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.