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Types of Travel Nurses | Types of Travel Nurse Specialties

Posted July 21, 2022

Maybe you are looking to become an RN or are looking to expand your career with travel nursing. Before commiting to become a travel nurse, you must understand the demand for the different types of travel nurses and which specialty suits you the best. If you are already a working nurse, you have probably worked with a traveler at your facility. The life of a travel nurse is a lot different from a staff nurse. Travelers travel the country, have a more flexible schedule, and typically make more money. What are you waiting for? Take the leap! You can always dip your toes into local travel nursing first to see if you like it.

What is a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is an RN who travels to a facility that is short-staffed and needs help. Typically contracts for travel nurses are 13-weeks but can be extended if the facility still has the demand and the nurse wants to stay longer.

There are many benefits that come along with travel nursing, the most popular being the pay. TravelNursing.org reported that the average annual salary for a travel nurse is $108,070 in 2022. That is significantly higher than the average mean salary for staff nurses which is $75,330 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Because of the higher wage, some nurses take weeks or months off between contracts to relax or travel, making their schedules more flexible. This helps with work-life balance and preventing nurse burnout.

There are many types of travel nurses and types of travel nurse specialties. Finding your perfect fit will set you up for success and happiness in your travel nursing career.

Types of Travel Nurses

Labor and Delivery Nurse (RN L&D)

A Labor and Delivery nurse has the rewarding job of helping women bring their babies into the world. This is also one of the highest paid travel nursing specialties and therefore also one of the most desired. Facilities are willing to pay top dollar for these types of travel nurses because they are such an integral part of the labor and delivery process. They typically work in a clinic, hospital, or birthing center. A L&D nurse is there to guide and assist the mother and baby from the moment the mother is admitted into the birthing unit.

Read our guide on How To Become A Labor and Delivery Nurse

Responsibilities of a Labor and Delivery Nurse

Responsibilities of a L&D nurse include many duties before, during, and after the birth of the child. Here is a list of some of the responsibilities and duties of a labor and delivery nurse:

  • Prepare delivery room with proper medical tools for the physician
  • Fetal monitoring
  • Examining contraction length and strength
  • Administering IVs and pushing medication if necessary
  • Educating patient on pain management options
  • Coaching the mother during contractions
  • Perform exams on the newborn
  • Provide breastfeeding support
  • Bathe the baby
  • Monitor the mother through postpartum
  • Provide education and support to the family

Qualities of a Labor and Delivery Nurse

There are different qualities that are needed depending on the types of travel nurses and their specialties. As a labor and delivery nurse, they must have excellent communication skills and empathy when coaching the mother through her labor and delivery. They must have the ability to work under high levels of stress and pressure if tensions arise or a complication occur. L&D nurses must also have a level of calmness and not feed into the emotions of the family or mother. Having cultural competency is also important as you will be working with mothers of all backgrounds.

L&D nurses should obtain these qualifications:

All these qualifications seem excessive but they are crucial to prepare you for life-threatening emergencies. Certifications are a testament to a nurse’s commitment to provide the best patient care. Below are a list of qualifications labor and delivery nurses should obtain:

  • BSN
  • NCLEX-RN
  • NLC ( The Nursing Licensure Compact)
  • BLS ( Basic Life Support)
  • ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support)
  • RNC-OB (Inpatient Obstetric Nursing)
  • C-EFM (Electronic Fetal Monitoring)
  • NRP (Neonatal Resuscitation Program)
  • CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife)

Operating Room Nurse (RN OR)

Operating room nurses mainly work in hospitals in the operating rooms with other nurses, an anesthesiologist, and surgeon. They can also work in outpatient clinics and cancer centers. Their main goal is helping the surgeon before, during, and after surgery. Travel operating room nurses made on average $181,642 per year in 2022 based on a report from ZipRecruiter. This is compared to the average salary of $97,283 for an OR staff nurse. OR is another high paid and highly desired specialty.

Read our full guide on How To Become An Operating Room Nurse.

Responsibilities of an Operating Room Nurse

There are different types of travel nurses when it comes to working in the operating room. Some specialize in one stage of surgery while others are involved in all three stages: Pre-op, surgical, and post-op. It depends on the facility and the size of the staff.

Pre-Op: In this stage the main goal is preparing the patient for surgery

  • Collecting vitals and health history
  • Start IVs
  • Verify all needed paperwork is completed
  • Assess the patient for stable conditions

Surgical: Works inside the operating room during surgery

  • Assisting the surgeon
  • Making sure all supplies and tools are available
  • Ensuring clean and sterile environment
  • Complete necessary paperwork

Post-Op: Works in the recovery room taking care of recovering patients

  • Assesses patient
  • monitors for complications
  • transfers or discharges patients once stable

Qualities of an Operating Room Nurse

Operating room nurses work with a group of other individuals: nurses, anesthesiologists, scrub tech, and surgeons. Being a team player is crucial in this role. The best OR units have teams that communicate effectively with one another and respect each other. Along with teamwork and communication, being highly organized and having attention to detail is important to maintaining a clean and sterile OR room. In the OR, situations arise and change quickly. Being able to adapt and make informed decisions quickly is important to the success of the patient. All these qualities are needed to thrive in the operating room.

