My Security Blanket
As I begin my second contract as a travel nurse, I could not be more happy that I chose to stay on PRN/Per Diem or "as needed" at my old full time job. When planning ahead, it may seem like an expensive commitment, but so far it has been a reliable backup. Keeping a second job may not be convenient for everyone. Here are the pros and cons, but you may want to keep a side gig, at least at the beginning.
The Pros and Cons.
Travel nursing was something I wanted to do before I even decided to go back to school for a nursing degree. My second job as a nurse was in a Pediatric Emergency Department in Indianapolis, Indiana. Once I was hired in the Peds ED, I planned to stay for a year or two maximum. Which in my opinion was enough experience in a specialty to begin traveling ASAP. Fast forward almost four years and I finally signed my first contract as a travel nurse. It is hard to leave a place you love working and the people you work with. Staying on PRN or Per Diem makes it easier to leave a place you love working for a short time, but still allows you to travel.
While in nursing school, I was quick to realize what specialties I enjoyed and which I never wanted to work again. The fast pace, variety, and turnover of patients within an emergency department held my interest. While helping the little ones feel better brought joy to my day. It is incredibly rewarding to love your job, but even more satisfying when you love the people you work with on your team. This was ultimately why I delayed traveling sooner. From my experience, it does take about a year to feel comfortable in a department on your own and two years to see enough cases to feel confident enough to travel.
Traveling as a nurse has always sounded like an adventure to me; exciting but somewhat scary because of all the unknown. Where will I move next? Will I find a job right away? Part of what has made traveling and the unknown easier for me is staying PRN. Even if I don’t sign a contract right away, the fact that I can always fly back to Indianapolis and work as many shifts as I desire is comforting. My sister and her family also live there, with my parents a couple hours north. This has been a big incentive for me to stay PRN. Hospitals may have different requirements but mine is two shifts every month. If you work two shifts the last week of a schedule and two shifts at the beginning of the first week in the following schedule, this allows you to only come back every seven or eight weeks instead of every four weeks.
Traveling is expensive. A flight, rental car, and hotel add up every two months. Having family or friends in the area will deduct the cost of staying somewhere. Otherwise if I work the four shifts when I come home, it ends up breaking even from the cost of traveling there and back. For now, it is worth it. The requirements of flying and working somewhere else every two months can be challenging, especially when the time you need to go back and work is in between contracts. Figuring out ahead of time when the next contract will begin doesn’t usually happen until a couple weeks before your current contract ends. Purchasing flights ahead of time will save you money, but you ultimately put yourself at risk for missing a contract start date when you interview just by having a PRN job. I always try to book my flight through Southwest Airlines because they allow changing flights without a fee.
If you are a person who likes to book back to back contracts with as little time in between off as possible (this is how you make the most money), then I would say it is impossible to keep a PRN job. If you like to travel in between contracts for leisure, this makes it more challenging to maintain the requirements needed to hold a PRN position also. It is usually a two week period when I fly back and work PRN, so add that to the extra week or few days needed moving to a new assignment location and now you have three weeks in between a contract with zero pay. Like I said, staying on PRN is not for everyone. For me, it was helpful starting out that first year. It also gives you a job to come back to whenever you decide to stop traveling.
In the meantime, wherever you may be working during your travel contract, look to Furnished Finders or Travel Nurse Housing to find your home away from home. It makes sense to find a place that is furnished, especially when keeping a home base somewhere else.