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10 Pros and Cons of Being an ICU Travel Nurse + Steps to Become + Salary


Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

Are you considering becoming an ICU travel nurse? If so, you are likely weighing the pros and cons of the job. Do you know what are the pros and cons of being an ICU travel nurse?

Being an ICU travel nurse is a unique experience. You will get to see new places and meet new people while helping others in their time of need. As an ICU travel nurse, you never know where you might end up next. From busy city hospitals to remote small-town clinics, the possibilities are endless. Sounds perfect, right? Well, there are also some downsides to the job.

Here are the top 10 pros and cons of being an ICU travel nurse. These top 10 pros and cons that I will present to you in this article will definitely help you decide if embarking on this journey is the right choice for you.


What Does An ICU Travel Nurse Do?


So, I bet you are wondering, what does an ICU travel nurse do? Well, ICU travel nurses provide care to critically ill patients in the intensive care unit. They work with patients recovering from surgeries, injuries, or serious illnesses. ICU travel nurses must be able to quickly respond to changes in a patient's condition and provide the necessary care in order to stabilize them. They also must be able to work long hours, often on rotating shifts.

An ICU travel nurse is not considered part of the hospital's core staff of nurses. This is because they are usually hired on a 13-week contract. This contract may be renewed a set amount of times. Many ICU travel nurses choose this type of job to see different parts of the country. It also allows them to work in various settings, such as small community hospitals or large teaching hospitals.


Where Does An ICU Travel Nurse Work?


As an ICU travel nurse, you will have the opportunity to work in various settings. Your experience and expertise will be in high demand, and you will likely have your choice of locations. Some of the most common places where ICU travel nurses work include hospitals and trauma centers. Hospitals are the most common setting for ICU travel nurses. You will care for critically ill or injured patients and provide them with the life-saving treatment they need. As an ICU travel nurse in a trauma center, you will be responsible for the care of patients who have suffered trauma from an accident or injury that requires a high level of expert care.

You may also find an ICU travel nurse working in specialty units such as cardiac, surgical, burn, or pediatric critical care units. In these units, you will use your specialized skills to provide the best possible care for your patients. No matter where you work as an ICU travel nurse, you can be sure that you will make a difference in the lives of those you care for.


What Are The Typical Working Hours Of An ICU Travel Nurse?


The typical hours that you will work as an ICU travel nurse vary depending on the hospital you are working in and your specific shift. However, most ICU travel nurses work 12-hour shifts, either day or night shifts. Some hospitals have a 7 pm-7 am shift, while others have a 7 am-7 pm shift. Some hospitals have 8 or 10-hour shifts. Regardless of the shift, most ICU travel nurses work 3-5 days a week.

Your workdays will be rotating, which means that you may end up working weekends here and there. You will also find that you may have to work holidays as an ICU travel nurse. This is all dependent on the staffing needs of the hospital.


What Are The Most Important Skills Required To Work As An ICU Travel Nurse?


In becoming an ICU travel nurse, you must ensure that you have the skills required to do the job. These essential skills include that you are proficient in assessment. Assessment is the most critical part of the nursing process because it is the basis for planning, interventions, and evaluation.

As an ICU travel nurse, you must also be able to correctly identify changes in a patient's condition. These changes could be subtle or life-threatening, so you must be able to quickly and accurately identify them. In addition, you must have excellent critical thinking skills. This means that you can quickly process information and make sound decisions in high-pressure situations.

Finally, as an ICU travel nurse, you must be able to effectively communicate with both patients and their families. This includes providing them with information about their condition and treatment plan, as well as updating them on changes in the patient’s condition. If you have these essential skills, then you have what it takes to be a successful ICU travel nurse.


How Much Does An ICU Travel Nurse Make?


Now, let’s get to the part I am sure you are dying to know, what is the salary like. Well, as with most jobs in the world of nursing, your salary will increase as your experience level does. The average ICU travel nurse salary is $112,828 a year. This means that you will be earning $54.24 an hour or $9,400 a month.

