ICU Travel Nursing Job: How Can I Work Nationwide as an ICU Nurse?

By Sarah Collins

06/10/2022

What if you could work on the fly in numerous hospitals’ intensive care units across the USA?

ICU travel nursing is an arrangement that certifies you to provide healthcare solutions in over thirty American states.

As an ICU travel nurse, you have more opportunities to save lives, irrespective of geographical boundaries.

But wait — there’s more: you’d also average more than your non-mobile counterparts annually.

Are you interested in becoming one already?

This piece discusses the essentials, covering the fundamentals of ICU nursing, travel nursing, how to combine both successfully, and your expected pay range per state.

Here we go!

Key Takeaways:

  • ICU nurses work in intensive care units, treating patients with various life-threatening conditions.
  • All ICU nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and obtain CCRN Adult Certification to practice.
  • ICU travel nursing jobs enjoy excellent pay and benefits packages, including housing stipends, per diems, 401(k) plans, and complete dental/medical health coverage.

Who Is an ICU nurse?

An ICU nurse works in an intensive care unit, assisting patients with life-threatening conditions and emergencies. This role involves ongoing monitoring and administering high potency medication.

Are ICU Nurses the Same as Emergency Room Nurses?

No, they are not.

An emergency room nurse (trauma care nurse) treats new patients who demand immediate care. Such patients are typically in life-threatening conditions, such as hemorrhaging and gunshot wounds.

Standard functions include performing CPA, performing tracheostomies and intubations, and setting broken bones.

Conversely, an ICU nurse works in a more controlled environment as they treat patients who’ve stabilized following the emergency room. This nurse focuses on ventilation, drip administration, and intubation.

An ER nurse is the first stop for a critical-state patient, while an ICU nurse is a subsequent step after stabilization.

Where Can ICU Nurses Work?

ICU nurses are helpful in the surgery, trauma, pediatric, neonatal, psychiatric, and coronary departments.

  • Surgical intensive care unit (SICU) ICU nurses deal with patients before and after surgery, monitoring conditions and preparing patients for emergency care.
  • Trauma ICU nurses work with critically injured patients who may be suffering from life-threatening conditions.
  • ICU nurses in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) focus on young, critically ill patients, from infants to teenagers.
  • A neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) ICU nurse works with newborns and premature babies with life-threatening conditions, requiring minute-by-minute care by a specialized team.
  • Psychiatric ICU nurses work in psychiatric hospitals, dealing with patients suffering from all mental ailment types.
  • ICU nurses working in coronary intensive care units (CICU) deal with patients suffering from heart attacks and other heart-related ailments

How Much Can I Earn as an ICU Nurse?

According to ZipRecruiter, ICU nurses average $120,243 per year, a significantly higher sum than the national average of $70,280.

However, your location plays a role in this figure, so the Ziprecruiter table below shows the highest-paying state averages for ICU nurses.

StateSalary
New York$134,471
New Hampshire$127,024
Vermont$125,560
Maine$122,884
Montana$119,928
Arizona$118,860
New Jersey$118,807
Massachusetts$118,805
Wyoming$117,600
Hawaii$117,164

For greater perspective, here’s another table showing the highest-paying city averages for ICU nurses.

SalaryCity
San Francisco, CA$145,128
Fremont, CA$141,513
San Jose, CA$136,774
Oakland, CA$135,417
Jackson, WY$135,048
Sunnyvale, CA$132,972
Hayward, CA$132,834
Seattle, WA$132,142
Vallejo, CA$131,802
Barnstable Town, MA$131,741

Related Article: How Much Does A Travel Nurse Make?

What resources Do We Recommend for ICU Nurses?

The following are non-profits and nursing associations that advocate for ICU nurses, provide personal/professional support, and facilitate healthy ICU nursing practice standards.

We also recommend obtaining a Master’s Degree in Nursing to advance your ICU nursing career. Master’s degree-trained ICU nurses enjoy higher salaries and the opportunity to enter managerial and educational nursing roles.

Who Is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses own a multi-state license, allowing them to provide their nursing expertise in numerous American states.

