ICU Nurse: In-Demand Specialty for Travel Nursing Jobs

July 13, 2021

ICU nurses work directly with an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals to provide critical care to a hospital’s most unstable patients.

The United States is facing a projected shortage of registered nurses and the need for Intensive Care Unit nurses may be even greater than for those in other specialty areas, as there is an expectation that the aging population will place even greater demands on Intensive Care Units around the country. As a result, it is anticipated that travel ICU nurses will be essential to the way that acute care hospitals manage ICU capacity strain.

ICU travel nurses can earn up to $2,300 a week! Speak to a recruiter today!

What is an ICU Nurse?

ICU nurses are part of the hospital’s critical care team working with the most acute, unstable patients. Because these patients have such demanding care needs, ICU nurses are generally assigned no more than three patients at a time and are frequently assigned 12-hour shifts in order to cut down on caregiver changes.

ICU nurses must have strong critical thinking, leadership and communication skills. They need to carry out procedures while at the same time accommodating the needs of patients and family members. ICU nurses act as advocates and educators as well as caregivers.

Patients admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) are considered medically unstable. Many transfer from the ER, while others come from other departments within the acute care setting like surgery.

ICU nurses are registered nurses who evaluate and monitor patient conditions, administer treatment and provide constant support. Their responsibilities include:

  • Creating and implementing effective care plans
  • Identifying both sudden and subtle changes in their patient’s condition
  • Communicating with physicians, other staff members, and family members
  • Responding to medical emergencies
  • Maintaining patient records
  • Managing medication doses

There are a wide range of medical needs and patient types that require intensive care. ICU nurses can specialize in specific areas such as pediatrics, neonatology, neurology, cardiology, and trauma.

No matter the specialty area, there are specific skills and characteristics that ICU nurses of all types must share. The most obvious are technical skills such as ventilator support, inserting a central line and assessing neurological status.

ICU nurses require a high level of skill and knowledge, and their considerable talents are highly portable. This makes ICU travel nurses extremely valuable to acute care hospitals facing nursing shortages.

ICU nurses must be team players who work well with physicians and other members of the healthcare team to provide patient care, while also having the ability to inform and educate patients and their family members — managing and supporting their expectations and emotions on top of that.

ICU Nurse Salary and Job Growth Potential

ICU nursing is one of the seven highest-paid nursing specialties for registered nurses. According to, the average salary for an ICU nurse in the United States is $138,909.

The average salary for an ICU nurse in the United States is $138,909.

Not only are ICU nurses well compensated, but they are very much in demand. The job growth potential for this high-intensity, high-responsibility role is likely to grow substantially when considering the national nursing shortage and increased use of intensive care units.

As hospitals work to continue providing high-quality care in the face of strained capacity, they will continue to seek more qualified ICU RNs to meet their staffing needs.

Top Paying Cities for ICU Nurses in 2021

According to, here are the best paying cities for ICU nurses in 2021:

  1. Los Angeles, CA: $161,204 per year
  2. Orlando, FL: $153,170 per year
  3. San Antonio, TX: $140,400 per year
  4. Philadelphia, PA: $140,325 per year
  5. Miami, FL: $135,500 per year

Click here to discover available ICU travel nurse assignments!

ICU Nurse Education Requirements, Certifications, and Professional Groups

ICU nurses are required to have either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), have passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), and become a licensed Registered Nurse.

In addition to earning an ADN or BSN, registered nurses interested in becoming ICU nurses need to pursue experience and exposure to the ICU. Many nursing programs offer students the opportunity for an ICU externship during their last year. Other students choose to wait until they graduate to enter New Graduate internship programs. Alternatively, nurses can transition from other care areas into the ICU by applying for an open position and then participating in internal training programs.

The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) offers several ICU certifications, including the CCRN certification for acute/critical care nurses and additional modules for pediatrics and neonatology. These certifications require renewals, which are granted based on either passing an exam or completing Continuing Education Recognition Points (CERPS) through a combination of learning modules, clinical hours, and other activities.

ICU nurses who want to become more closely engaged in their field are encouraged to become involved with the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), as well as any of these organizations dedicated to providing care to those in need of acute or critical care.

The Pros and Cons of Being an ICU Nurse

Pros of ICU Nursing

  • Ability to provide focused nursing care to just one or two patients at a time
  • Being able to see patients go from unstable to stable conditions
  • ICU nurses are highly respected for their critical thinking skills and ability to work under pressure

Cons of ICU Nursing

  • Communications with patients’ families can be challenging
  • High patient morbidity
  • Intense, high-pressure environment

ICU Travel Nursing Jobs

The job of an ICU nurse requires in-depth knowledge of both anatomy and body systems, and the technical equipment that monitors and maintains those systems. Know-how and confidence, along with the ability to think critically and respond rapidly are all key characteristics of an ICU nurse.

As a result of both the national nurse shortage and the high stress and high turnover levels for staff nurses in the ICU, qualified ICU travel nurses are increasingly in high demand.

Experienced ICU travel nurses can choose from a wide range of locations and environments. Hospitals in need of supplemental staff don’t have time to teach inexperienced nurses what they need to know. As a result, ICU travel nurses usually have their pick of travel nursing assignments across the country with competitive salaries that feature exceptional benefits and perks including high pay rates, housing stipends and travel reimbursement.

RNs can earn up to $2,300 a week as a travel nurse. Speak to a recruiter today!

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