If you are just entering the career, the starting salary of an ICU travel nurse is $36.21 an hour or $6,280 a month. You will have an annual salary of $75,320. Once you have gained some more experience and have worked anywhere from one to four years, you can expect a yearly salary of $86,910 or $7,240 a month. This means you will have an hourly wage of $41.78. ICU travel nurses who have been working anywhere from five to nine years can expect an annual salary of $106,230 or a monthly salary of $8,850. This is an hourly salary of $51.07.

More seasoned ICU travel nurses who have more extensive experience will start to see some pretty impressive salaries. Those ICU travel nurses who have been working for 10-19 years will earn an annual salary of $163,900 or an hourly rate of $63.45. This will give a monthly salary of 11,000. Now, if you have 20 or more years of experience under your belt, you can expect an hourly wage of $78.80 or a monthly salary of $13,600. This will work out to be an annual salary of $163,900.

Level of Experience HourlyMonthlyAnnual
Entry-Level $36.21$6,280$75,320
1-4 Years of Experience $41.78$7,240$86,910
5-9 Years of Experience $51.07$8,850$106,230
10-19 Years of Experience $63.45$11,000$131,980
20 Years or More Experience $78.80$13,660$163,900
Average Salary$54.24$9,400$112,828


Is There A Demand For ICU Travel Nurses?


Yes, there is a demand for ICU travel nurses. In fact, the demand is so high that many hospitals are having difficulty finding qualified nurses to fill their open positions. This means that travel nurses who specialize in the ICU can often find work easily. As an ICU travel nurse, you may be able to negotiate higher salaries and better benefits than nurses who are not traveling.

One of the reasons that ICU travel nurses are so in demand is the high level of skill and experience they bring to the table. ICU travel nurses are responsible for monitoring patients who are critically ill or injured, and they must be able to quickly recognize and respond to any changes in a patient's condition. They must also be able to work effectively with other healthcare team members, communicate with families, and manage complex medical equipment.

Another reason for such high demand for ICU travel nurses is the current shortage of nurses nationwide. This shortage is expected to continue to grow in the coming years, and travel nurses will be needed to help fill the gaps.

ICU travel nurses are also in high demand because they often have more experience than staff nurses. This experience can be invaluable in an acute care setting, where every minute counts. Every new place you work, you are gaining valuable experience that can only benefit you in your future career.


8 Steps To Becoming An ICU Travel Nurse


1. The first step to becoming an ICU travel nurse is earning your degree. You will need to earn either an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Keep in mind that not having a bachelor’s degree in nursing may limit the places you can work in because some institutions will only hire those with a BSN.

2. Second, you will need to take the National Certification Licensure Exam (NCLEX)

3. You may also want to consider obtaining a compact nursing license as well.

4. You will need to earn specific certifications such as Basic life support (BLS), advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), and Pediatric advanced life support (PALS)

5. Next, you will want to gain some experience in the field of critical care medicine.

6. You then can consider earning your CCRN.

7. Then you will have to find a travel nurse staffing agency.

8. The final step, pick the location that you want to work in as an ICU travel nurse and begin your adventure.



TOP CONS OF BEING AN ICU TRAVEL NURSE


(The following are the top 10 disadvantages of being an ICU Travel Nurse.)

1. You will not always get the best assignments on the unit.

One of the cons of being an ICU travel nurse is that you will not always get the best assignments on the unit. You will end up having the less desirable assignments. The unit you work on will give their core staff better and more manageable assignments. You will most likely end up caring for complex patients and demanding families. This can be very stressful at times.

2. You will not always get the best schedule.

As an ICU travel nurse, you will not get the best schedule. You are viewed as supplemental staff. You are there to fill the holes in the hospital's schedule where they do not have core staff to work. You are not given the prime shifts or the best days off. You are often given the worst shifts that no one else wants, the leftover shifts.

3. You will have to work weekends and holidays.

Another one of the disadvantages of being an ICU travel nurse is that you will have to work weekends and holidays. This can be a big downside for some people, especially if you have a family or a bustling social life. Working weekends and holidays means you will be missing out on a lot of family time and time with your friends. It can also be difficult to find childcare if you have young children.

