Can A Travel Contract Be Cancelled?

I recently got an email from a Travel Nurse friend who was canceled from an assignment.  The unfortunate thing is that she had traveled across the country towing her 5th wheel.  She had a difficult time finding long-term parking for her rig.  After finally locating a great spot where she could set up she began to prepare for her first day on the job.  Unfortunately, she then got a phone call from her recruiter telling she had been canceled.

When I talked to her she admitted that she never even considered that she would or could be canceled for any reason. She gave up a permanent position at a well-known hospital to start a travel career.  Her reasons were the same as others I’ve heard from our Wondering Nurses.  Isn’t there is a huge demand for qualified nurses throughout the country?  So what happened?

I let her know that having her contract canceled as a travel nurse is not unusual and for sure can happen.

Why do contracts get canceled?

Hospitals can Cancel

You can look at the reasons that a hospital may need a travel nurse to see why they might cancel that nurse.  One is they are hiring to cover the seasonal increase in census.  If you think about Sun City, Arizona where there is a big hospital.  The “snowbirds”  usually arrive in late September and are in town until April or May.  Sun City is a retirement community and most are over age 55.  The hospital generally will staff up for the increase in population.

The hospital may cancel early for a low census.  It is difficult to predict staffing in these facilities and may find the need to cancel a travel contract early.

Another common reason for canceling could be poor performance of the nurse.  Complaints from patients or staff conflicts can be a reason.  A nurse who has a poor attendance record while on assignment.

A Nurse can Cancel

As a travel nurse, you can cancel your contract.  I would not recommend that you do that unless there is an emergency. You have cause to cancel for a family emergency, personal health issue, poor work environment or changes in your schedule.

I don’t believe anyone would expect you to work if you had a family emergency or a health issue as long as it is not habitual.  It is important to have a good recruiter in the event you have an emergency.  Your recruiter can help to cover your assignment and housing commitment to avoid financial penalties.  As long as you have a good working relationship with your recruiter they will support you in the time of need.

If you find yourself in a poor work environment or you are having scheduling conflicts canceling a contract should be a last resort.  You should try to work out scheduling disagreements to find a resolution.  If you feel your nursing license is in jeopardy you would want to terminate the contract and move on.  Be cautious about making the decision to cancel as professional and financial penalties can be devastating.

Consequences of Canceling a Contract

If you have chosen to take the agency housing and then decide to cancel you may be on the hook for paying the remainder of the lease.  You or your recruiter may be able to find someone to take over the lease but that is not something you can count on.

Like most other lease agreements. if you have made your own housing arrangements you will have to deal with early termination.  You should remember if you make early termination a habit it could affect your ability to get a reference in the future.  Always try to give as much notice as possible if you must end a contract. Your recruiter may be able to find a replacement in order to avoid financial penalties.

No Guarantees

I am not aware of any way to prevent being canceled.  Make sure before you sign your contract to read the fine print and understand consequences of canceling.  You might want to have a clause in the contract that prevents the agency from holding you financially responsible for a facility cancelation.

Remember to include reimbursement for your licensing and travel expenses if your contract is canceled prior to your start date.  Reimbursement is between you and the travel agency.  The travel nurse agency is going to want to keep the customer happy.  Replacing you with another nurse may be the solution, not one you like but that is their option.

What do you do if canceled?

I began this post by saying that my friend was canceled.  Not a pleasant experience for her.  While it doesn’t happen often it does happen.  You need to remain flexible as a travel nurse.  You are taking on a job that can be unpredictable.  Stay in contact with your recruiter so that if you are canceled they may find you another position close by.  Find something close to cut down on travel and housing expenses.

Keep your paperwork current and get references early in case of a cancelation. Have money in the bank since it may take weeks to find the next assignment.  You are going to need someone have your back if canceled.  Having a good recruiter and agency is most important.  I suppose you could also hire an attorney but who today can afford that?


My friend weathered the loss of a contract and has moved on to her next assignment.  When you commit to travel as a nurse you understand you are a temporary employee and you need to put your best foot forward.  Be flexible and choose assignments wisely.  There are a great many companies looking for great nurses and nurses looking for great assignments.  Good luck with your travels.



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Cheryl Roby, RN

Cheryl J. Roby is a retired RN and US Army Nurse Major. She has over 30 years of nursing experience and 26 years of military experience in the Army Nurse Corp. During her nursing career she has traveled as part of her military experience visiting many of the 50 states and once to South Korea. Her medical training began during the Vietnam era when trained as an army medic. She went on to train as an OR tech and then as a LVN/LPN. She completed nursing school and was direct commissioned into the reserve Army Nurse Corp. nurse. She appreciated the challenge of working in various specialties and expanding her clinical and professional skill sets. Her time in the Army Reserves and California National Guard gave her the opportunity to travel to most of the 50 states and working in other medical facilities. During her career she spent years as an OR nurse, Occupational Health Nurse, Hospice Nurse, Forensic Nurse, Nurse Case Manager for developmental disabilities, Parish Nursing as well as being a Nurse Entrepreneur.