Andrew Wettengel / Tuesday, June 15, 2021 / Categories: Work World


An ICU RN considering travel nursing? Well, this is for you! If you’ve considered becoming a traveling nurse, then you may be aware that it’s a position that can offer many perks and benefits. For nurses who work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), traveling is an excellent option if you’re looking to expand your skill set and experience in the medical world. It’s often one of the top specialties in demand across the country, on any given day, so there are always plenty of options for those looking for travel nursing jobs as an ICU RN. 

ICU nurses work with some of the most critically ill patients in a hospital or medical care facility. Patients in the ICU are usually there long-term because they are immobile or intubated due to severe circumstances such as heart attacks, strokes, or traumatic events like car accidents.

As a shortage of ICU nurses continues to be a problem in the United States, and the pandemic only amplified that shortage over the lat year. Hospitals have relied heavily on traveling nurses to fill empty positions. ICU nurses take on responsibilities like administering medication, checking patients’ vital signs, taking care of patients’ hygiene needs, and so much more. Their role in a hospital setting is vital.

Traveling ICU nurses are registered nurses that work in a temporary nursing role. They are employed by independent nursing staffing agencies like OneStaff Medical rather than by a single medical facility such as a hospital.

Traveling nursing assignments can range anywhere from four to 26 weeks long, averaging about 13 weeks, and there are many different benefits and incentives given to nurses in these positions.

Reasons ICU Nurses Should Travel

It’s no secret that nurses are the backbone of a hospital, and they are becoming ever-more-important in places that are short-staffed. The ICU is a common place where nurses are needed. Traveling ICU nurses can fill these positions and make an impact on many patients day-to-day. With jobs in both hospitals and medical centers, traveling ICU nurses have the potential to work closely with a myriad of doctors, specialists, healthcare professionals, and other nursing staff.

Overall, traveling as an ICU nurse provides a flexible, personalized experience that fits any lifestyle. Traveling ICU nurses can choose the length and location of their assignments, and they can even choose to stay local if they want to travel within their state of residence. Nurses may be able to choose what ICU specialty they prefer to work in too. Here are a few of the top reasons to become a travel ICU nurse.

1. You Can Earn More Money as an ICU Travel Nurse

Compared to other nursing positions, the average ICU travel nurse salary is significantly higher. Traveling ICU nurses can expect to exceed those of traditional nurses, especially when considering the benefits given to travel nurses on top of their salary. They also are guaranteed a certain number of hours, and there is potential for bonuses, stipends, and daily non-taxable per diems for additional expenses.

As of June 2021, the average hourly rate for ICU nurses in the United States is $49 per hour. That averages out to about $102,061 per year in base salary alone. However, it is important to note that hourly rates can range anywhere between $37 to $66 depending on where you are located, so there is the potential to earn more or less. Taking on assignments in high-need locations also usually leads to a larger base salary. 

There are also several benefits on top of the salary that are offered to nurses in these positions. Traveling ICU nurses have access to medical and dental coverage, a 401k, license reimbursement, tuition assistance, and even travel nursing scholarships. They are also given free housing or a monthly housing stipend.

2. You Will Learn New Skills and Gain Experience

Traveling allows ICU nurses to build up their resumes and gain more experience. By traveling to many different locations, these nurses are exposed to other places and given diverse settings to work in. If you eventually decide on a permanent place of employment, you have an idea of what places you like and don’t like.

Every hospital is different, so traveling nurses must be flexible and open to constantly learning new things. You may end up working in a specialty you hadn’t initially expected or planned for, or even previously worked in.

You will learn something new and gain a higher skill set for future assignments. Working in different and diverse situations gives you a repertoire of ability to handle any patient situation that may come through the door. This allows for a higher adaptability in serious patient situations; you must be prepared to handle any critical situation, and being able to think and act quickly is a valuable skill for travel ICU nurses to have.

3. You Can Impact More Patients

Patients in the ICU rely heavily on nursing staff for essential well-being, hygienic needs, and emotional support. By traveling across the country, nurses in the ICU can work with a wide range of patients in a shorter amount of time. They truly leave an impression on everyone they meet by bringing their own unique experiences and skills to the table.

Even though you may spend less time with each patient, you can still potentially make a significant impact on their lives by caring for them and being there for their families when they need you the most.

