In recent years the nursing shortage in the U.S., which is projected to have a shortfall of 193,000 by 2020, has created challenges for hospitals that want to provide an exceptional level of care and improve patient outcomes yet also feel pressure to drive down costs. For some hospitals that need intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, in particular, utilizing travel nursing is an effective and creative solution.
For anyone considering a career as an ICU nurse or looking to advance their nursing career, taking short-term assignments in various locations offers opportunities to learn skills, gain career experience and see new places, with a flexibility – and pay rate – that many nurses find appealing.
Travel Nursing Job Characteristics
According to Healthcare Traveler, ICU travel nursing is one of seven in-demand specialties that have the most promising job outlook.
In 2016 travel nursing was projected to grow by 22 percent, according to a report by market research firm Staffing Industry Analysts.
Generally, travel nurses report satisfaction with their jobs as a result of the flexibility and career options. Nurses hired by agencies also have more satisfaction than staff nurses, according to a study by Health Services Research.
The length of assignments can vary widely, which can help nurses skirt hospital staff politics and allow them to visit more places. The downside is that gaps between contracts equal gaps in pay. Lead times for an offer can be short, especially for ICU nurses who earn high salaries, so it might be worrisome for those who can’t tolerate uncertainty.
Skills, Certifications, and Licenses for Travel Nursing
Since ICU is a broad specialty, some hospitals require specific skill sets and prefer to hire ICU nurses who have worked in the same type of ICU. It’s also common for hospitals to require at least two to five years of experience.
You should have Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certifications, which must be acquired from the American Heart Association (AHA). You are also required to have a state nursing license from the state you work in.
Some hospitals may also require other certifications like Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), Certification for Critical Care Registered Nurses (CCRN) or an EKG certification.
A state nursing license from the state where the assignment is taking place is also necessary. Even for agency-coordinated assignments, hospitals often require license verification from the state board of nursing and a worker profile.
It’s smart to have a compact license, which allows you to practice in another state that is a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC).
Pay Ranges for ICU Travel Nursing
Salaries for ICU travel nurses depend on geographic location and experience but range between approximately $45,000 and $103,000, according to PayScale.com.
What’s more, a report by Medscape found that travel RNs make an average of $95,000 – more than staff nurses in any primary work setting.
As a travel nurse, you can also enjoy tax deductions for transportation, housing, meals, uniforms and dry cleaning, cell phone and internet service, license fees, continuing education courses and job search.
Travel Nurse Agency Life Advice to Consider
Travel nursing can be a wonderful opportunity but there are some things to consider before embarking on this path:
- Find a reputable agency that you’re comfortable working with; their industry experience will guide you through the process
- Large metropolitan areas have their appeals but smaller cities might offer lower living expenses yet similar compensation
- An agency can help find accommodation but if you find your own housing it might be beneficial to take a stipend instead
- It’s wise to set up your own medical benefits plan to ensure continuity of care no matter where you live or what agency you work with
- Paid sick leave or vacation time is less likely with agency work so this should be accounted for as you consider overall compensation
Why Travel Nursing Might be a Great Change for You
For ICU nurses, changing from a staff position to a contract-based travel basis might be an appealing way to stay in the field but avoid burnout.
The advantages include higher hourly pay, fewer conflicts, and more overall satisfaction. However, there is
However, there is a risk of variable overall compensation, the need to constantly learn new team dynamics and protocols and separation from a home base.
To investigate more options for ICU nurses, explore our careers section.