Being a travel nurse often means your life is constantly changing. This includes simple things like what state or country you live in, where you buy your food, where you work, and your schedule. As a travel nurse, your schedule changes with each assignment and is never the same. Some nurses love and truly enjoy all the unexpected changes that come with it. However, not everyone does.
Not all nurses pursuing travel nursing will love the unexpected and constantly changing environments of travel nursing, but may have other reasons like the flexibility or increased pay that inspires them to pursue a travel position. What can be done to help keep your routines as much as possible?
AVERAGE SCHEDULE OF A TRAVEL NURSE
The most common schedule for a travel nurse is a 13-week contract with an organization, and potentially some time off in between new contracts. This can vary, especially the time frame with longer or shorter contacts, or renewing contracts with the same location. The 13-week framework is the baseline for most travel nurses.
The schedule structure once working the contract can vary greatly. Frequently, travel nurses are plugged into shifts that are short staffed. This could result in a less than ideal schedule with lots of one day shifts throughout the week, block scheduling, or switching back and forth between day shift and night shift. Over time this can wreak havoc on your life.
Hopefully , the contract starts with a predictable orientation period. This varies from one orientation shift to a couple of weeks of orientation shifts, most likely depending on the unit’s staffing needs. This is when the travel nurse shadows and works with a staff nurse to take care of patients. This is usually brief and gives travel nurses the specifics of the organization and specific unit before they are on their own.
WORK DAY SCHEDULE
Travel nurses sometimes live close to where they work, but some opt to commute upwards of two hours each way. So, for some travel nurses their work day starts much earlier than most and with a two hour drive. This can affect your sleep and your nutrition because it changes how, when, where, and what you eat for breakfast.
Another common thing that happens with travelers is getting the “worst” assignment. This could be the most complex, the most time-intensive, or just a patient no one else wants to take care of anymore. This can be challenging, especially on a unit where you’re unfamiliar with the daily routines or other staff. This can make your work day truly chaotic. Every nurse knows those types of shifts where you never sit down and don’t have time to eat. With these assignments, these days are more common.
By the end of this long shift, all nurses are exhausted and hungry, and some have a long drive before they get home. This also affects their sleep and nutrition because they get home later and are more likely to pick up fast food on the way home.
DAY OFF SCHEDULE
All nurses struggle with keeping their days off productive, simply because of exhaustion. Travel nurses may struggle even more, as they aren’t as familiar with the area so going grocery shopping or going to appointments may take longer. They also struggle more with isolation since they often live away from family and friends, which can impact productivity.
5 SCHEDULING TIPS TO BE A SUCCESSFUL TRAVEL NURSE
- Ask for what you want! Your travel nurse agency will stand up for you and what you need. This includes things like block scheduling if you live far away or not switching day shift to night shift.
- Take some time off between travel assignments. Use this to catch up on your doctor’s appointments, see your friends and family, and rest. You’ll feel recharged and ready to go once your next contract starts.
- Ask for an orientation. All travel nurses are given some orientation but it is almost always not enough. This may take a few assignments to perfect and see what you really need, but once you find what works, ask for it.
- Stick to routines. This applies to your work and your life so that no matter what unit or what apartment you’re in, you’re doing the same thing to give your life some balance with adventure.
- Explore the area prior to starting your job! Walk around, drive around and see the new place you’re living in so you can become more familiar with things like the traffic, so your first day doesn’t start with you being late.
What is a typical travel nurse schedule?
The typical travel nursing schedule varies depending on the hospital and the needs at the time. Your work schedule will most likely look different every week, depending on the number of hours and the unit's needs. Work with the unit nurse manager during your assignment if you would like block scheduling or certain days off. Provide them with a nursing schedule example that would work for you so you can change it (if needed).
How many off days do travel nurses get?
The number of days off you get each week depends on your current contract with the healthcare facility or hospital and the recruitment agency. If you know you will need certain days off prior to starting your assignment, it’s important to communicate these to your travel nurse recruiter ahead of time. Also, if you need to take time off as a travel nurse, remember, you only get paid for your hours worked.
Do travel nurses have a flexible schedule?
Like other healthcare professionals, travel nurses oftentimes have the opportunity to make their own schedule, as long as it fills the needs of unit or hospital staffing shortages. However, you may have to take a weekend or Sunday shift a time or two.
Do travel nurses have free time?
Yes, you will have free time to explore their new location on your days off. Depending on your contract, you can have up to 4 days off per week (if you work three 12 hour shifts).
Can travel nurses pick where they go?
Travel nurses get to pick their assignment location and work environment or unit they work on (depending on their level of experience). There are travel nursing opportunities in every state.
Can travel nurses bring their families?
Yes, you can bring your family. However, depending on your hospital schedule, you may be working for extended periods before having a day off. Take this into account before bringing family members or children, as you will need a strong support system. Many nurses choose a permanent position as staff registered nurses, due to a lack of a support system while they are on assignment. Also, if you're planning on going on maternity leave, try to plan your travel nursing assignment end dates accordingly. Most travel nurse agencies don’t cover this through their health insurance.
Working as a travel nurse is a great adventure. Utilize these scheduling tips to make it work with your life. Consider us your sidekick! If you have any questions on travel nursing or how to optimize your schedule while on assignment, contact us anytime!
Alison Shely, DNP, FNP-C
Alison Shely is a nurse practitioner, nurse coach, and nurse content writer who specializes in articles, guest blogger, and healthcare worker wellness. She has been in nursing since 2014, working in intensive care, women’s health, and primary care as a registered nurse and family nurse practitioner. She has written for a variety of publications and is also the winner of the 2020 Shift Report writing contest for Next Level Nursing. Her specialty topics include mental health, health and wellness, yoga philosophy and practice, and community health. She also serves as a health coach and mentor to other nurses and healthcare workers concerning healthy lifestyles and mental health.