OR Nurses should Obtain These Qualifications:

Depending on what you want to specialize in, there are numerous certifications that are required and recommended for operating room nurses.

  • BSN
  • NCLEX-RN
  • NLC ( The Nursing Licensure Compact)
  • CNOR (Certificate for perioperative RNs)
  • BLS (Basic Life Support)
  • TNCC (Trauma Nursing Core Course)
  • CRNFA for First Assistants who assist the surgeon
  • CSSM for Bachelor’s educated OR Managers
  • CNS-CP for Master’s educated Clinical Nurse Specialists

Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) Nurse

PACU nurses work in the recovery room of hospitals caring for patients who recently went under anesthesia. This is similar to what an OR nurse does in the post-op phase of their job responsibilities except a PACU nurse is specialized for post-operation. Ziprecruiter lists the average staff PACU nurse salary as $97,501 per year compared to a PACU travel nurse salary at $130,354 per year. According to Ziprecruiter the top paying states for a PACU nurse in the United states are: Sunnyvale CA, Santa Rosa CA, Manhattan NY, and Cambridge MA.

Responsibilities of A Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) Nurse

The responsibilities of a PACU nurse revolve around caring for patients who are recovering post-surgery. Some of their duties include:

  • Observing and monitoring patients
  • Recording patient vital signs
  • Monitoring consciousness throughout recovery
  • Changing dressings and administering medication
  • Collaborating with patient care team
  • Educating patients and their families on post-op care once discharged

Qualities of a PACU Nurse

A successful PACU nurse has certain soft skills that make them successful in this role. Working with patients who are in a vulnerable state and who can often be confused, require a high level of interpersonal skill. Great communication with both the patient and family are necessary for delivering a great patient experience. Communication is also a huge player in being a successful member of the surgical care team. If abnormal side effects arise being able to concisely inform the doctor is crucial. Attention to detail is also essential for monitoring patients and documenting their condition.

Experience with critical care and intensive knowledge of post-surgical patient care is desired by employers. Knowledge with hospital systems like Mediexcel and eHospital are also preferred.

PACU Nurses should Obtain These Qualifications:

To be competitive as a PACU travel nurse you should gain at least one year of experience in the PACU within the last two years and obtain the certifications listed below.

  • BSN
  • NCLEX-RN
  • NLC (The Nursing Licensure Compact)
  • ACLS (Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support)
  • PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support)

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nurse

Neonatal intensive care unit nurses specialize in providing care to the smallest patients, newborn infants. Infants who get sent to the NICU unit get around the clock care and normally have some kind of complication. A common complication is prematurity when a baby comes early and developmentally isn’t as equipped to transition to the outside world yet. Other complications may include infection, birth defects, cardiac problems, or other illness. According to The NANN a NICU nurse can expect to work in a hospital in the level II nursery working with less acutely ill patients or level III nursery where you will work with the most critically ill patients. Throughout a 12-hour shift you can expect to work with four infants at a time, that ratio can always vary depending on how ill the patients are at the time.

When you specialize and become a travel NICU nurse your pay stub will increase to reflect that specialization. According to ZipRecruiter a NICU RN will make on average $105,124/year. A travel NICU nurse will make about $109,200/year. The top paying cities for NICU nurses is Green River WY, Santa Clara CA, San Francisco CA, and Washington DC. Unlike other types of travel nurses, NICU nurses make similar salaries, if not a little more, on average than their staff nurse counterpart.

Responsibilities of A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nurse

Being a NICU nurse means working in a fast-paced unit with critical job duties. Some of the responsibilities of a NICU nurse include:

  • Assess infant immediately after birth by weighing them and performing tests
  • Oversee and evaluate infants suffering from health complications
  • Administer medication as prescribed by physician
  • Have a strong understanding of all NICU equipment
  • Educate new parents on infant care
  • Coordinate patient’s discharge plan

Qualities of a NICU Nurse

As a NICU nurse you are there for the birth of babies and seeing them come into the world. You may also experience infant deaths. This position can be emotionally tolling. To succeed as a NICU nurse you must have an empathetic and calming demeanor, even in the face of tragedy. This may take years of experience to perfect. Being able to communicate effectively during times of high-stress is important to your internal team and the parents of the newborn. Having a great understanding of a newborn from the physiological and psychological perspective is important to establishing their needs. Working in the NICU unit is a highly technical area so staying up-to-date on advancements in medicine and technology is important. You will forever be learning as a NICU nurse.