4. You will not have any paid time off.

One of the biggest disadvantages of being an ICU travel nurse is that you will not have any paid time off. This can be a big problem if you want to take a vacation or if you get sick. You do not get paid if you do not go in for a shift. This can be a significant financial burden on many nurses. You will also not get paid in between contracts. So, if you plan on taking a break between contracts, make sure you have the financial means to do so.

5. You will not have a steady job.

As an ICU travel nurse, you will not have a steady job. Once your contract with a hospital end, you will have to look for a new job. Finding a new job constantly can be highly stressful. You will have no idea of when your next paycheck is coming through.

6. You will always feel a bit lost.

One of the cons of being an ICU travel nurse is that you always feel lost where you are living and working. You are constantly moving around from place to place, and it can be challenging to keep track of everything. There is always a new city to explore and a new hospital to learn. This can be overwhelming.

7. You will be the first to float.

As an ICU travel nurse, you will always be the first to float to other units. When another unit requires staff, you will be the first to go staff that unit before the core staff. Once again, you will find yourself in an unfamiliar area. You may find that you feel like a complete outsider, and you will never know if the staff on that unit is friendly or not. This is all part of the job.

8. What are you going to do if your contract gets canceled?

One of the top cons of being an ICU travel nurse is that your contract may be canceled at any point. Then what will you do? You may have to scramble to find another job, or even worse, go back home. While this is not the end of the world, it can be a significant inconvenience. So, if you are thinking of becoming an ICU travel nurse, just be aware that your contract may not be as secure as you think.

9. Your patients may not always survive.

When you work in the Intensive care unit, the reality is that not all your patients will survive. They are critically ill. As an ICU travel nurse, you need to realize that this may be your reality. You will see people at their sickest, and sometimes they do not make it.

As an ICU travel nurse, you are constantly surrounded by death. You see firsthand how fragile life is. Every day, you witness people fighting for their lives. And every day, you see some of them lose that battle. It can be hard to deal with and can take a toll on you.

10. You will be doing a ton of tax returns.

As an ICU travel nurse, you are constantly moving around; therefore, you need to claim income in all these different places you work. This can make your taxes very complicated. You will find that you will be filing multiple returns, and it can be a nightmare to keep track of everything.

You also need to be careful about how you claim your deductions. Because you are always on the move, it can be easy to forget to claim something or miss out on a deduction you could have taken. This can cost you a lot of money in the long run.



TOP PROS OF BEING AN ICU TRAVEL NURSE


(The following are the top 10 advantages of being an ICU Travel Nurse.)

1. You will make a great living.

One of the pros of being an ICU travel nurse is that you can earn a great living. With the salary you are earning, you can enjoy many finer things in life. You will be able to have all your bills paid and have some money left over to spend on yourself. If you play your cards right, you may have enough money saved to take a break between contracts.

2. You will easily be able to pay off any debt.

As an ICU travel nurse, you will be able to pay off your debt. As an ICU travel nurse, your pay rate will be higher than that of core staff and the minimum wage. This means that you will be able to save more money and pay off your debt more quickly.

3. You get to see the country.

One of the top pros of being an ICU travel nurse is that you get to travel the country. You can choose where you want to go and when, and there are always new places to explore. You will get to cross some things off your bucket list. If you love adventure, this is the perfect career for you!

4. You get to try multiple states before you settle down

As an ICU travel nurse, you get to try numerous states before settling down. This is a great way to feel what you like and do not like in a state. You can also explore different parts of the country that you may never have considered living in before. Think of it as a try before you buy.

5. You will get a stipend.

One of the biggest advantages of being an ICU travel nurse is the stipend that you will receive. This is a great way to make extra money while away from home.

Some of the stipends that you will receive will cover your moving expenses, which can be a great way to save money. You may also receive a living stipend to cover your housing and one to cover your uniform expenses.

6. You will always be able to find a job.

As an ICU travel nurse, you will always be able to find a job. You may have to turn jobs down! The high demand for ICU travel nurses means that you can pick and choose where you want to work. You can also be selective about the hours you work, the type of facility you work in, and your pay. So, if you are looking for a career that offers both flexibility and security, ICU travel nursing is a perfect choice.

