Becoming a NICU Travel Nurse: a Rewarding (and Profitable) Career Choice


Neonatal nursing care is an incredibly important job that focuses on helping sick and prematurely born infants recuperate. NICU nurses also help parents deal emotionally with the stress of giving birth to a sick newborn.

Although every nursing discipline is rewarding (constantly getting to see people come into your care at their worst and then helping them heal and grow feels incredible), neonatal ICU nursing is often thought of as one of the most rewarding career choices.

How to Become a NICU Travel Nurse

First, to become a NICU nurse, you must have an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Once the degree is in hand, then you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN).

Obviously, BSNs require more schooling and more tuition costs, but hospitals will pay more for RNs with a BSN and hire them first. Some hospitals will only hire ADNs on the condition that they get a BSN in a certain timeframe.

Other hospitals won’t hire them at all, so even though the BSN route will delay the start of your nursing career, it’s highly recommended if you want to maximize your earning potential.

Once this is all completed and you’re legally able to work as a registered nurse, then you must complete a handful of other programs that train you for the NICU specialty.

Certifications needed:

  • BLS Basic Life Support
  • NRP Neonatal Resuscitation Program
  • PALS Pediatric Advanced Life Support
  • ACLS Advanced Cardiac Life Support

This may sound like a lot, but these certifications take about as long as studying for a college exam.

After you’ve completed your necessary certifications and then spent two years working at a facility in this capacity, then you can start looking for travel work and super-charge your earnings as a travel NICU nurse.

Once you’ve completed all of this (it takes about 4-6 years), then it’s time to cash in on all your hard work.

Salaries for NICU Travel Nurses

Due to the delicate nature and high specialization of NICU work, it’s not uncommon to see salaries 50% to 200% higher than in other nursing fields.

However, one of the issues with travel work is that each state (and each facility) compensates their nurses differently, so it’s possible to get two consecutive jobs with pay rates so different it’s hard to believe you’re performing the same duties.

But even in the lowest-paying states (Texas, Florida, and Alabama), you can still expect around $2k per week at minimum.

On the other end of the spectrum are states like California, Illinois, New Jersey, and also Washington D.C. that are consistently paying around $5k per week for their travel NICU nurses.

According to ZipRecruiter, the most recent estimate of the national median for NICU travel nurses is $172,634.

This is all great, but don’t staff nurses get paid a lot too?

Yes, they do — just not as much. Anyone who specializes in neonatal intensive care is going to be earning a lot for their work, but even though the pay for staff nurses is good, it’s not quite the same.

Using the same companies’ metrics, they estimate that staff NICU nurses are earning $111,461 for their work, annually. This is fantastic, especially if you have your roots firmly planted in one location, but if you’re able to travel, you can be leaving a lot of money on the table by taking a staff position.

NICU work is one of the most lucrative forms of nursing in the world, but it’s not all about money, right? You want to enjoy your life as well as enjoy your work.

That’s where travel nursing really separates itself from a staff position.

The Benefits of Travel Nursing

There are tons of benefits to being a travel NICU nurse. Here are just a few.

No Hospital Politics

One major benefit to hopping around to different facilities is that you won’t really get caught up in hospital politics.

Being at each location for a relatively short period of time means that you can spend your time focusing on your patients and not getting bogged down by drama that started before you got there and will continue well after you’re gone.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be engaged in the hospital culture and get to know as many people as possible. It just means that having a relatively short stint at each facility effectively removes you from typical workplace nonsense.

Grow Your Resume

When you move around a lot, you will undoubtedly get to see a number of different hospitals with different machines, protocols, technologies, and staff.

And even though facing new challenges every 13 weeks will be hard at the beginning, that experience will pay dividends later on. You’ll have a much wider range of experience that will make you more valuable as an employee (and allow you to ask for and get a higher salary).

If you ever decide to settle into a staff position, you can expect a much higher salary than if you’d stayed a staff nurse throughout your career.

Expand Your Social and Professional Network

Moving around and meeting people of all backgrounds and professions is going to do wonders for you down the line.

Whether your main concern is finding lifelong friends or building professional connections, travel work will help make it possible.

You might even find a hospital or medical facility that you love — traveling gives you the chance to keep moving around until you find a place that’s the perfect fit for you.

You Don’t Need Permission to Take a Break

Nursing in any capacity, staff or travel, can take a toll on you. One of the biggest benefits of choosing travel work is that you can take as much time as you need to recuperate after an assignment.

No need to put in a time-off request and then impatiently wait a few weeks while the hospital decides if they need you or not. You just have to delay your next contract. And with the amount of money you’re being paid, you can afford to take some time off.

In a sense, you are your own boss.

If you’re worn down after 13 weeks, then open Travelocity and find a place where you can get pampered without a care in the world. Or if you get done with an assignment and immediately want to get back into it and make some more money, you can do that too.

Looking for an Assignment? Let’s Talk

If you’re looking for your first medical travel assignment — or if you’re looking for your next assignment — we’re here to help.

Apply Here


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