Travel Nursing Advice Column - Questions and Answers about Schedules

See questions and answers about traveling nurse schedules here, or ask your own.

Question

Are the nurses allowed to take vacation time or time off?

Response

If you mean do you get PTO from your travel nursing company to take while on assignment, then I would say that is not the most common benefits given, but if you look really hard you may find it.

However if you mean can you take time off in between assignments then the answer is yes. It is really only up to you and your finances regarding how long you want to take off.

The one caveat is that you don’t want to take so much time off in between assignments that your nursing skills begin to get rusty. In fact most companies will require you to have recent experience, so taking something extreme, like a year off would not be a good idea.

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Question

I quit my permanent position to start travel nursing and I am working with 3 agencies right now. How long does it take from the recruiter submitting you until you sign a contract? What is the average wait time?

Response

How quickly you sign a contract will depend largely upon when a placement comes through that is the right match for you. It can generally take anywhere from 1-6 months, but usually around 3, for you and your recruiter to get acquainted and execute a plan. Once a prospective assignment is on the table you will typically have a phone interview with the facility – usually 2-3 weeks before the start of a contract – and things will progress from there provided all of your documentation is in place and your drug screen and background check goes through. For a more specific timeframe don’t be shy to ask your recruiters what to expect.

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Question

I was blacklisted from HCA hospitals due to my complaining to a manager about unsafe practices, will this make traveling assignments difficult to find for me?

Response

Being blacklisted from HCA shouldn’t make it difficult for you to find traveling assignments as there are many other options for hospitals. Discuss your situation with your recruiter and he or she can assist you in finding the right fit.

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Question

What is the pay scale for travel nursing to Alaska? Is there hazard pay? Isolation pay? How flexible are the schedules?

Response

Pay for travel nurses is always different based on a lot of factors, like your company, specialty and location just to name a few, but this link should give you a range to look at. Travel Nursing Pay in Alaska (http://www.simplyhired.com/a/salary/search/q-travel+nursing/l-alaska) Most companies offer health insurance for their travelers, but I have never heard of hazard or isolation pay for a travel nurse. The schedules are somewhat flexible, but it is important to keep in mind that as a traveler you are there to help fill gaps and that at times can mean working the least desirable shifts.

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Question

What is an average day like for a travel nurse?

Response

At the hospital the average day for a travel nurse is really no different than that of a permanent nurse. The biggest differences will come during the first week when you are getting acclimated to your new surroundings and different protocols and ways of doing things. You may not have much orientation and you will be expected to come in ready to go. There will be a lot of new people to meet and the first week may be a whirlwind. Other than though it will be pretty much nursing as usual.

Away from the hospital you can live like a local, like a tourist or somewhere in between. Hopefully you will be in good safe housing that is close to the hospital where you work and in a city or region at least that you find interesting. If you are not the kind of person who gets easily homesick then your time away from the hospital should be a lot of fun. These days with modern technology though it is easier than ever to stay in touch and avoid loneliness on the road. A lot of what you do will depend on whether you are traveling alone or with someone, but either way it is a great way to see the country.

Here are some links to previous advice we have given on succeeding as a travel nurse.

5 Simple Ways to get on Good Footing as a Travel Nurse

5 Ways to Make a Bad Impression on your First day of Traveling Work

Travel Nurse That's Homesick?

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Question

Do travel companies ever allow a sick day in contract? One sick day is not only losing pay but costs out of pocket. If so how would be the best way to word it in contract? It's scary to think I might get the flu or something and miss a week!!

Response

Travel nursing companies do not typically allow for a sick day in contracts. The definition of a contract worker, which is what a travel nurse really is, is that the worker is paid for hours worked. Now some companies may offer a PTO option, but if they do, the money for this is probably coming out of your hourly pay anyway so you are really not gaining anything. If you are concerned about being sick and missing time you should definitely discuss it with your recruiter and understand what your company’s policy is. Most of the time a day here or there missed during an assignment is not a big deal. Hospitals know that getting sick every once in awhile is going to happen. It is only a problem if it lingers and you have to take an extended period of time off.

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Question:

I am considering travel for more flexibility; generally, how flexible are the schedules and what are the average pay rates for critical care?

Response

Typically the flexibility that comes with travel nursing is not so much about the shift and hours as it is about where you work and having the ability to stop and start assignments when you want to. As far as actual work schedule flexibility, there will be some, but it will be different on every assignment you work and definitely be something you talk to your recruiter about. You can certainly just not take any job that doesn't give you the flexibility in your schedule as you want. It really just depends on how big of a sticking point it is for you.

As far as the average pay rates for Critical Care, it's hard to say for sure. Pay rates can vary so much based on the location and company. According to SimplyHired.com, the average annual salary for a Critical Care travel nurse is $53,000. You will want to shop around and see what is offered. You may even want to take the number they give you and run it by a few travel nursing forums like HealthcareTravelBook.com or UltimateNurses.com to see if it is in line with what others are getting.