7. You will gain so many new skills.

Another one of the pros of being an ICU travel nurse is that you will gain a wealth of new skills. Whether it is learning how to use a new type of medical equipment or perfecting your bedside manner, you will come out of your ICU travel nursing assignment a better nurse than when you started. And who does not want that?

8. You will have control over your life.

As an ICU travel nurse, you will have control over your life. You will be able to choose your own hours, work in the setting of your choice, and get paid well for your services. You choose pretty much every aspect of your career. That is the beauty of being a travel nurse. You get to call the shots.

9. You will meet new people.

As an ICU travel nurse, you will meet new people, some of whom will be patients and some of whom will be their families. You will also meet other health care professionals who work in the ICU. You may even meet someone interested in becoming an ICU travel nurse! You will undoubtedly make new friends, and memories last a lifetime no matter who you meet.

10. You may be able to branch into a new career.

One of the advantages of being an ICU travel nurse is that you can often branch into a new career. For example, many ICU travel nurses find that they have the skills and experience to become critical care nurse practitioners. This career change can be a great way to advance your career while still working in the field you love.

You may also find that maybe you want to branch out into management. Many ICU travel nurses find that they have the skills and experience to become nurse managers. This career change can be a great way to advance your career while still working in the field you love.



BREAKING DOWN THE SALARY OF AN ICU TRAVEL NURSE


What Is The Starting Salary Of An ICU Travel Nurse?


The starting salary of an ICU travel nurse is $36.21 an hour. With this hourly rate, you will be earning a weekly income of $1,448 a week or $6,280 a month. This means that your annual salary will be around $75,320. That is not too shabby for somebody starting out in their career.

Hourly$36.21
Weekly $1,448
Monthly$6,280
Annual$75,320


What Is The Average Salary Of An ICU Travel Nurse?


The average ICU travel nurse salary is $112,828 annually. If you were to take a closer look at that salary, you would be earning $54.24 an hour, which is $2,170 a week. That means you will be earning $9,400 a month.

Hourly$54.24
Weekly $2,170
Monthly$9,400
Annual$112,828


ICU Travel Nurse Salary By State


When it comes to salaries across the country, you will find that they will vary for an ICU travel nurse. In California, you will see the highest wages for ICU travel nurses. Here you will earn $170,010 a year. That is a vast difference from what ICU travel nurses earn in Alabama. In Alabama, ICU travel nurses earn $84,930. That is a difference of $85,080 a year. That is a salary on its own!

State Hourly Monthly Annual
Alabama $40.83 $7,080 $84,930
Alaska $64.59 $11,200 $134,350
Arizona $54.50 $9,450 $113,350
Arkansas $43.14 $7,480 $89,740
California $81.74 $14,170 $170,010
Colorado $52.79 $9,150 $109,800
Connecticut $57.52 $9,970 $119,650
Delaware $50.39 $8,740 $104,820
Florida $47.13 $8,170 $98,020
Georgia $48.48 $8,400 $100,840
Hawaii $71.07 $12,320 $147,830
Idaho $48.57 $8,420 $101,020
Illinois $50.55 $8,760 $105,140
Indiana $45.75 $7,930 $95,170
Iowa $42.42 $7,350 $88,230
Kansas $43.52 $7,540 $90,530
Kentucky $43.88 $7,610 $91,280
Louisiana $46.11 $7,990 $95,910
Maine $48.16 $8,350 $100,180
Maryland $55.32 $9,590 $115,060
Massachusetts $65.25 $11,310 $135,730
Michigan $50.15 $8,690 $104,320
Minnesota $54.89 $9,510 $114,170
Mississippi $41.52 $7,200 $86,370
Missouri $44.68 $7,740 $92,930
Montana $47.82 $8,290 $99,460
Nebraska $47.11 $8,170 $97,980
Nevada $60.85 $10,550 $126,560
New Hampshire $51.50 $8,930 $107,130
New Jersey $58.12 $10,070 $120,880
New Mexico $51.32 $8,900 $106,750
New York $60.86 $10,550 $126,580
North Carolina $46.75 $8,100 $97,230
North Dakota $47.21 $8,180 $98,190
Ohio $47.29 $8,200 $98,360
Oklahoma $45.15 $7,830 $93,920
Oregon $65.24 $11,310 $135,700
Pennsylvania $50.28 $8,720 $104,590
Rhode Island $56.13 $9,730 $116,750
South Carolina $45.52 $7,890 $94,680
South Dakota $41.33 $7,160 $85,960
Tennessee $43.47 $7,540 $90,420
Texas $52.07 $9,030 $108,300
Utah $47.71 $8,270 $99,230
Vermont $48.91 $8,480 $101,730
Virginia $50.43 $8,740 $104,890
Washington $61.90 $10,730 $128,760
West Virginia $44.15 $7,650 $91,840
Wisconsin $50.68 $8,790 $105,420
Wyoming $49.22 $8,530 $102,380



