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How Long Are Travel Nursing Assignments Typically?

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
July 11, 2022
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Travel nursing, an industry that’s been flourishing for years, is one of the most exciting career options for nurses. Travel nursing was developed to fill gaps in the supply and demand fluctuations of the US health care market, such as to cover shifts when a staff member has to leave suddenly, to fill in during shortages, and to pitch in during seasonal fluctuations.

While the length of travel assignments can vary, anywhere from two to 26 weeks, the standard travel contract is 13 weeks. Across the board, the majority of agencies are seeking travel nurses to fill 13-week contracts, which is what most hospitals prefer as well. Of course, while this is the standard, what shifts a travel nurse works and the number of hours they work can vary significantly from one assignment to the next.

Why 13 Weeks?

According to the New York Times, over the past 30 years hospitals have followed a staffing model that precisely matches nurses to the number of occupied beds. Patient census and staffing numbers are constantly changing, so this model requires flexibility.

Travel nurses added the flexibility this staffing model requires. As travel registered nurses became integrated into hospital staffing ratios, the 13-week contract emerged. 

In addition to meeting the needs of this new staffing model,  there are other reasons that most travel nurse contracts are for a 13-week period. Healthcare facilities prefer it as orientation and onboarding periods for new nurses can take anywhere from four to 12 weeks, meaning travel nurses can provide coverage as new, permanently hired staff nurses to acclimatize. Additionally, with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) providing employees with as much as 12 weeks of leave, travel nurses that take on a 13-week contract can adequately cover those periods of leaves of absence. Housing is yet another reason, as standard apartment contracts for 13 weeks are easier to find than contracts for shorter periods, making life easier for nurses who want to find their own, as well as for agencies that secure housing for their nurses.

A 13-week assignment is also preferable to many nurses. It’s the ideal length of time for a travel nurse to get to know the destination and avoid having to drive to a new assignment every other week, spending much of their time on the road. The assignment is long enough to provide stability and perhaps learn some new techniques, while still being able to visit four unique places every year. In other words, it allows them enough time to enjoy the benefits of a new city, but is short enough to fill their quest for new experiences and adventures.

That said, if travel nurses find that they’re enjoying their assignment and want to stick around longer, and the hospital is still in need, it’s often possible to renew by extending the assignment, sometimes multiple times if all are in agreement.

Shorter Length Assignments

With times changing, there has been a shift in staffing needs, new technology, and lifestyles preferences,  all of which has resulted in some travel contracts being more flexible. For example, with the emergence of vacation rental online marketplaces like Airbnb, it’s now easier for  travel nurses to arrange their own housing, without being held to 13-week contracts for apartments and other accommodation.

Shorter contracts of four to six weeks do occasionally become available. For example, if a hospital has someone out on short-term disability, the facility may need a temporary nurse for a shorter period of time. Nurses interested in taking shorter assignments should talk to their recruiter about it so that they can keep an eye out for those more unique opportunities.

Factors for a Travel Nurse Assignment

Despite fears that the travel nurse industry would wane as the Covid-19 pandemic ends, a recent report by Bloomberg News indicates that travel nurses are in demand now more than ever. Pent up demand for health care services that were not available during the pandemic combined with staffing shortages has kept the travel nurse industry hot. Now is a great time to join the travel nurse industry.

How short can a travel nurse assignment be?

The shortest travel nurse contract is a rapid response contract. A rapid response contract is an employment agreement in which a healthcare facility hires a travel nurse to fill a position quickly. Rapid response travel nursing is intense. Travel nurses in these contracts are expected to hit the ground running with very little orientation or hospital oversight. The primary benefit of these contracts is higher pay. Experienced travel nurses who can start a new position quickly can take advantage of these hard to fill positions to earn a lot of money.

As a result of the pent up demand for services,  many nurses are now needed for these shorter-term, high-intensity assignments. Nurses who are knowledgeable, experienced, and can start quickly, and have a compact license or multiple state licenses, are most likely to be hired for these assignments and can earn significantly more than travel nurses in standard 13-week assignments.

Rapid response travel nurses have greater flexibility in assignment lengths with shorter contracts available. They often need to be able to start sooner, in as little as two days to two weeks. Traditionally these nurses have been used for difficult-to-fill, or very remote positions, as well as unexpected fluctuations in staff or patient loads during the flu season, for example. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many nurses are now needed for these shorter-term, high-intensity assignments. Nurses who are knowledgeable, experienced and can start quickly, have a compact license or multiple state licenses, are mostly likely to be hired for these assignments and can earn significantly more than travel nurses in standard 13-week assignments.

Can an assignment be longer than 13 weeks?

Yes!  A contract extension of a travel nurse contract is often possible.

With the ongoing nursing shortage, travel nurses are finding it easier to extend their contracts. The key to securing an extension is maintaining excellent communication with the recruiter. If an assignment is the right fit for personal and professional goals, advocating for a contract extension may be helpful. Notifying a recruiter as soon as an extension is being considered may put your application on the top of the list.

FAQs

How many assignments do you have to take as a traveler?

There is no set number of travel nurse jobs a nurse must take, but it’s good to know about the one year rule. Travel nurses who remain in the same location for more than 12 months lose their meal stipends and housing stipends and benefits because they will no longer be considered a temporary employee by the IRS. In order to be eligible for these perks, travel nurses must be categorized by the IRS as temporary employees.

What is the best travel nurse contract?

For any travel nurse, it’s important to consider all options and what assignment length is best for their particular situation. Keep in mind that it can be more challenging to find assignments that are longer or shorter than the typical 13 weeks (although as noted, during the pandemic there is likely to be more flexibility with a greater number of nurses needed, and quickly). Having a thorough discussion with your recruiter is the best way to find the ideal travel nursing contract you’re looking for.

Health Carousel Travel Nursing

Find the Travel Job that’s Right for You

Interested in how the pay stacks up in other states not on this list? Our trusty Super Nurse sidekicks are standing by to answer any questions you have. Click below to get information on opportunities in other states!

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