Question

My husband and I are both nurses and currently on an assignment. We have 1 week off in our contract so we can go home. We were assured by our recruiter that the hospital would work with us in staggering our days off so we could work the first part of 1 week, take off our week in contract, and then stagger our days to the end of the next week so we would essentially be off 2 weeks. Now we're not sure if the hospital wiil do this and don't think they'll let us know in time to get a decent priced plane ticket home. Now what?

This is an unfortunate situation. I hope it ends up working out for you. Meanwhile, perhaps this is a good learning experience for the future. In the future, if you want time off during a contract, you must tell your recruiter that you need certain dates off as a stipulation of accepting the assignment. Then you make sure that it is written in the contract. Then, when you get to your assignment. You may want to also check with them and ask them if they are aware of the dates that you need off. Otherwise, if it is left to some unknown dates that you hope will work out then it isn't clear cut enough for the hospitals and they may often overlook the inconvenience of schedule changes. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard of similiar situations as yours involving a couples who travel together.

The recruiter has to understand, from the beginning, what your stipualations are in order to accept the contract and then it must be written in. This way the communications are clear and the contract speaks for itself.

I know this doesn't help your current situation. Good luck and let us know how it all turns out. You can email me and let me know. We would all like to know if you end up getting to go anywhere with your husband or not.

Response


Well, here it is Sept. 7 and my schedule came out with everyday off that I asked for except one. My husband's has him working everyday that he asked off for. So essentially he only got what was guaranteed in our contract but he's still going to ask to have it changed. So far we have gone to San Francisco a couple of times while being off together. Very nice. We are definitely learning the hard way about contracts.
I guess you learn with every assignment. Thanks for the concern.

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Question

We do have a traveler wanting to know what red flags to look for in a contract. We would like to open this up for discussion. Please email us at comments@travelnursingcentral.com if you have any suggestions on what to look out for based on your experiences.

Response

Watch out for extra hours - expected by the hospital, but not in the contract. Another travel RN (from a different company), started a job with me. We both had contracts for 36 hrs./week (three 12 hr. shifts) but when we got there, they said that of course, we had to do an extra 8 hrs. every other week to make-up our 40 hour work week. Then, they said, please fill-in the call coverage sheet. Since both of us had chosen this particular location because we wanted to spend time with our families who lived in the area, we were in a quandary: Insist that they honor our contracts, or be "team players" and work many more hours than we had planned. My fellow traveler chose the first option but worked many extra shifts on a prn basis. I chose the team player approach but was not totally satisfied with my choice and wouldn't repeat it. If came up again I'd go with the prn choice.

Another thing to ask about is, 'How long, on average, do the nurses have to stay after their shift to finish their charting?' I'd been used to a system which frowned on having ANY unfinished charting at end of shift. All the RNs on this unit routinely stayed late to chart, it was accepted that you couldn't get the patient care and your charting done in your regular work hours. I remember one particularly horrendous shift followed by four hours of charting!! This left only eight hours turn around time before I had to be back for another 12(+) hour shift. Without my husband traveling with me as support staff, this schedule would have been impossible to maintain.

Since this assignment was not allowing the desired time with family, my fellow traveler and I didn't renew our contracts. Each time we were asked, we stated that we were making other plans. In spite of this, on the last day of my contract, within hours of my departure to my next job, I was told that I had to stay and work because they had me on the schedule!! As I recall it went all the way to an agency vice president before the supervisor admitted that she might have made a mistake and I was free to go.

This job was unusual in other ways: we were paid by the hospital, but not considered hospital staff. Consequently, neither the hospital nor the agency would give us health care coverage (the agency did give a small stipend towards the plan that we found for ourselves, however). Neither organization made any effort to clarify this situation before we arrived. This peculiar financial arrangement made it impossible to participate in any 401 plans for the duration of this contract.

Don't be bamboozled by agency staff. One recruiter told me that I had to verbally agree to a contract before I'd seen it and would be bound by that verbal consent. Take your business somewhere else. You're worth money to the agency - don't work for anyone who makes you uncomfortable. Agency and facility staff should answer all your questions satisfactorily and willingly, it's what they expect of you.

That said, I loved my co-workers at this assignment. We gave good care and saved lives under difficult conditions. Nurses are wonderful people everywhere you go and traveling is a fun way to practice. Just give the same care and attention to your arrangements before you go as you would to a patient assigned to your care.


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Question


I have worked in ER for the last 4 years. Before that I worked for an ortho. surgeon, and have 24 years of direct/indirect OR exp. I have floated occ. on my days off, in the OR. I'm I marketable for an OR assignment?

