By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
Whether you go into travel healthcare planning to see the world or just trying to pay off debt, contract extensions can be a difficult piece to navigate. Once you get to an assignment all preconceived notions about the area, future plans, and whether or not you will stay can be upended once you get into the flow of things.
Maybe you fall in love with the staff. Maybe you start dating someone locally. Maybe you realize you scored a great pay package and just can’t leave, even though you swore you’d only work your 13 weeks. Maybe you realize you just can’t fit all of your to-dos into your time off in the three months you are there.
After working ten travel assignments in the last 3.5 years, I have been offered an extension on every single assignment. This is a powerful bit of knowledge because it is comforting to know that most of the time you want to stay you will have the opportunity.
When you are working a short-staffed unit, there is a sort of snowball effect that makes it very difficult to rebuild nursing numbers. Once a unit loses a few nurses, it often takes months to actually get new staff on the unit between interviews and pre-employment screening. Then once the new hire hits the floor they usually have 6-12 weeks of orientation.
Unit managers have to be aggressive and forward-thinking to make up for a few lost nurses, and often upper management is slow to respond to their cries for job postings. Thus, short-term needs are put out in the form of travel nurse postings. Once onboard, it is easy for management to just extend a good worker than to try and find another one to fill the gap for the few months needed to try and fill their permanent staff positions.
I think every travel nurse acutely assesses the unit they are on for the first few weeks of an assignment thinking “What will I decide if they ask me to extend?” We mentally weigh the pros and cons and have to assess everything from our housing situation to family obligations that may fall within an extension timeframe.
When my husband graduated and we began full-time travel we realized that we did not have the financial pressure that many others have when they leave home for contract work. Instead, we were tempted by one major factor: freedom.
Freedom to take time off when we pleased, freedom to explore new places, and the bonus of the financial freedom that travel packages afforded us.
This focus on freedom quickly laid out our blueprint for deciding if we stay or go when offered an extension.
We ask ourselves these three questions: Did our current positions offer something in the way of expanding that freedom?
- For us, this could mean a well-paying job that would pay for additional time off afterward. It could also mean experience in a new specialty that could help us when we were looking for a future assignment.
Would we feel hampered by our jobs rather than blessed by them in the next few months to a year?
- The beauty of travel healthcare is that you are not tied to a job you hate. We made it clear from the beginning that we would not extend anywhere that made us dread going to work each day. Sometimes the money factor started to lure us (re: me) in, but setting this guideline from the beginning helped us remember how important it was when deciding on extensions.
Would we have the opportunity to save, travel, and smash financial goals if we stayed put?
- Some locations are great destinations but are lacking in the pay department. These assignments are fun but ultimately don’t allow us to have as much fun in our off time. Typically if the location is great but we are breaking even or just above, we make the decision to move on so we can save more for time off and other goals.
Sometimes the answer is not clear cut and there are other ways to go about figuring out your next move. I have actually never taken a full extension. Instead, I request a partial extension of six weeks or so if I am on the fence. This can also be a good option if you aren’t in love with your assignment but you also don’t see any open jobs that are particularly appealing.
The reality of being a traveling worker is that the next job is not guaranteed. But you are not obligated to stay in a job you hate either. If you are like me and choose this lifestyle for the freedom, there is no point in sacrificing that freedom by staying somewhere that is detrimental to your mental health. Figure out what is important to you, remember why you started, and take each contract extension as it comes. You never know which place will make you want to stay awhile and which one will have you running to the next assignment as fast as possible.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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