HIGHEST PAID ICU TRAVEL NURSES


What Are The 10 Highest Paying States For ICU Travel Nurses?


So, when you think about becoming an ICU travel nurse, I am sure you would like to know where are the highest paying states for ICU travel nurses. California, as with most nursing specialties, is the highest-paid state. Hawaii comes in second with an income of $147,830. If you choose to take a contract in either Massachusetts, Oregon, or Alaska, you will be earning in the $130,000 range. States such as Washington, New York, Nevada, New Jersey, and Connecticut will have you earning around $120,000 a year.

Rank State Average Annual
Salary
1 California $170,010
2 Hawaii $147,830
3 Massachusetts $135,730
4 Oregon $135,700
5 Alaska $134,350
6 Washington $128,760
7 New York $126,580
8 Nevada $126,560
9 New Jersey $120,880
10 Connecticut $119,650


What Are The 10 Highest Paying Metros For ICU Travel Nurses?


So, we already know that California is the highest-paid state but let’s look at what are the highest paying metros for ICU travel nurses. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA will have you earning $210,400 a year. That is a crazy amount of money! On the lower end of the 10 highest-paid metros is Redding, CA. In Redding, CA, you will earn $157,740 a year.

Rank Metro Average Annual
Salary
1 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $210,400
2 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $207,110
3 Vallejo-Fairfield, CA $200,440
4 Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA $189,460
5 Salinas, CA $186,370
6 Santa Rosa, CA $176,050
7 Modesto, CA $170,760
8 Stockton-Lodi, CA $163,380
9 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA $159,520
10 Redding, CA $157,740



Top Organizations And Associations For ICU Travel Nurses


American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses provides information on certification for those who want to become certified as a critical care nurses. You will also find that this association will provide great information. There is also a ton of information regarding clinical resources that can be found on their website.

American Journal of Critical Care (AJCC): The American Journal of Critical Care provides scientific evidence-based information to nurses. In the articles that this journal supplies, you will find information regarding advancement in practice and how to apply it to the bedside.


My Final Thoughts


So, are you ready to pack your bags and see the world as an ICU travel nurse? ICU travel nursing is a great way to explore new places while helping others in their time of need. Of course, it is not all fun and games all the time. There are some definite pros and cons of being an ICU travel nurse to consider before making the decision to sign up with a nursing agency.

The pros of being an ICU travel nurse are many, but so are the cons. It is essential to weigh all the factors before deciding whether or not this type of nursing is right for you. The top 10 pros and cons of being an ICU travel nurse that I have presented to you in this article should certainly give you some insight if this is the path you should be venturing down.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERT


1. Is ICU Travel Nursing A Good Career?

Yes, ICU travel nursing is a promising career. Not only do you get to see the country, but you will also be able to cross off items on your bucket list. Let us not forget that you can make a phenomenal living and choose where you want to work.


2. On Average, How Much Does An ICU Travel Nurse Make Per Hour?

On average, ICU travel nurse salary per hour will have you earning $52.24. This hourly rate is well above the national hourly wage.

$54.24


3. How Many Hours Does An ICU Travel Nurse Work?

The number of hours you will be working as an ICU travel nurse will vary depending on the position you were hired into. You will find that most positions for ICU travel nurses are either a 12 hour or 10-hour shift.