4. You Will Work in Different Hospitals Across the Country

Traveling ICU nurses are accustomed to being in different environments all the time. Because traveling nurses are exposed to a variety of hospital locations across the country, they can network with plenty of people from other backgrounds.

Working in different hospital settings also allows you to sort out your likes and dislikes related to how facilities are managed and what methods are used or preferred when caring for patients. By sampling a multitude of environments, you can sort out your preferences and consider potential future permanent assignments.

5. You Get to Explore New Cities

Nursing staffing agencies offer plenty of benefits related to travel. You may get a daily non-taxable per diem or allowance to spend on additional expenses that come up, such as food or living expenses. There are also several travel perks and discounts on everything ranging from hotel stays, car rentals, gym memberships, and clothing allowances.

Traveling ICU nurses are given a fully furnished home in a safe neighborhood. Even utilities are sometimes fully covered as well. If you decide to live with other friends and family, you will receive a monthly housing stipend instead.

Traveling ICU nurses are allowed to bring their family, children, and pets along with them. This offers even more flexibility in balancing work with home life. You can still travel and work in new places without giving up the most important things in your life, and you can experience new places and cities with your loved ones.

Requirements and Qualifications for ICU Travel Nurses

Becoming a travel ICU nurse after one year is feasible if you already have the schooling under your belt. There are some requirements to becoming a traveling ICU nurse, but luckily, these qualifications align with those of staff nurses. There is no specific additional training or education required, so you may already have what it takes.

Traveling ICU nurses must be registered nurses with proof of ability to work in the United States and a degree from an accredited nursing program. Nurses with bachelor’s degrees are preferred and a lot more marketable than those with an associate’s, especially at bigger medical facilities like large academic teaching hospitals.

Because the ICU is more of a high-stakes environment, ICU nurses must have experience working in a hospital before moving into working in an ICU. It is also recommended that nurses have at least one year of experience working in a hospital before traveling.

It is helpful to already know the nursing basics before becoming a traveling nurse. Oftentimes, traveling nurses don’t have a lot of time to orient themselves at the beginning of new assignments, so it’s crucial to have the fundamentals down in order to adapt quickly.

There are also several other qualifications required for nurses, including passing nursing school exams, BLS (Basic Life Support) and ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support), and gaining clinical skills as an RN (Registered Nurse). ICU nurses often pursue other specialties and even earn certificates to build their credentials. These may include:

  • CCRN: Critical Care Certification
  • CNRN: Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse
  • CVRN: Certified Cardiac Registered Nurse
  • NIH: Stroke Certification from NIHSS
  • TNCC: Trauma Nursing Core Course

Traveling ICU nurses must have a valid nursing license in the state they wish to work in. Nursing staffing agencies assist with this and may even reimburse you when getting an out-of-state license.

Above all else, traveling ICU nurses need to exhibit certain skills such as critical thinking, organization, teamwork, and emotional maturity to work well with other medical staff, patients, and families.

What to Expect as an ICU Traveling Nurse

Traveling ICU nurses will encounter unexpected scenarios every single day. At the beginning of each new assignment, it may be difficult to know what to expect. However, there are at least a few things that nurses can anticipate day-to-day while on the job.

  • Make New Friends: One of the greatest benefits of being a traveling ICU nurse is the number of people you will meet. Shorter assignments allow for space to meet a lot of different people from many places and backgrounds. You will also have the opportunity to meet other fellow travelers.
  • Expect the unexpected: Hospitals and care facilities do things differently depending on where you go, so be prepared to adjust quickly and avoid comparing one hospital to another. Be open to change and continual learning. Because you may only have one shift of unit orientation at the beginning of each assignment, it’s important to remain open-minded and flexible.
  • Be Upfront but Humble: You may need to be more outspoken about your abilities and skillset, especially in places where doctors and nurses don’t know you or your work ethic. This means that you might have to do a little more than usual to prove yourself. Be confident in the things you do know, but be humble and ask questions to learn more.

If you’re interested in becoming an ICU travel nurse, OneStaff Medical is here for you. We can provide all the information you might need, and our recruiters have access to a wide range of open positions across the United States. To learn more about us, contact us today at 877-783-1483 or…

…browse all of our current top-paying ICU RN jobs here.

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