Healthcare professionals are experiencing burnout more and more. One way to combat this is to take time off between travel contracts. Healthcare workers like you spend so much time caring for others, but it’s just as important for you to take care of yourself. Here’s a guide to taking a break from nursing, temporarily of course.
- Why is it important to take some time off from work?
- Signs it’s time to take a restful break
- How to take time off as a travel nurse
- How much time can you take off in between contracts as a travel nurse?
The Importance of Time Off Between Contracts
Why is it important to take some time off from work?
Nursing and other healthcare professions are already a stressful line of work. Add the stresses that allied and travel nurses experience like traveling and living in new places, and you may already need a break just thinking about it. Even if you love the travel life, over time, you may get tired from all the packing, moving, and readjusting that each contract requires. Constant relocation can take a toll if you’re not taking care of yourself and taking time off.
Allied and travel nurse time off between contracts isn’t a sign of weakness or laziness, but actually the opposite. You can only be at your best if you set aside time to recharge. Additionally, breaks between assignments allow you to go home, visit friends or family, take care of things on your to-do list, and overall make sure you’re achieving a healthy work-life balance.
Benefits of taking time off
Still not convinced? Here are some of the benefits you could enjoy from taking a break.
- Decreased stress levels: taking a break from a stressful environment or routine interrupts the cycle of stress that causes burnout and overwhelming feelings.
- Rest: when you escape this cycle of stress, you can recuperate and get yourself to a healthier place both physically and mentally.
- More focused thinking: chronic stress can lead to decreased creativity, memory problems, and other issues. Decreasing your stress levels will result in clearer thinking and more creativity in all areas of your life.
- Increased productivity: these benefits all cumulate to make you better at your job, more present in your relationships, and able to enjoy life fully when you return.
But don’t just take our word for it! Studies show that people who take time away from work experience physical and mental health benefits such as lower stress, less risk of heart disease, better outlook on life, and increased motivation to achieve goals. Even just planning a vacation or time off creates feelings of happiness and excitement, effectively boosting your mental health.
Another study found that three days after vacation, people’s physical complaints, quality of sleep, and mood had improved in comparison to before they took vacation. Plus, these effects were still felt five weeks later.
Signs it’s time to take a restful break
But how do you know it’s time to take a break? When you reach an end of an allied or travel nurse contract and you begin thinking about the next one, do some self-reflection to see if you’re:
- Tired or burnt out: get some R&R before jumping into the next contract so you can stop your burnout, not extend it.
- Sick or experiencing health issues: you can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself.
- Falling behind in your personal life: you may have pushed off tasks like household chores, car maintenance, and scheduling appointments while on the road. Take a breather and get your personal life in order.
- Feeling homesick: it’s natural to miss the ones you love, especially when you’re far from home! Take some time to spend time with those closest to you.
- Finishing a stressful assignment: not every assignment is created equal. It’s okay to take time to relax after an especially stressful assignment.
- Coming off back to back assignments: can’t remember the last time you took a breather between assignments? There’s no better time than the present.
Some other signs you need a break include:
- Changes in eating habits
- Cynicism about work
- Difficulty concentrating
- Getting sick more frequently
- Lack of energy
- Lack of motivation
- Low mood
- Feeling unfocused or fuzzy headed
- Physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
- Poor performance at work
- Sleep disturbances
- Using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress
- Withdrawing from friends, family, or co-workers
In general, if you don’t feel motivated, excited, or fully engaged at work and in your personal life, a vacation would probably do you some good. It’s always a good idea to manage stress before it becomes chronic or all-encompassing.
"I think of these breaks as preventative care," says Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS, a licensed psychologist specializing in health and wellness. "We need to participate in them on a regular basis in order to be able to manage our stress and prevent burnout. The key is to prevent ourselves from getting to the point that we absolutely need the break."
How to take time off as a travel nurse
One of the best parts of being a healthcare traveler is the ability to choose when and where you work. This flexibility allows you to dictate your time off. While you may have to budget and save money to take trips, you call the shots.
When planning trips, think about how you plan to spend your time between allied and travel nursing assignments and what you need to do in order to take time off. For instance:
- How often do you want/need to go home?
- Do you want to take your time traveling from one assignment to another, sightseeing along the way?
- How many contracts do you want/need to work in a year?
Once you’ve figured out these things, you can start planning when the best time to take a break is and how you can accomplish that goal. Here are your options for taking time off as a travel nurse or healthcare traveler.
Scheduled time off
How long can a travel allied or nurse professional take off during a contract? If you want scheduled time off during an assignment, you’ll have to plan that ahead of time and put it in your contract. You can work with your recruiter and facility to create several days off in a row. You could potentially negotiate days off to group several shifts in a row, some at the end of the week and the next week at the beginning.
However, this will be unpaid time off. Unless you’ve worked a certain number of hours for an agency, any time off you take off during travel nursing contracts will be unpaid. Each travel nursing agency is different, so check time-off policies when you’re searching for your next job! Additionally, if you take scheduled time off you may be responsible for reimbursing the agency for any housing stipends and per diem paid during the period you’re not working.
You could also work extra shifts at the healthcare facility prior to the time off, banking the extra shifts to cover the time off. Travelers can make up hours after the time off but not the tax free reimbursements like per diem payments. While the travel nurse or allied professional may make up extra funds for the time off by working additional shifts at the end of the assignment, they can’t make back the per diem.
Breaks between contracts
More often, taking breaks in between assignments is an easier option. While this will still be unpaid time off, if you’re strategic about planning out your travel nursing contract breaks, you can save up in preparation for this unpaid time. When you’re budgeting for time off in between contracts, don’t forget to account for:
- Tax home expenses
- Travel costs
- Other bills
Figure out how much it costs you to live each month and set aside that money, plus a little extra for unexpected expenses. If you’re taking a vacation vs visiting home, make sure to budget for that as well.
Another element to think about is your insurance coverage and agency benefits. If you’re receiving benefits through an agency, find out their policy on time off and how long you’re insured or can keep receiving benefits while not on assignment. Every agency is different, but it’s good to be prepared so you don’t find yourself without insurance while on break. Some travelers choose to opt for private insurance, so they never have to worry about their coverage.
How much time can you take off in between travel nurse contracts?
There are no hard and fast rules for how much time you can take off in between travel nurse assignments. That’s the beauty of being a traveling healthcare worker! Just keep a few things in mind:
- You need to spend 30+ days at your tax home (where you pay taxes) every year
- Save for time off
- Make sure you don’t lose benefits while taking time off
One last factor to consider is when you will be applying for your next assignment. If you plan on taking a vacation, you’ll need to decide if/when you’ll be available for interviews during that time. If so, you’ll need to be in an area with cell service and Wi-Fi so you can keep in touch with the recruiter at the travel nurse agency, browse travel nurse jobs, explore housing options, and complete any boarding or medical tests for your next allied or travel nurse assignment.
There’s no shame in taking time off. It’s one of the things people love about having a travel nursing career. Pay attention to when your body is telling you it’s time to take a break and honor that need for work-life balance. And when you’re ready to find your next assignment, browse healthcare travel jobs on the go Fusion Medical Staffing.