Response


Technically, agencies and hospitals want to see ONE YEAR OF RECENT EXPERIENCE in the field you wish to travel. However, you have nothing to lose by trying. You may be able to find an agency who is willing to submit you. You would want to present it as working the last 4yrs in the ER while also working perdiem in the OR. Furthermore, a good reference letter from the OR director or even a nurse you have worked with in the OR would be helpful. Make sure they mention that they have been working with you in the OR during this last year or last few years whatever it may be. List the OR and the ER on your work history so they will be able to call if they want to and verify that you work there occassionally and that you are competent. Then of coarse show all your previous experience in the OR. Tell the agency you would really like to work in the OR when you travel and if they can find you work than you will go with them. It is worth a try. The letters of reference from the OR could really help you. The worst that could happen is they say no. Big deal. If nobody will accept you then you will have to make more decisions in planning your future. For now, it is worth a try.

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Question


I reactivated with a local agency for a contract that never appeared. I now am being scheduled per diem, and have many shifts cancelled due to internal staffing changes. Short of moving on, any advise?

Response


Is this the only agency in town? You could sign up with a few more agencies and keep your options open. Are the internal staffing changes occuring in the company or in the hospitals? I am unclear. Depending on the situation, you can tell the agency that you wish to speak with one experienced staff member when you call (request him or her) because you can't afford to have that many cancellations. You may want to talk to a supervisor to get a fuller understanding of the problem, then nicely explaiin your situation and ask for a solution for the time being while things are being straightened out. Put the ball in his or her quart and let them come up with a solution that can help you and them out toward getting you the shifts you are scheduled for.

Thank-you for responding so quickly. The staffing changes are occurring within the facilities themselves. The Hospital System will schedule for open shifts, then cancel 2 hours prior to the start of the shift because census is lower than expected, or they fill within the hospital for less cost than agency. This now leaves me with at least one if not two cancelled shifts per week.
Yes, there are a few agencies in town, (Green Bay) most are relatively new, and are not quite as established. I am concerned about conflict of interest issues if I sign up with another agency, in addition to the one I am currently working with. I have even approached the agency about different hospitals which have consistently advertised for ER nurses, and pushed them to approach these hospitals. They have apparently done this, but have not secured a foothold yet.

I have an appointment today to speak with my former employer about returning, just because I need to have a steady income. I am divorced with 4 teenagers...I don't have a second paycheck to back me up. I will probably stay on with the agency, but work only limited hours with them. I had hoped that working the local agency, which is also nationwide would provide a door to my eventual plans of traveling 2 years from now. My former hospital is a critical access hospital that runs with only 1 RN in the ER, and uses RT for backup. The hospital has gotten much busier, but no RN positions have been added. It worries me that I feel I am putting my license on the line each shift I work up there, which is one of the reason's I left to begin with.

I understand your struggle with politics and the need to work. I am not sure how big Green Bay is. Smaller towns are a little more difficult to get the hours you need. However, it should be in your best interest to sign up with all these agencies. Hospitals have a list of agencies they work with and they will often staff that day with a nurse from the agency that returned their calls first, or the one they like to work with the best and so on. I have had situations where the hospital told one of my agencies they didn't need a nurse anymore and meanwhile the other company ended up sending me to the same hospital. Who knows how they pick the agency for that day, but you want to make sure you are in the file for choosing. Depending on the norm of the area, some agencies will take it personal if you sign up with another agency, but most of the time they understand and they see their competition more on the hospital end than with the nurse. You are a nurse who is will to work for anyone that can place you. It is their job to compete for the work. If one of them calls you to work, but you are already scheduled somewhere than you can simply tell them you are unavailable that day, but you are available so far on the other days. They don't need to know your life story.

Agencies are just glad to have experienced nurses to work. Don't worry about this affecting your future travel plans. The agency you have been working with and many other agencies will be glad to work with you when you are ready to travel.

Can you apply to any other hospitals in town instead of the one that scares you? What if you worked part-time there and the other days were registery? So many options to consider. Good luck. There is no doubt that one of the disadvantages of local registry is that you have no guarantee of hours. Sometimes, even if you do get a shift, you may be sent home early. The larger the city (more hospitals) the easier it is because there are more options to fall back on.

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Question

I have been traveling for almost a year now (2 asignments). i have had little difficulty finding assignments until now. my last assignment ended 6/24 and i have been out of work since. im working with 2 agencies and have submitted to about 12 hospitals and have not had any interviews. i was interviewed faster when i had no travel experience! i have gone over my profiles and can't find any reason to not have any Responses. very frustrating! is this just the nature of the beast or is there somethng else going on? do others have this problem??? please advise!!

Response


What is your specialty? The demand for certain specialties can vary. Are you looking to travel in a particular area? I am not sure what is happening without knowing more. I would to suggest you sign up with more than 2 agencies in order to keep your options open. The competition among agencies for positions is increasing

I did finally get an assignment yesterday. It isn't my chice of location or specialty but it's not bad and I can't afford to be picky at this point!! I wen with a bigger agency-I'm wondering if that was the problem. Thank you so much for your help. I appreciate the time you spent!!

I am glad you found work. Larger agencies tend to have a bigger selection of assignments, yet they are often less personal. You want to keep yourself signed up with at least 5 to 10 agencies of various sizes so the odds are in your favor. Then start looking around a month before your assignment is up. Good luck and thanks for the update.

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