Camp Contracts for Beginners

Many nurses considering camp work are confronted for the first time in their careers with the prospect of negotiating an employment contract. Careful consideration and confident actions are often required to reach a satisfactory agreement for both sides. We will discuss some important things to consider when beginning negotiation or signing a contract.   

Many factors contribute to the employment agreement between a nurse and camp employer. The purpose of this post is to focus on the monetary aspect of the relationship. To make sure your a good fit culturally for the camp, please see the post by CampNurse1 here.

The camp employment process can moved very quickly, in my experience the time from application to employment offer can be as little as 24 hours. This can often catch nurses unaware of their own needs and may lead to them signing a contract they later regret. Also remember that the interview isn't over yet; rest assured that the prospective camp is observing how you carry yourself during the negotiation process and you should also note how they behave. Are you concerns addressed in a meaningful way? Do you feel rushed? Are they impatient with you? These are all red flags that you may want to reconsider your choice of employer. 

Before even interviewing, the first thing that a nurse will have to figure out is what is your bottom line pay requirement. A simple breakdown of your routine expenses will help you arrive at this number. Consider rent, health insurance, auto insurance, credit card bills, and any other reoccurring expenses. However, exclude food, gas, and other daily expenses that will be covered by living on camp. This number is your walk away, obviously any pay offer below it will not meet your needs. It is important to have this number in mind when you arrive at the negotiation.

Realize your not going to be paid the same rate for working at camp as you would in a more acute care setting. Camp nurses are on average, in my experience, paid between $50-$100 per day to start. Knowing your bottom line and setting a realistic goal is very important to being satisfied with your contract, and not breaking the bank on your first camp excursion.

During your interview you should be very clear on the expected number of hours and days you will be working. Many camps expect you to be available 24/7 while camp is in session, often for weeks at a time. Others will set a schedule that involves set days and hours. Still another common arrangement is a set number of hours for the season to be scheduled to meet camp needs. You should also determine how each camp will cover staffing shortages or staff illness. It's important to know upfront if staffing issues will affect you and if it will influence your compensation. Realize that many camps will not increase your compensation if a staffing shortage dramatically increases the number of hours you have to work, however those camps should have a plan in place to relieve short staffing.  Whatever the staffing system the camp uses, keep in mind the total days and hours expected; this will help you to decide if you are getting an offer that is acceptable to you.

You should also determine how your contract will pay out. Many contracts will pay weekly or biweekly. However some contracts will pay only a portion of the total amount, and pay the remainder upon completion. In reality, any means of distributing funds can be put forth in a contract; make sure you clearly understand and consider the terms. Match the estimated pay net (roughly 3/4 of the gross amount paid) against your expected expenses and their due dates. A lucrative contract is no good to you if the pay structure will force you to be late on bills or carry your expenses on credit.

Now that you are ready with your walk away and pay expectations, you have gathered the information on work expectations and pay terms during you interview, you are ready to talk numbers. Try whenever possible try to not make the first offer, many camps will want you to name your price first. This puts you at two distinct risks. Firstly you may quote a number that is completely normal in the outside world, but is way above what camp is willing to pay, and price yourself out of a job. Conversely you may quote a price way below what the camp was willing to offer, if they jump at the first number you threw out, you probably missed out on some money. Try saying something to the effect of "I'm really not sure what the average is for organizations such as yours" or I wouldn't want to insult you by being completely off base with my offer".

Ideally the camp will make the initial offer. This is generally on the low side of what they want to pay. It will be accompanied by phrases such as "this is what we pay new nurses" or "this is what's in our budget" or some other phrase designed to discourage a counter offer. I assure you your not going to break the bank and they are anticipating a counter offer from you. Be very excited to receive the job offer and say you will need some time to think it over. Give yourself ample time to consider if the offer is good for you and if not exactly what you need to make it work.

As a general rule you can expect to counter offer for an additional ten to fifteen percent, with a reasonable expectation that the offer will be accepted. If even with this additional amount you find the offer to be unsatisfactory or below you walk away number, then you may need to negotiate a substantially larger amount or consider cutting your loses. Never counter-offer without a reasoned, rational explanation why you are asking for more money. Always be pleasant and appreciative even if you end up not accepting the initial or counter offer. There is no reason to make enemies or leave a bad impression at any point during the negotiations. The point of this whole process is to try and reach an agreement that is satisfactory for both parties. If an agreement cannot be reached, thank them for their time and invite them to contact you if their needs change. You may find that an offer that was not to the liking of a camp 10 weeks before the kids arrive, may be better received at 2 weeks until the kids arrive, never burn your bridges.

Don't forget to include non-monetary benefits into your agreement. Many camps will allow you to include tuition for children or other child care arrangements. You may be able to bring pets, find jobs for spouses, include the use of a camp vehicle, or schedule yourself on recreational trips. Practically anything can be negotiated, in fact you may have better luck getting non monetary items then countering for additional money.

Once an agreement has been reached you will be asked to sign your contract. This may be the first time you actually see the document.  Most contracts used by camps are the legal equivalent of form letters, they will generally only cover the basics of dates to be worked and pay. Read the contract closely and then be sure to save a copy of it for your later reference. Keep all communications between yourself and the camp for your reference. If items discussed and agreed upon are not be present in you actual contract, emails and other documents may be your only proof of the non-monetary or special accommodations you agreed to. After signing a contract, email a generous thank you and reiterate the terms and conditions to avoid any surprises.

I hope that this prepares you to enter an employment contract with a camp this summer,  and that you feel more comfortable, with an often uncomfortable portion of the camp employment process.

All opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent those of my employer. Remember anyone can pretend to be anyone on the internet, so please verify all information presented. NEVER take advice from strangers.