Requesting Time Off as a Travel Nurse

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For the vast majority of travel nurses, there will come a time when they need to request time off during a travel nursing contract. While requesting time off as a travel nurse is certainly a common occurrence, it’s also a tricky situation due to the unique nature of the working relationship between the hospital, the agency, and the traveler. Reviewing all of the factors at play will help travelers gain a better understanding of the issues in order to formulate the best game-plan.

Requesting Time Off as a Travel Nurse: The Agency’s Perspective

In order to fully understand this issue, we must first look at the financial ramifications of requesting time off. Let’s start with a basic example. Let’s say you sign a 13 week contract for 36 hours per week with one full work week scheduled off for a pre-planned vacation. Let’s also say that this contract includes company provided housing, company provided medical benefits, and a $700 travel stipend. This is a fairly common scenario.

The financial ramifications for the travel nursing company are quite severe in this example. During your week off, the agency is not able to bill the hospital for any hours worked, but they must still pay the fixed costs of the housing, benefits, and travel stipend. This could amount to $500-$700 depending on the cost of the benefits and housing. This is more than the travel nursing recruiter’s commission on the deal. If this happened enough, it would have a major impact on the company’s financials.

I’ve seen many travelers commenting on forums and  social media that the shifts can be made up by adding an extra week to the end of the contract or working extra shifts during some week of the contract. They have no doubt been told this by their travel nursing recruiters and/or have had experience with these scenarios in some way. These scenarios are regularly offered by travel nursing recruiters as remedies to the problem. However, neither scenario provides full relief.

Adding an extra week to the end of a contract does very little to cover the costs of a missed week during the contract. In this scenario the agency must cover 14 weeks worth of housing and medical benefits but is only able to bill for 13 weeks. They’re still short a week’s worth of billing. However, this scenario does cover the cost of the travel stipend for the missed week. But this is a very small portion of the total cost of missing the week.

Working extra shifts on certain weeks during the 13 week contract is a bit better. This way, the contract remains 13 weeks so the agency isn’t going to incur an additional week’s worth of housing or benefits costs. However, they will have to pay overtime that they wouldn’t have had to pay otherwise. There’s a very good chance that the agency won’t be able to bill the hospital an overtime rate, so the additional cost of the overtime hours will be paid by the agency.

This is why agencies don’t like requested time off when it prevents the traveler from working their contracted shifts in a week. Savvy recruiters and agencies will attempt to account for these costs in their rate calculations. These agencies and recruiters will inquire about any requested time off before they provide a travel nursing pay quote. They’ll work in the cost of the missed week or the reduced number of anticipated hours which will allow them to properly account for the costs. Ultimately, the cost will be passed off to you in the form of lower compensation. Travelers may not realize that this is happening because their recruiter has no incentive to tell them, but it is certainly taking place behind the scenes.

Requesting Time Off as a Travel Nurse: The Hospital’s Perspective

Hospitals can also have concerns regarding requested time off. Some hospitals are concerned with the amount of time they get out of a travel nurse. These hospitals may have an ongoing need for nurses. So when they sign someone up to work 13 weeks, they want to get 13 weeks of work out of them. Similarly, some hospitals are concerned with their orientation costs relative to the nurse’s time on the unit. They want to make sure that they’re getting full value for the investment they’ve made in orienting the nurse to the unit.

Some hospitals will flat out refuse to grant requests for time off. This is very common when an EMR conversion is involved, or a new unit is opening. In these cases, the hospital simply doesn’t have the resources to cover the shifts or to attempt to get the shifts covered with PRN staff. In some cases, hospitals have a very clear picture of exactly what shifts they need to have covered for the 13 week period. This is often the case when a traveler is being brought in to cover for someone on leave.

Requesting Time Off as a Travel Nurse: Putting It All Together

So what does all this mean for the travel nurse? First, make every attempt to plan time off in a way that allows all scheduled shifts to be worked. For example, if you’re planning a 7 day vacation, then try to plan it from Wednesday to Tuesday. This way, you’re available to work Sunday-Tuesday prior to the vacation and Wednesday-Saturday after the vacation.

Second, if you’re concerned about having your rate tagged with the fixed costs, then try to incorporate a plan for avoiding them. Your best bet is to provide your own housing, preferably in an Extended Stay. This way, you can check out for the week you’re gone and check back in when you return in order to avoid the costs.  If you’re not interested in Extended Stays, there are many other options that may allow you to accomplish this goal.

If this is not an option, then you could try to work out a deal with your agency to pick up extra shifts at your contracted hospital or PRN shifts at another hospital in the area. Of course, you could also simply request to add a week to the end of the contract. The problem with these approaches is that you’ll never really know if the agency calculated the cost of the missed week into your rate anyway. Finally, when discussing your requested time off during the interview, be sure to point out your availability in order to ensure that the interviewer understands exactly when you’ll be available.

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