Travel Nursing Jobs – Considerations for Shifts and Contract Length

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Shifts and travel nursing contract length are important travel nursing job variables. Different travel nurses will desire to work different shifts and contract lengths. Some travel nurses like night shifts, some like days. Some prefer the standard 13 week contract, some will only work shorter contracts. Understanding how shifts and contract length fit into the landscape will help travel nurses understand the ramifications of their preferences on these issues.

Travel Nursing Shifts

All shifts are available when it comes to assignments. It’s important to note that hospitals are the ones driving the shift requirements, not travel nursing companies. Some hospitals operate with 12 hour shifts, some with 8 hour shifts, some with a combination of the two, and some with 10 hour shifts. 8 hour shifts are more common in certain regions and states. For example, you’ll find a lot of 8 hour shifts in California, but even the majority of travel nursing jobs in California still have 12 hour shifts.

Many people think that 8 hour shifts are more common in California because the labor laws require overtime to be paid after 8 hours in a day. There’s some truth to that, but it’s a little more complicated. At one point, there was a loophole that exempted Union workers in California from the overtime laws in lieu of the Union’s Collective Bargaining agreement. I’m not sure if this is still true. However, even when it was, many hospitals with Union nurses were working 8 hour shifts by choice. Some people prefer it. Others argue it’s better for patient safety.

It’s not really necessary to consider shifts when vetting companies. Again, this is because hospitals determine the shifts, not the companies. However, if you’re adamantly opposed to working a particular shift and you’re interested in one particular location, then it may be useful to ask companies if the hospitals they work with in your location of interest staff the shifts you desire. Otherwise, simply letting the agency know what shifts you desire is enough.

Travel Nursing Contract Length

Determining the contract length you desire is a little more complicated. The vast majority of agencies will handle assignments that are 13 weeks or longer. In fact, I’d be surprised to find any company opposed to handling assignments of 13 weeks or longer, including companies that specialize in short-term contracts. Let’s face it. Companies would love to have you on contract for the rest of your life working 60 hours a week. That’s how they make money! You’ll also find that the majority of companies will handle 8 week contracts if that’s what the hospitals they work with want. Again, hospitals will be the primary drivers behind contract lengths.

Short-term contracts are another story. Companies tend to dislike short-term contracts unless there is a crisis rate involved. When a contract is for 4, 6, or even 8 weeks, the contract is obviously going to generate less revenue for the company. Fewer hours worked means less billing, means less revenue. At the same time, the cost and amount of work that goes in to staffing the position remains the same. Moreover, there are fewer housing options available for short term stays and those that are available will have premium costs associated with them. As a result, companies may decide that short-term contracts aren’t worth their time. But a crisis rate might make up for the deficiency.

Short term contracts create opposing concerns for hospitals. On one hand, a short-term contract presents difficulty for the hospital’s continuity of care. If the travel nurse is only going to be there for 4 weeks, then they’re going to be on the floor for only 3 weeks. The first week will be spent in orientation. And if an orientation is not provided, then it may be difficult for the travel nurse to get acclimated to the floor. Despite this, some hospitals choose to deal with this pitfall. Sometimes a hospital has a dire short-term need for some reason. Furthermore, some hospitals just don’t want to commit to 13 weeks. By committing to fewer weeks they mitigate the risk of overspending in case their census drops and they no longer have a need for the travel nurse. Why commit to 13 when you can commit to 4?

Travel nurses will have their own reasons for wanting short-term contracts. However, it’s important to consider the potential pitfalls. The revenue decrease that the company experiences will result in a lower pay package for the traveler. Again, fixed costs like travel expenses, credentialing costs, and orientation costs will take up a greater percentage of the revenue leaving less for pay. Additionally, the travel nurse will have to contend with more frequent moves and more paperwork burdens. As mentioned above, short term housing options are hard to come by and are typically more expensive. Finally, if the hospital does indeed rush the orientation, the travel nurse may be at greater risk of errors in patient care.

If you determine that you want to work short-term contracts, then there are companies that specialize in them. I believe FastStaff is the most prominent, but I’m sure there are others. Companies that specialize in short-term contracts may have a higher likelihood of having short-term crisis rate contracts as well. This is because hospitals turn to them in such circumstances, and especially for strikes. This is not to say that other companies don’t handle short-term contracts. You’ll just have to ask around during the vetting process.

