancel or you get canceled? Well, let’s talk about it!

The basics of a travel nurse contract

Your travel nurse contract is the formal piece of paper that keeps you, your travel nurse staffing agency, and your future healthcare facility accountable. It dictates pretty much everything. When a travel nurse contract is done correctly, it will also protect you as a travel nurse and will outline job details that can affect your pay, time off, schedule, floating agreements, and travel accommodations.

For travel healthcare staffing companies, the contract is reassurance that you will work the hours you agreed to, and perform as a respectful, dependable healthcare professional. There must be mutual trust between both parties so that the facility can rely on you to be a competent worker and rely on the staffing agency to provide them with a qualified ICU RN, Emergency Room RN, Labor & Delivery RN, Operating Room RN, etc. for the length of the travel contract.

What are some reasons a facility cancellation may happen?

Good cause:

“Good cause” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when a facility has “good cause” to cancel a travel nurse contract. Remember, if a facility cancels due to “good cause”, they will not have to follow the cancellation policy. There are a few situations that would typically fall under the label of “good cause”.

  • A traveler repeatedly has performance issues while on assignment.
  • A traveler performs or is involved in some classification of criminal activity.
  • A traveler blatantly has a disregard for their work and/or a bad attitude that is affecting other staff.
  • A traveler has attendance issues repeatedly.
  • A traveler made an error with patient medication or patient care.
  • A traveler now has an active action against their professional license.

There are other reasons that could be listed here, but those are the most common.

Without good cause:

Cancellation without “good cause”, simply means the facility did not have “good cause” to cancel the traveler’s contract. There are a few situations that would typically fall under the label of “without good cause”.

  • The census (need for staff) dropped unexpectedly and the facility no longer needs a traveler.
  • The facility may have overestimated their need initially and realized they had enough staff.
  • The implementation of their new EMR system got pushed back (this is a huge process within a hospital system and many times travel contracts will be canceled in this situation).

Traveler failed exams:

If a traveler fails an exam/testing portion of their orientation, the facility could cancel their contract. Empowered travelers, like you, know to ask about exams during the initial interview with the hiring manager. That way, you can be prepared to know what you’ll be tested on ahead of time.

Keep in mind, your recruiter should let you know about orientation and if there will potentially be any exams. But it’s smart to always ask yourself, too. We don’t want to be forced to rely on someone else to tell us everything!

What are some valid reasons a traveler might give when canceling a travel nurse contract?

  • A death in their family or inner circle
  • A significant illness came up (their own or someone else’s in the family)
  • Health risks within the facility
  • Unethical practices within the facility
  • Anything relating to them potentially losing their license (if they continue to work the assignment)

What are some bad excuses a traveler might give when canceling a travel nurse contract?

  • Another job opened up that pays more
  • Another job opened up in a better location
  • They don’t like the contract or co-workers (that is different than ethical issues or issues that would impact your professional license)
  • They no longer like their recruiter or staffing agency
  • They are lonely and want to go home
  • It is too challenging
  • “Well hospitals do it to us, so we can do it to them.”

Should I cancel my travel nurse contract?

Realistically, not every travel assignment will be your favorite. You’ll have great assignments and some bad assignments throughout your whole travel career. As I always say, you’ll have to accept a bad experience every now and again, in order to enjoy your awesome experiences a bit more! But what happens if you’re in an assignment that you do not feel good about – maybe one that is making you consider walking away? Or maybe something is going on in your personal life? 13 weeks can feel way longer if you’re having a crisis at home.

We’re human and we can’t see the future. But we CAN handle things professionally and purposefully. If you’re considering canceling your travel contract, ask yourself these questions first!

Did I talk to my recruiter about my concerns?

A great recruiter will take the time to communicate with you and support you if any type of situation arises during your contract. Fingers crossed this situation never comes up… but what if you feel unsafe at your assignment? Speak up at your assignment first. Talk to the clinic or hiring manager. If you can’t get a response or assistance, reach out to your recruiter asap. With potential difficult situations, some staffing agencies can provide someone to be a mediator. That mediator is often a clinical liaison that is “called in” to help find a solution for both parties (traveler and facility).

While you’re communicating with the manager at the facility and your recruiter, make sure you keep documentation of every conversation. Take notes if you’re speaking to someone on the phone or in person. This documentation will be essential to prove that you worked towards (or attempted to work toward) a solution and that you openly communicated your concerns upfront!

Am I risking my professional license if I stay?

It is very important that you report ANY safety risks, inappropriate directions, illegal/unethical situations, or any major concerns about the facility, staff, etc. immediately. Report to the clinic manager or hiring manager and your recruiter right away. You should never let yourself work in conditions that will potentially cause you to lose your license.

Am I financially responsible for canceling my travel nurse contract?

Remember when I mentioned that travel contracts will sometimes have a cancellation penalty? That could come into play here.

