By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
I know this seems like a weird topic to hit on in August, but I have been seeing posts pop up everywhere about how winter rates have arrived. While most hospitals do not start looking for travelers until three to four weeks out from their start date, a few hospital systems anticipate that cold and flu season will bring a need for extra staff and start hiring early.
There are some definite pros to locking in a winter job ASAP, but also several drawbacks. So before you make a choice on whether or not to jump on those December and January start dates right now, be sure to consider all sides of the equation.
Positives to Accepting a Winter Assignment Early
1. You alleviate the stress of looking for your next assignment
If you are simply looking for job security or get burnt out waiting until the last second to apply for jobs, this could take some of that stress off your shoulders. At this point your fall contract is probably already secured, so by booking a winter assignment now you are locked into jobs for the next six months–which can be a relief.
2. Avoid the post-holiday rush so you can get the coveted January start date.
My husband and I never worked a single holiday as travelers. We preferred to skip the holiday pay and head home around mid-December for a couple of weeks. However, the job market is flooded in December with people looking for early to mid-January start dates. Jobs can get pretty competitive or you may have to push a start back until February, so it may be nice to get a guarantee that you can get that holiday time off without having to fight for the perfect start date.
3. Plan ahead for finances and housing.
If you are trying to go somewhere warm for the winter, housing prices may skyrocket a bit in that area because, well, so is everyone else. By having your contract in hand early, you are more likely to score some budget-friendly housing which can also allow you to make plans for financial goals heading into the new year.
4. Rates could drop depending on census.
Right now hospitals are putting out mid to high pay packages to entice people to sign early. However, as the winter progresses rates may drop if the hospitals don’t get as busy as they are predicting. If you lock in the “winter rate” now, you will be guaranteed that rate unless you are canceled.
Cons of Accepting a Winter Contract Early
1. Your life could change and the location may not be as desirable in 3 or 4 months.
While we are always pretty flexible with location options, sometimes life has a way of dictating where we need to be and when. For example, if you have a string of weddings to attend back home or a family member is ill, or a new medical need pops up you may have to be more choosy about how close to home you stay. Locking in a location now prevents you from having a lot of flexibility if life shifts down the road.
2. Hospitals may overhire which could lead to higher rates of cancellation.
The hospitals interested in getting travelers on board now are preemptively striking. This means they don’t actually know what their census will be in the winter, they are just guessing they will need the extra staff. If the patient population is lower than they anticipated this could lead to traveler layoffs which are never fun for us.
3. Overhiring could also lead to more floating for travelers.
Most travelers realized floating is part of the job. However, floating every single shift or multiple times per shift can get old pretty fast. Before canceling a contract, hospitals will likely utilize travelers as float staff, which can be exhausting if that wasn’t what you anticipated from the beginning.
4. Winter rates could go up.
On the other side of that coin, patient census could end up being much higher than anticipated which will force hospitals to raise rates to attract more travel nurses. In that case, everyone who signed early will be locked into the original pay rate, and newly signed travel nurses will be making more money for the same position. It doesn’t seem quite fair, but taking the gamble to wait could pay off if this is the case.
While those winter rates are looking tempting, and having a contract planned way in advance may sound nice, I would highly recommend waiting until a little closer to the start date to actually think about accepting a contract. Between your personal life and changes within hospital systems, there is a lot that could change between now and December.
My advice to all travelers right now is this: be patient. Winter rates are not going anywhere, and from experience, I would anticipate they will go up in the next several months before they drop. More hospitals will start hiring for winter needs, and your options will expand along with pay packages just like they do every other winter season.
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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