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1 reply
  1. Penelope Beatty says:

    Personally I feel that travel nurses are duped by agencies and hospitals
    Have no scruples about cancelling a nurse or ruining her career by blacklisting her. There are no checks and balances and since there’s no union for travelers, there is no representation. If for some reason, a charge nurse doesn’t like you or you don’t like the way you have been dumped on or mistreated by staff because they think you are a threat to their jobs, it takes one staff nurse to completely ruin a career by badmouthing you or blaming you for something that THEY DiD, because it’s their word against yours, and you are screwed. Furthermore, travel
    Agencies all say “free housing” “great benefits”, “Lisence and certification reimbursement”, “excellent medical and dental insurance”, “48 hour guaranteed paid hours”… ok so all of that is bullshit; free housing? No it comes out of your “high pay rate”, and they encourage you to find your own housing.. great benefits? Excuse me? How is paying $900/month with a $2000 deductible for a nurse and her son, with no dental for her just her son, an “excellent benefit?” How is that any better than single payer insurance cost? 48 hour guaranteed hours? Um…that just means you HAVE to work 48 hours without overtime pay, and if you don’t you have to pay your recruiter the amount that you would have been
    Paid…(can you believe that???), and if you get cancelled you have to pay your agency $2500, or if you “cancel the contract” with any hospital
    It can result in dire consequences for the nurse, yet the hospital can cancel you at any time, without explanation, for any reason… what is the point of the contract if they can cancel you for “low census”? Well, it’s a contract for them, not you. Basically as a travel nurse you have zero protection and they have all the protection. Do they care that you had to completely turn your whole world around to accommodate them, that you have your own life and that to come from hundreds to thousands of miles away, have spent your own money, put thousands of miles on your own car, signed housing contracts, paid rent with huge deposits and signed leases, that you have left your kids with dad for at least 3 months, or
    That you have to risk
    Your life driving over mountain passes once a week so that you can see your children which amounts to hundreds of dollars in gas and car maintenance? Including buying things like snow tires Not to mention the strain on your family and kids having to operate without you…??? No. The agency and recruiter just see you as a money making commodity. For every dollar you make, they make. Once they get you off the ground and working, they sit back and watch the money roll in. They have no incentive to get you housing or insurance because then the money you make is taken out of BOTh your pay and they would rather you keep the stipend. You see? to me
    It’s outrageous that nurses, educated experienced and licensed nurses have no union. No one to represent them and zero checks and balances.
    And if hospitals can ruin you by badmouthing you or defaming your character, then there should be some kind of repeal or public forum that can rate or grade them on their traveling workers experiences. … without the threat of retaliation. I mean we all know that nurses can be real birches, not all, but let’s be honest many nurses are highly competitive and eat their young , so if you happen to be someone who isn’t that way, you are
    Like fodder for the piranhas, and they will tear you up… so that’s my problem with travel nursing. Further more, the alleged “high pay rate” is in fact less than what staff nurses make in that area that you are working. Granted, if you come from Florida and contract An assignment in Silicon Valley,
    It’s great money for you. But If you live in the Silicon Valley, then you will be making less money as a traveler than if you had a position at local hospital because Silicon Valley
    Pays the highest because the cost of living is so high there.. so with that in mind,my advice is to stay away from traveling if you live in an area that pays well And be aware that traveling is very risky to your career and future becaus you have no protection against the backstabbing types that nurses are notorious for. And don’t expect to be appreciated or welcomed. Expect heavy work
    Loads and staff nurse sitting around while you get no break and every admission, every risky patient, and assigned to the worst cases. You won’t get to protest because who cares your just a
    Traveler and if you refuse to follow doctors orders because it
    Places a patient at risk, expect to be cancelled without warning and given a DNR at a place that has a huge monopoly and chain all around the country, thereby ruining your chances to work there in the future. And I know,
    People will say ” maybe it’s your angry attitude that has caused these
    Problems because my experience has been great and if you are a
    Good and competent nurse you will be asked to extend not cancelled like I did”… my response to that is what-eves, if you want to keep throwing your fellow nurses under the bus because it makes you feel
    Like you are better than they are, go ahead but the day will come when it will be you and don’t expect anyone to rush to your side, esp the doctors or hospitals that you have been ever so chummy with. You will be the first to get blamed and the first to go. I mean they do that to their own staff nurses if it’s a doctors who is being sued, what do you think they do to you as a traveler? ???
    Black balling, colluding, work without pay, discrimination, and retaliation, all the rights you have as a staff union worker are not extended to you and the rules don’t work for you. You don’t get overtime per shift only per week. So if you work 3 12 hour shifts but end up working 16 hours one day, you will not get over time unless you work over 40 hours that week! No holiday pay. No differentials for working 12 hour nights. Nope. In fact, evidently it’s ok for staff nurses to place their hands
    On you and physically push around with no consequence at all!, or push your chair your sitting in and charting on the computer, to kick you off the computer because that nurse decides it s “her computer” for the day and because she’s “sick of all
    The travelers taking up space” (As I learned working at a hospital recently)… again if you protest,kiss your career away or at least that job anyway. One more thing, even thougb staff nurses get two 30 min breaks and Two 15 min breaks in a twelve hour shift, you don’t. As a traveler without a union,the hospital only has to follow the labor laws of the state so instead you get two 10 min breaks and only one 2o min meal break in 12 hours nightshift… good times. !
    R. Ratchet RN


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