If you leave your travel contract position and your travel agency has a cancellation penalty, you will most likely be charged that fee. Whether or not you are charged that fee will depend on what the cancellation agreement is in the travel contract. Sometimes if you have an emergency causing you to cancel the contract, there could be more leniency from the agency. If you do face a financial penalty, it is most likely used to cover the fee that the facility would be charged by the hospital (if you’re the one that cancels).

Travel contracts must include a clause about contract cancellations because they will protect the agency. Staffing companies take on a lot of risks when placing a traveler. They risk working with bad apples who carelessly make their company lose out on their pay, they risk travelers taking advantage of great job opportunities and canceling them without good cause, etc. The little clauses they include in travel contracts are their reassurance and protection. It is fair because agencies incur some hefty costs related to every single assignment and they only get paid if we work our assignments!

Am I prepared to give notice?

Canceling a travel nurse contract requires you to give notice asap. If you leave a travel contract position without notice, you will undoubtedly put the facility (that is most likely already short-staffed) into a tough position. They spend a lot of time and effort on finding the right candidate. They thought that was you. The last thing we should do, as experienced travelers, is leave other healthcare professionals in a negative situation. Give notice as soon as you possibly can. If you know you have concerns, bring them up and try to mediate first. Don’t keep quiet and let your worries stack up until you decide to just walk out of the facility and never look back (that is a huge no)!

When giving your notice, you could find that the facility has gotten to the point where they are properly staffed and can end your contract early without hard feelings. This is a more rare occurrence, as you most likely would already know that the facility is overstaffed and might not need your services any longer.

Am I truly unable to stick it out and finish this contract?

You know yourself best. I am certain that you know the difference between a valid reason to cancel and a bad excuse (I even listed examples above). If you are dependable, punctual, hard-working, respectful, etc., and have built a great rapport with your recruiter, agency, and facility – odds are they’ll be more understanding. Just make sure you’re canceling because you have to, not because you got a little homesick.

One of the huge perks of being a traveler is that once you finish an assignment, you are free to do as you please. Think about that before canceling a contract!

Who the travel nurse contract cancellation impacts:

Your staffing agency and recruiter (aka your teammates who helped get you this job)
This one is pretty obvious. You and your recruiter (plus the staffing agency), worked hard to get you submitted to this contract. They might have even done a lot of work to have the contract be available to you if it was direct. As smart travelers, we know it is essential not to waste anyone’s time intentionally. Make sure you ask all the important questions upfront and think over your decision before verbally or contractually agreeing to work a travel assignment.

The MSP (Managed Service Provider)
Pretend there is a top clinician at a hospital that was reading every single piece of documentation submitted. That person would be the MSP. And the VMS is the computer system they use. The MSP is the person or company chosen by the hospital to review applicants for job openings. They screen you based on your resume to see if you are a good fit for the position you are applying for. When you cancel a contract, their hard work is no longer relevant and they must start the process over again.

If you ruin a relationship with an MSP, they could mark you as “DNR (Do Not Rehire)”… and if that happens you will not get a job at any of their facilities in the future. As a traveler, you never want to do anything that will limit where you can work!

The facility you were meant to work at
The facility you canceled on could also mark you as a DNR for that location and any of their other locations. They may or may not do this, but it’s better to be safe if you want to ever work at those facilities or hospital systems again in the future.

Future employers
Would you want to hire someone who canceled a job before they started or in the middle of their assignment? No, you wouldn’t. Even if you didn’t mention it to your future employer, they can require recent references from your last job. Or they could see a short gap and ask you about it. Either way, it won’t look good to them. And more often than not, if something looks suspicious they might not take the time to ask too many questions. They’ll just move on to a different candidate.

I know that you worked hard to get this contract. We all have to work hard, as travelers, to secure travel assignments. A lot of paperwork and preparation work is involved on our end. It can feel stressful to cancel a contract and not have an immediate job to go to next. You might have to make really fast travel plans and arrange for new accommodations. Being forced to make a new plan so quickly can bring on some unexpected travel expenses. So do yourself a favor as well and make absolutely certain that you HAVE to cancel, before doing so!

Pro-tip to make your life easier: When you find your own housing, find a lease that is the same length as your cancellation clause (not the length of your entire assignment). That way, if you get canceled by the facility you won’t have to try and get out of a long lease. You could also consider asking to make slight changes to your lease and adding a clause that will allow you to get out of your lease if you happen to get canceled. Highlight the fact that you are a healthcare worker that is traveling to help facilities in need, odds are the landlord will be more willing to accommodate.

Here’s to making careful commitments and being professional, always!

Laura Latimer

Laura Latimer

Travel OT and Founder of Nomadicare

Compare your pay to other travelers and see if you’re getting paid fair

Know when jobs are posted and how much they pay in your preferred locations and settings

Discover which states and settings have the most jobs and highest pay for your specialty

Understand how tax homes work and how to qualify for tax free money

Compare therapy licensure timelines, costs, renewal details, and more

Understand your health insurance as a travel therapist and see which one is best for you

Learn about travel therapy, avoid common mistakes, and see if travel right for you