The Average Hourly Rate for Traveling ICU Nurses

by Sharon Perkins
ICU traveling nurses often make more than permanent hospital staff.

ICU traveling nurses often make more than permanent hospital staff.

Many hospitals use traveling nurses to augment their staffing when regular or per diem hospital staff can't cover shifts. Traveling nurses take assignments for specified but varying times, such as six weeks or three months, often to cover sick leaves or other planned absences. Traveling nurses who work in specialty areas such as ICU are in high demand and can often command a higher salary than traveling nurses who work in standard areas such as medical-surgical floors.

Average ICU Nursing Salary

In 2013, ICU nursing salaries ranged from an average of $63,000 in Hawaii to $101,000 in New York state, according to In most cases, traveling nurses earn a higher base hourly rate than staff nurses at the same hospital, reports IPI Travel, a staffing agency. Shift differentials can also raise a nurse's pay, with nurses who work the evening shift making more per hour than nurses on day shift and night nurses making the highest salary, often 25 percent higher than day shift salaries.

Traveling Nurse Salaries

Travel pay varies, depending on what part of the country you work in and what type of hospital you work for. In general, large metropolitan areas offer higher pay than small rural areas within the same state. Staffing agencies for traveling nurses may also pay more for short-term assignments of one to four weeks than for longer assignments of eight to 13 weeks, according to IPI Travel.

Additional Payments

Traveling nurses receive extra compensation that can significantly increase their pay over their base hourly rate. In addition to an hourly salary, traveling nurses often receive additional forms of compensation, such as a housing allowance or free housing, a stipend for meals and incidental purchases, paid health insurance, travel money and a sign-on bonus. When discussing salary with a staffing agency, determine whether the compensation amounts include all the additional types of payment, plus the hourly wage -- called a blended payment rate -- or just the base hourly rate.


More travel nurses have bachelor of science degrees and additional certification compared to general hospital staff. Around 60 percent have BSNs, a higher percentage than the national nursing average, according to "American Nurse Today." Most agencies also want their traveling nurses to have a certain amount of work experience, particularly for specialty areas such as ICU. Many require at least two years, and sometimes three to five years, for ICU traveling nurses, the BluePipes website reports.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

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