Understanding Your Travel Nursing Schedule
I have always found the most exciting thing about starting a new travel assignment is getting your schedule and planning your activities. It is not uncommon for the nurse manager on your floor to have your schedule done for your first few weeks by the time you hit hospital orientation; after all, you are there to fill a need.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want
Most people are generally good about scheduling travelers fairly; meaning not every weekend or spreading your days out (especially on night shift) but this doesn’t happen all of the time. It is important to keep in mind that as a travel nurse your primary role is to help this specific hospital with staffing and to be flexible. If you know you need to have a particular day or weekend off, then it is best to have it written into your contract prior to your start date. I have found many nurse managers are willing to work with your schedule. If you are like me and can’t stand working 3 days in a row, most of the time they will be open to scheduling you accordingly. You can also trade shifts if necessary with the regular hospital staff if you need time off.
Start dates are set in stone
Travel nursing is flexible in many different aspects, however, assignment start dates and number of hours worked are not one of them. Assignment start dates are based on that specific hospital’s orientation dates, which are usually every 2 weeks. The human resources department and your nurse manager have to prepare for your arrival by scheduling preceptors and so on, so it is vital that you stick to your intended start date. There are some facilities that will actually charge you a fee for canceling your contract prior to starting or changing your start date.
Finding the right assignment takes time
The search for a new travel assignment usually begins approximately 1 month before your current contract ends. Your company likes to have you thinking ahead 2 months before your contract ends to prepare for licensure and other required education. I have signed a new contract within as little as 2 weeks prior to my start date, which I would not recommend. If you are new to traveling, then the search will begin once you have all of your paperwork completed. When you are searching for a travel assignment, your nurse recruiter will be able to tell you when the start date is, whether it is a day or night shift position, and if it will be 12 hour shifts or some alternative (the majority of travel assignments are 12 hour shifts with the exception of interventional radiology or cath lab positions, which are usually four 10 hour shifts or five 8’s); It is important to understand these three elements before starting because they are usually set in stone; remember, you are there to fill a need and it is expected that you work as your contract says you are going to.
Budget for the unexpected
As with any healthcare setting, there will be times when your facility is slow and may need to cancel one of your shifts. The number of shifts that you are allowed to be cancelled are written in your contract. Most companies allow you to be cancelled 1 shift per pay period without having any financial penalties such as paying for your housing. If you call in sick often or are not meeting the minimum required hours to pay for your housing, meal stipends and other reimbursements, then you may be required to pay out of pocket for those expenses. There are very few travel nursing companies that offer vacation or sick pay, so it is of utmost importance to be financially prepared for time off. I would recommend purchasing your own accident insurance to cover your bills in the event that you are hurt off the job; in the travel world, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. This is also the case for time off in between assignments. If there is a specific city that you want to travel to but the start date is many weeks after your current assignment ends, it is possible to extend for a few weeks if your company allows it so you don’t go unpaid for such an extended period of time. Hospital orientation is paid for but may leave you short a few hours, so make sure you budget appropriately in between assignments.
Knowing what is expected of you is the key to success
Being flexible and adapting to a constantly changing environment is what being a travel nurse is all about. Companies choose to hire us because they know they can count on a travel nurse to get the job done on short notice and a small amount of preparation. Understanding what is expected of you and coming to your travel assignment prepared mentally, emotionally, physically and financially sound are all important aspects of being an experienced and well-traveled travel nurse.