How Does Scheduling Work as a Travel Nurse?

The below questions are just a few that soon-to-be travel nurses often ask me as they try to gain more information and get their ducks in a row:

Will I get to make my own schedule?

Do travelers get any say in the hours that they work?

What happens if I need to make a change to my schedule?

Can I “block” my schedule (work my shifts in a row)?

Naturally, one may want to know what they might need to expect when it comes to work schedules and travel nursing. Some travelers have specific needs when it comes to scheduling. Perhaps they are still working a part-time or PRN job back home or have family or other obligations requiring a stricter schedule.

As a traveler, you’ll find that different facilities have different processes and policies regarding scheduling. Here are some potential scenarios you’ll encounter as you begin working on your assignments:

  1. The hospital or facility allows travelers to self-schedule. (Cue the celebratory music, because JACKPOT!)
  2. The hospital or facility allows some flexibility with scheduling, and travelers can make requests that they will try to accommodate.
  3. The hospital or facility will honor schedule requests, as long as they’re made well in advance, ideally upon submission and before an offer is extended.
  4. The hospital or facility expects the traveler to be 100% flexible and work when needed as per the unit’s needs.

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Things to Consider

Ultimately, you’ll need to decide what’s a deal-breaker for you and what you’re willing to work with. Let’s say, for example, that you require a blocked schedule. It’s a deal-breaker for you if the facility won’t honor it. In that case, you’ll want to make sure to communicate that with your recruiter as soon as possible. That way, the recruiter can look for that accommodation in job descriptions and note your request on your profile. You want to avoid making requests after an offer. Not doing so causes frustrations on the client’s side as it creates a lot of extra back-and-forths. Some clients will outright decline the profile and rescind the offer in some cases.

Another essential thing to consider is that the scheduling policies for travelers are likely to be different than it is for the core or permanent staff. Sometimes travelers are surprised or frustrated when permanent staff is given first consideration with scheduling requests. Right or wrong, hospitals typically justify this because they are paying a higher premium for travelers and expect more flexibility from travelers in return. Again, this isn’t the case everywhere, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Something Unexpected to Expect

Similarly, policies surrounding staff time off and traveler time off may differ. Yes, you can request time off during your contract. This must be done during submission and will be up to the facility how many days you can request off during a typical 13-week contract, and whether or not your request is approved. Approved time off will be listed on your confirmation and will be one more thing to check off the list on the way to your next adventure.

However, it is important to note that there is sometimes a catch to approved time off. As a staff nurse, you may be used to the scheduler scheduling your shifts around your time off to ensure you’re still meeting your position’s weekly hours requirement. As a Traveler, this is not always the case. While a facility’s scheduler will make reasonable efforts to schedule you around your approved time off, guaranteed hours do not apply to weeks of requested time off. Often, Travelers will request a Wednesday to Wednesday or Thursday to Thursday (dependent on the facility’s workweek) week-long break in their contract for vacation or for some downtime. We see travelers do this under the assumption they can work 3 days before and 3 days after to ensure no break in paychecks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out so smoothly, especially around the holidays. Facilities will often prioritize scheduling around staff time off requests and PRN staff availability/shift requests before Travelers’ time off requests. When this is the case, that Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Thursday, Friday, Saturday, block a Traveler was hoping for around their vacation, may not happen if those shifts have been filled by staff.

Open Communication and Flexibility are Key

Flexibility is always going to be the preference on the hospital side of things. The more flexible you are with scheduling, the more desirable of a candidate you typically are. If you require certain accommodations with your schedule, the key is to be as honest and upfront about those needs as possible, both with your recruiter and with the facility to which you’re applying.

If you have any questions about scheduling as a travel nurse, don’t be afraid to ask your recruiter. They may even be able to make recommendations of facilities that would be most likely to honor your specific requests. Communication, as with most things in life, is vital!

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Charity Crawford
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