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Written by Christine Purviance, BSN, RN, Director of Clinical Services at Medical Edge Recruitment

ICU travel nursing is not for the weak or fainthearted. It takes thick skin, exceptional organization skills, and advanced knowledge of critical illness to take care of ICU patients. Travel ICU nurses must not only have these qualities, and many more, but they also face the regular challenges of being a travel nurse.

Keep reading to find out more about what it takes to become an ICU travel nurse.

What is an ICU Travel Nurse?

ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurses work in hospitals with critically ill patients who are often fighting for their life. The patients they care for may have suffered a serious trauma like a major car accident or they might have just had life-saving open-heart surgery requiring 1:1 monitoring. Since these patients are very critical, ICU nurses only have one or two patients at a time. ICU travel nurses that choose to travel do the same thing as staff nurses; except they travel to ICUs all over the country for short-term contracts.

ICU Travel Nurse Specialties

Since ICU patients require extremely specialized nursing care dependent on their illness or trauma, many ICUs are divided into specialties such as:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Neurological
  • Surgical
  • Medical
  • Trauma
  • Pediatric
  • Neonatal

ICU Travel Nurse Requirements

To work as an ICU travel nurse, you must first meet the minimum education, certifications, and experience requirements listed here: 

  • Completion of an accredited nursing program, Bachelor of Nursing preferred
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN licensing exam
  • Gain a minimum of 1-2 years experience in the ICU specialty that you want to work in

All ICU travel nurses must have the following certifications:

  • BLS, Basic Life Support
  • ACLS, Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support
  • PALS, Pediatric Advanced Life Support (required for Pediatric ICU nurses)

ICU travel nurses can obtain additional certifications to build their credentials, such as:

  • NIH, Stroke Certification
  • TNCC, Trauma Nursing Core Course
  • TCAR, Trauma Care After Resuscitation
  • TCRN, Trauma Certified Registered Nurse
  • CCRN (Adult, Pediatric, or Neonatal), Critical Care Registered Nurse

What Experience is Needed to Become an ICU Travel Nurse

If ICU travel nursing interests you, first you’ll need at least 1-2 years of experience before you can start traveling. This experience is essential as an ICU travel nurse because you’ll be providing complex nursing care that cannot be learned on a travel nurse assignment! ICU travel nurses usually only get a few shifts of orientation, so you must be competent and confident in critical care nursing when you start working as a travel ICU nurse!

ICU Travel Nurse Job Description

ICU travel nurses perform a variety of tasks and skills throughout their shift, including but not limited to:

  • Identification of changes in patient conditions
  • Collaboration and implementation of the plan of care with physicians, respiratory therapists, registered dieticians, and other members of the healthcare team
  • Interpretation of EKG and identification of changes in patient's cardiac rhythm
  • Administration and management of multiple complex, life-saving medications like sedation
  • Management of equipment and devices such as cardiac devices, external ventricular drains, feeding pumps, and chest tubes
  • Monitoring bodily pressures and fluids like intracranial pressure, blood loss, and fluid output


ICU Travel Nurse Qualities

It takes a special, highly-skilled nurse to work well in the ICU. ICU travel nurses are generally:

  • Type A personality
  • Assertive
  • Have strong observational skills
  • Flexible
  • Well organized
  • Outstanding critical thinkers
  • Compassionate
  • Team players

If these qualities sound like you, then ICU travel nursing might be the right fit! ICU nurses are in great demand and often receive higher pay. According to nursingprocess.org, demand for ICU nurses increased by 186% in 2020, which has also led to higher salaries. Travel ICU nurses typically make significantly higher salaries and have the freedom to choose when and where they work while traveling and exploring the country!

Are you ready to find an ICU travel assignment?

Medical Edge Recruitment is the premier travel nursing recruitment agency, specializing in providing top talent to clients in the healthcare industry. We connect clinical and allied providers to their ideal opportunities, focusing on building long-lasting relationships through honesty and transparency.

In travel nursing, bigger does not always mean better. While we have an extensive network of job opportunities, our experienced team is dedicated to making your personalized provider experience our priority. There are a lot of moving parts in getting set up for a new assignment, but we take care of all the details along the way.

Adventure awaits, let Medical Edge Recruitment show you where to go next! 


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