These nurses work on contracts ranging from six to fifty-two weeks. Suppose their performance is satisfactory. The employee may renew the contract.

The travel nursing arrangement is the brainchild of the eNLC.

What Is the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC)?

The Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) is a multi-state initiative of the National Council of the State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). This arrangement empowers nurses to practice in different states using an exclusive license. With this certificate, an Arizona ICU nurse doesn’t need to apply for a California nursing license before practicing in both states and others.

What States Make Up the eNLC?

The eNLC isn’t legalized in all fifty states yet. Therefore, your multi-state license can work in the following states only:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

How Much Do Travel Nurses Earn?

The wildly varying parameters of travel nurses make it impossible to ascertain a national median income.

However, an Indeed study reviewing 63,000 salary earners reported a $109,398 average per year. Other credible salary organizations have similar findings, so this report suffices.

See the Ziprecruiter table below for your expected annual income as a travel nurse in each US state for more perspective.

StateAnnualMonthlyWeeklyHourly
Alabama$56,502$4,708$1,087$27.16
Alaska$72,501$6,042$1,394$34.86
Arizona$59,974$4,998$1,153$28.83
Arkansas$61,910$5,159$1,191$29.76
California$65,327$5,444$1,256$31.41
Colorado$65,726$5,477$1,264$31.60
Connecticut$76,662$6,389$1,474$36.86
Delaware$65,124$5,427$1,252$31.31
Florida$54,530$4,544$1,049$26.22
Georgia$57,855$4,821$1,113$27.81
Hawaii$76,812$6,401$1,477$36.93
Idaho$61,250$5,104$1,178$29.45
Illinois$61,576$5,131$1,184$29.60
Indiana$59,589$4,966$1,146$28.65
Iowa$57,406$4,784$1,104$27.60
Kansas$69,138$5,762$1,330$33.24
Kentucky$63,334$5,278$1,218$30.45
Louisiana$58,155$4,846$1,118$27.96
Maine$60,800$5,067$1,169$29.23
Maryland$69,629$5,802$1,339$33.48
Massachusetts$77,258$6,438$1,486$37.14
Michigan$61,631$5,136$1,185$29.63
Minnesota$59,965$4,997$1,153$28.83
Mississippi$64,810$5,401$1,246$31.16
Missouri$60,099$5,008$1,156$28.89
Montana$60,597$5,050$1,165$29.13
Nebraska$68,359$5,697$1,315$32.86
Nevada$71,929$5,994$1,383$34.58
New Hampshire$68,683$5,724$1,321$33.02
New Jersey$61,132$5,094$1,176$29.39
New Mexico$56,445$4,704$1,085$27.14
New York$71,117$5,926$1,368$34.19
North Carolina$56,025$4,669$1,077$26.94
North Dakota$72,741$6,062$1,399$34.97
Ohio$59,407$4,951$1,142$28.56
Oklahoma$63,534$5,294$1,222$30.55
Oregon$69,790$5,816$1,342$33.55
Pennsylvania$60,768$5,064$1,169$29.22
Rhode Island$74,057$6,171$1,424$35.60
South Carolina$65,746$5,479$1,264$31.61
South Dakota$70,616$5,885$1,358$33.95
Tennessee$59,840$4,987$1,151$28.77
Texas$59,200$4,933$1,138$28.46
Utah$58,749$4,896$1,130$28.24
Vermont$64,638$5,387$1,243$31.08
Virginia$67,462$5,622$1,297$32.43
Washington$72,374$6,031$1,392$34.80
West Virginia$61,814$5,151$1,189$29.72
Wisconsin$59,425$4,952$1,143$28.57
Wyoming$63,730$5,311$1,226$30.64

Note that salaries for ICU and travel nurses are subject to change based on location, shift type, employer, and years of experience.

How Do I become an ICU Travel Nurse?

Becoming an ICU travel nurse is possible through these steps:

      1. Earn your RN license, BSN, or ADN

Enroll in a nursing program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

These organizations ensure that your nursing education is high-standard and that you qualify for the NCLEX -RN upon passing all required coursework.

