3 Critical Things To Understand About ICU Travel Nursing


If you’re an ICU nurse and you’re thinking about traveling, you’ve come to the right place.
We’re gonna tell you the stuff no one else will — what the real deal is when it comes to traveling as an ICU nurse.
Some stuff is the same as what you’ve experienced as a staff nurse. Some stuff is the same as what other travelers experience. But some stuff is just a little different.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. You’re Gonna Get Paid Big Money … But It’s Not all Sunshines and Rainbows

Yeah, we all know it — travelers get paid the big bucks. That’s the main draw, right? You add the ability to basically get paid to travel anywhere in the world, and if you love adventure (and, you know, money), then traveling might be for you.
And ICU nurses get paid even more than med-surg and step-down anyway, and that absolutely applies to travel nursing — you can make serious cash.

But one thing that most travel nurses don’t find out until they actually start traveling is that it could be lonely — even if you bring your partner and your pets with you. The thing is, because your assignments are so short, connecting with other nurses — even other travel nurses — can be tough if you’re not diligent.
Yeah, it sucks big time, but that’s just the nature of the biz, and it’s critical that you understand this before you start off on a big adventure across the country.
ICU Travelers are expected to know their stuff and hit the ground running!

You could come in and be the brightest and shiniest traveler at their doorstep but….let’s just say that the staff nurses sometimes — and it’s different at every hospital — but sometimes have animosity toward travelers. So, keep your head up-keep your smile intact and focus on what you were sent there for, which is patient care.

Now that we’ve scared the bejesus out of you, we wanna be clear that this doesn’t always happen. And if you’ve been a staff nurse for any length of time, you know that drama happens in every hospital. There’s just no getting away from that.
It’s important that you stick with the other travelers. They are likely walking the same path as you. They get it. And they’re likely going to be warmer than the permanent staff.

2. Travel Nursing Can Really Be a Pain Sometimes… But It’s Kinda Awesome at the Same Time

Look, ICU is tough in the best of times. Your chance of losing a patient is just a lot higher than on other units.
Sure, you’re specialized, and that’s awesome, but watching someone you’ve worked so hard to help, someone you’ve made a connection with over the time they’ve been there… well, that’s incredibly difficult.

Sometimes this can be an opportunity to just be your awesome self and do what no one else is willing to do, but sometimes it’s just plain horrible. It’s a situation where you have to make the best of what you’re given. This is going to happen fairly regularly as a traveler, so you need to be prepared for it.

So that’s the bad part — what about the awesome part?

It’s the thing that probably drew you to travel nursing in the first place — you get to travel!
Let’s be real — there are parts of the country that are so expensive to live in most people will never get the chance to go, the coasts especially.
And even if you could go, you’re paying for it yourself. California is nice and all, but most people don’t want to pay thousands of dollars just to go to the beach for a few days.

But when you’re traveling, you get to lay on the beach for a few months. And you don’t have to worry about housing because it’s covered by stipends. You can afford to live in a place you couldn’t otherwise, and you’re literally getting paid to do it.
Like the beach? Go to Florida and get your tan on. Like the mountains? Check out Asheville, NC — it’s got hiking like no other (but beware of bears — seriously). There are pluses and minuses, but it’s just like any job: you gotta take the good with the bad.

3. You’re Gonna Have to Learn All Kinds of Things You Never Would Otherwise… So You Better Be Adaptable

Being an ICU nurse requires a specialized skill set that other nurses just don’t have, but you’ve often worked in the same unit for a long time until you start traveling — you haven’t floated a lot.

As a traveler, you’re pretty much always going to be the first to float.
You might not be very familiar with what they do on that unit — if at all. For example, you might not have ever been in a NICU before, but if you get floated there, you’ll be expected to get with the program fast. If you like learning, you’ll probably be down with this sort of thing. If you have anxiety about being out of your element, it might end up not being so fun because you’ll get floated so much.

Another thing to consider is that you’re not always going to have the luxury of getting an assignment on the exact type of unit you’re used to. You might have to just take what you can get, which means you’re going to have to adapt — and fast — to that unit. So if you’re trying to try out the travel life, make sure you’re the right type of person for it. It’s not for every ICU nurse, but for some, it’s the most amazing thing ever.

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

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