4. Is Being An ICU Travel Nurse Stressful?

Yes, being an ICU travel nurse can be stressful. One of the sources of stress for an ICU travel nurse will stem from the patient population you are caring for. You are caring for some of the sickest and most critical patients out there. These patients can have a change in condition at the drop of a hat, and you must be prepared to respond to it.

The second source of stress for an ICU travel nurse is ensuring that you are able to secure another contract for when your current one ends. Remember, you do not get paid for any lapse in a contract.


5. Do I Need To Be Certified To Work As An ICU Travel Nurse?

You do not need to be certified to work as an ICU travel nurse. Certification will, however, be beneficial to you career-wise. You will be seen as an authority in the world of critical care nursing, and it may help you land some pretty desirable contracts.


6. What Certifications Are Required Or Recommended For An ICU Travel Nurse?

There is no required certification for an ICU travel nurse. Once you successfully pass the CCRN exam, you will become a certified critical care nurse.


7. How Long Does It Take To Become An ICU Travel Nurse?

The length of time to become an ICU travel nurse will vary for each person. The first factor that will impact the length of time it takes to be an ICU travel nurse will depend on if you earn an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing. If you choose to earn an associate’s degree, it will take you two years. If you choose to complete a bachelor’s degree, it will take you four years. The second factor will be how long it takes you to successfully pass the NCLEX exam. The last factor to consider is how long you plan on working before deciding to travel as a nurse to gain experience. Many people work from anywhere for two to five years before they choose to travel. So overall, depending on the degree you choose to earn it will take you anywhere from 4 to 9 years to become an ICU travel nurse.


8. How Much Does It Cost To Become An ICU Travel Nurse?

The answer to this question will also depend on the type of degree you choose to earn. The associate's degree in nursing is less expensive than the Bachelor’s degree. You could pay anywhere from $3,000-$10,000 per year for an associate's degree at a public university. At a private institution, you may end up spending around $40,000. A bachelor’s degree in nursing will cost you anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000.


9. What Kind Of Career Advancement Opportunities Are There For ICU Travel Nurses?

As an ICU travel nurse, you can advance your career by earning an advanced nursing degree on the masters or doctorate level. You could also advance your career by taking a more permanent position in management.


10. Can You Quit An ICU Travel Nurse Assignment?

You can quit an ICU travel nurse assignment at any point. The downside to quitting an assignment that is already in progress may mean that you will have to incur specific penalties for ending your contract early. You may also not be eligible for another contract within the institution with which you terminated the contract.


11. Do You Need ICU Experience For Travel Nursing?

Yes, you will need the experience to be successful as an ICU travel nurse. Many nursing agencies will not even consider hiring you unless you have some experience under your belt.


12. Where Do ICU Travel Nurses Get Paid The Most?

As an ICU travel nurse, you can find the highest paid salary in California, $170,010, followed by Hawaii, $147,830. An ICU travel nurse can earn a pretty impressive wage in these two states.


13. How Much Do ICU Travel Nurses Make A Week?

As an ICU travel nurse, you can find yourself earning $2,170 a week. That is a pretty nice income.

$2,170


14. How Many Days Do ICU Travel Nurses Work?

The number of days that you will work as an ICU travel nurse will depend on how many hours you work. Typically, you will be working anywhere from 3 to 5 days a week.


15. How Much Experience Do You Need To Be An ICU Travel Nurse?

It is best to have at least two years of being a critical care nurse before becoming an ICU travel nurse. This will ensure that you will have time to perfect your skills.


16. What Benefits Do ICU Travel Nurses Get?

You may be eligible to have health benefits under the nursing agency's contract as an ICU travel nurse. You may also be eligible to get a housing stipend as well as the reimbursement of relocation to fulfill your contract.


17. Is It Hard To Get A Job As An ICU Travel Nurse?

If you have the proper experience as an ICU nurse, it will not be difficult at all to get a job as an ICU travel nurse. ICU travel nurses are very much in demand, so you will have no difficulty finding a job.


Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.