      2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the NCLEX exam awards licenses to all nursing students in the United States, Canada, and Australia. It covers all subjects learned during nursing school, comprising a mix of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, drag-and-drop, and charting questions.

Passing this test is the last hurdle to your nursing license.

      3. Work in the Field

Work for two to three years to qualify for your ICU certification. Also, these years build up experience, preparing you for whatever you may face as a travel nurse in the future.

Endeavor to excel during these years, as your records affect your employability along the line.

       4. Secure ICU certification

All ICU nurses must obtain the Certification for Adult Critical Care Nurses (CCRN) by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

To earn the CCRN, nurses must have 1,750 hours of direct RN or APRN direct care ICU experience within the past two years, with 875 hours completed in the latest year.

Alternatively, you can qualify with five years of experience as an RN or APRN with 2,000 or more hours in acutely/critically ill pediatric patient direct care.

You must accrue 144 of these 2,000 hours in the latest year before your application.

The ICU certification exam costs $344 with a 90-day window to schedule the exam starting the day you pay the fee. All exams take place at an ANCC-approved center.

      5. Apply for a Multi-State License

Securing a multi-state license is straightforward, and you can readily apply for one on your state board of nursing website.

The process requires a fingerprint, background check, and applicable fees. Expect your application to take anywhere from three days to a few weeks for review and approval. After obtaining your eNLC license, you will no longer need to apply for state-specific RN/PN endorsement licenses.

For the latest news on which states have implemented the eNLC, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) website (www.ncsbn.org).

      6. Sign on to a Travel Nursing Agency

An agency is one of the easiest ways to find contracts as a travel nurse. Sign up with a reputable one to start.

How Do I Choose a Travel Nursing Agency?

We recommend considering the following for a wise decision:

  • Reputation

An agency’s reputation informs you of its success rate and past relationships, hinting you at possible future results. Look for testimonials across a wide range of industry publications.

For example, Triage Staffing has had formal recognition by Inc. Magazine and Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA). Another, FlexCare Medical Staffing, was awarded the 2020 Best Travel Nursing Company award by BluePipes, a popular healthcare careers portal.

  • Benefits

Look for a travel nursing agency that offers per diems and housing stipend. The package should include medical insurance, dental insurance, and a 401 (k) plan.

It’s advisable to find an agency that caters to your accommodation. Such an arrangement reduces your expenses and helps to hit the ground running.

Pros of ICU Travel Nursing

  • Fulfillment

Fulfillment is an excellent reason to become an ICU travel nurse. Travel ICU nurses bring essential expertise and knowledge to the table with the ability to serve in understaffed and far-away areas. It fulfills a need to save the lives of thousands of patients who may not have immediate access to quality healthcare.

  • Flexible Scheduling

Most travel nurses work three 12-hour shifts a week, which offers more days off for higher intensity workdays. This schedule is a welcome change from the typically more intense traditional hospital shifts.

Payments are generally higher for night shift nurses than day and swing shift nurses.

  • High Demand

Although there are no official stats as to projected job growth for ICU nurses, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 9 percent increase in the number of employed nurses through 2030, making it one of the most in-demand fields in the country.

  • Networking Opportunities

As a traveling nurse, you constantly meet new people with different job titles and career paths. One of them could offer you your next short-term or long-term position.

Cons

  • Lack of Seniority

As a new travel nurse, you might be assigned the scut work due to the lack of a clear hierarchy.

  • Floating

Floating happens when travel nurses work in understaffed units, as they usually are the first to move from their contracted department to a second unit to fulfill understaffing needs.

  • Location Orientation

The constant location change may be overwhelming in the long run. Remember, moving is hardly easy.

  • Multiple Tax Returns

Working in two or more states within a tax year will require you to file multiple state tax returns, which could result in errors. We highly recommend consulting with a licensed tax professional to take care of this end.

Major Takeaway: ICU Travel Nursing Job

ICU travel nursing is highly rewarding to nurses. It provides more opportunities to pursue your passion and compensates you adequately. What’s better?

Becoming one is as easy as pie!

However, it would help to consider the downsides of this profession. Can you withstand the continuous packing up and unpacking?

The decision rests in your hands!

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