How To Navigate Travel Nurse Contract Lengths

Written by Rose Torrento on Saturday, January 27, 2024 Posted in On the Job


Every travel nursing assignment starts with a contract, which dictates the term. The length of a contract can greatly impact your experience, work-life balance, and overall job satisfaction. One of the most essential skills a travel nurse can develop is the ability to assess and understand contract lengths as well as the options, benefits, and challenges associated with short-term and long-term contracts.

Standard travel nursing contract lengths

Travel nursing assignments vary in length, but the most common is a 13-week contract. While the specific shifts and hours a travel nurse works may change from one assignment to another, a 13-week contract provides balance for the healthcare facility and the nurse.

This period aligns well with the time required for orienting new staff, covering for leaves of absence, and finding suitable housing. It’s also an ideal duration for travel nurses to immerse themselves in a new location and create a sense of stability while still having the freedom to explore new opportunities four times a year.

Pros and cons of short-term contracts

Although 13-week assignments are standard, things are changing. Shorter assignments — ranging from four to eight weeks — are becoming more common, especially where hospitals require temporary coverage, like during short-term disabilities of their permanent staff.

Short-term contracts provide unique advantages and challenges. Some of the pros include:

  • Variety: Shorter contract terms empower nurses to seek diverse work experiences.
  • Flexibility: These contracts are ideal for nurses who want to move frequently.
  • Networking: A shorter contract offers more chances to build a wider professional network.

There are also drawbacks for travel nurses to consider if they’re interested in short-term work:

  • Frequent relocation: Constant moving can be physically and emotionally draining.
  • Less job security: Shorter contracts may lead to issues with financial consistency.
  • Continuity of care: Patient treatment plans often require more than a few weeks.

Pros and cons of long-term contracts

Long-term travel nursing contracts — with assignments lasting longer than 13 weeks — are also on the uptick. Six-month to one-year contracts are intended to give both hospitals and healthcare workers more stability.

Long-term contracts are appealing to travel nurses for several reasons, including:

  • Stability: Longer contracts provide a greater sense of job security and consistency.
  • Acclimation: These contracts allow for a more comprehensive understanding of a facility.
  • Stronger relationships: A long-term contract offers opportunities to build strong, lasting relationships.

Taking long-term assignments also comes with some disadvantages to consider, such as:

  • Less variety: Longer assignments mean fewer opportunities for diverse experience.
  • Burnout: Extended time in high-stress or high-demand areas can lead to burnout.
  • Lifestyle: Nurses who have a “home base” might find long-term contracts too long.

Achieving the right balance

Understanding and considering the different contract lengths is crucial for a successful and fulfilling career in travel nursing. Whether you opt for the familiarity of standard 13-week assignments, the flexibility of short-term contracts, or the stability of long-term commitments, the choice should align with your individual priorities and aspirations.

As you embark on your next adventure as a travel nurse, remember that contract length matters, and making the right decision can significantly enhance your experience.

Are you looking for a particular contract length, or do you have questions about the length of a potential contract? Your Health Providers Choice recruiter is always available to answer questions and ensure your next assignment is the best one yet. If you have questions about contract terms or assignment lengths, don’t hesitate to contact us online or call 888-299-9800 to learn more.

About the Author

Rose Torrento

Rosemarie Torrento has worked in health care for more than 26 years, beginning as a registered nurse in 1988. Early in her nursing career, Torrento worked as a freelance contract nurse before accepting a position in nursing administration. During her 17-year tenure in that role, she oversaw nursing employment and travel nurse contracting at a Level 1 Trauma Hospital in Michigan. Understanding the challenges travel nurses faced, Torrento founded Health Providers Choice Inc. (HPC) in 2003. Through Torrento’s extensive experience and her role as President and CEO, HPC provides travel placement of registered nurses and allied health professionals to hospital systems nationally.