NICU Nurses should Obtain These Qualifications:

To be a competitive travel NICU nurse you must gain at least one year of experience in the NICU within the last two years. Having the below certifications also is beneficial.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse

ICU nurses are the types of travel nurses who are exceptional multi-taskers with a high attention to detail. Intensive critical care nurses work in larger hospitals because of the need for specialized equipment. This can sometimes be a learning curve when travel nursing to different hospitals as you have to learn new unit protocols. ICU nurses specialize and work with patients who are critically ill or injured. These patients often have experienced a traumatic illness or accident that led them to the ICU. Depending on the severity of patients, ICU nurses often work with lower ratios of patients providing care around the clock.

If you are an ICU RN and looking to get into travel nursing you can expect abundant jobs with a high pay rate. ICU is an in-demand specialty making it one of the higher paying specialties in the travel nursing world. According to ZipRecruiter, staff ICU nurses make on average $118,699 per year. This is compared to salaries of travel ICU nurses which typically clock in around $143,210 per year. If you are looking to make top dollar, travel nursing in these states might be your best bet. The top states for high paying ICU jobs are Tennessee, Hawaii, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Nevada.

Check out our Guide on How To Become a Critical Care Nurse.

Responsibilities of An Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse

The main duties of an ICU nurse changes depending if they are hyper-specialized in areas like coronary, pediatric, or surgery. Typically though all ICU RNs perform the below responsibilities:

  • Implement patient care plans
  • Monitor and record patient’s condition
  • Check patient vitals
  • Change bandages and administer medications
  • Perform tests to determine level of recovery
  • Educate and inform patients and their families
  • Administer lifesaving treatments efficiently and effectively

Qualities of an ICU Nurse:

Intensive care unit nurses are special types of travel nurses. They consistently have to remain calm and collected under high-pressure situations. Acting fast and efficiently during medical emergencies requires a certain kind of individual. This individual must have tenacity when faced with difficult situations. As an ICU nurse you will subjected to patients with chronic illnesses or injuries who may need to be sent to hospice. Being able to remain empathetic, highly adaptable, and professional during these times is what will make or break you as an ICU nurse.

Since situations change constantly throughout the shift, having critical thinking and multi-tasking skills are imperative. Along with all the above qualities, an ICU nurse must work great on a team as they are intertwined with so many other units throughout the hospital.

ICU Nurses should Obtain These Qualifications:

If you are looking to be a top-notch ICU applicant, you will want at least one year of experience and will need some of the below qualifications.

  • BSN
  • NCLEX-RN
  • NLC (The Nursing Licensure Compact)
  • ACLS (Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support)
  • PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support)
  • BLS (Basic Life Support)
  • CCRN (Adult)

Emergency room (ER) nurse

Emergency room nurses are the types of travel nurses who desire a fast-paced work environment and are often adrenaline junkies. Thriving on organized chaos is their forte. ER nurses provide care to patients who urgently need treatment. These patients often suffer from trauma, injury, or a severe medical event. The main goal of an ER nurse is to identify needs of the patient, stabilize them and help with pain management in a quick manner. ER nurses work in hospitals and work with up to 10 patients per shift.

Emergency room nurses make on average $110,849 per year according to ZipRecruiter. If an ER nurse becomes a travel nurse this will increase their salary to upwards of $168,305 per year. The top states for a high paying ER contract right now are in California, Alabama, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Browse Emergency Room contracts here!

ER Nurses Versus ICU Nurses

These two specialties can often get confused as they both deal with patients who are in urgent need of care. Many of their job duties overlap. The main differences between ER and ICU nurses are their work environment and the qualities of the individuals working in these specialties.

ER Versus ICU Work Environment

Emergency Room Nurses: These nurses treat patients with spontaneous acute injuries or medical conditions. This could be broken bones, heart attacks, or an onset of severe pain. Typically ER nurses see up to 10 patients per shift depending on the severity of patients.

ICU Nurses: These nurses provide care for patients with ongoing life-threatening medical conditions. Their stays in the ICU are often planned as they recover from surgery, or get admitted from the ER once the ER stabilizes them. Since these patients need more attention an ICU nurse typically will work with two patients during a shift.

Qualities of ER nurses Versus ICU nurses

Emergency Room Nurses: ER nurses thrive on chaos and adrenaline. They strive when forced to adapt and make quick decisions. They also have the ability to remain calm and collected under pressure.

ICU Room Nurses: ICU Nurses are typically “Type A” individuals. They are organized and thrive when they have a detailed and meticulous care plan. They are detail-oriented and multi-task well.

Responsibilities of An Emergency Room (ER) Nurse

The responsibilities of an ER nurse are focused on the timely care of their patients. Below are some of the job duties of an ER nurse:

  • Triage incoming patients
  • Start IVs
  • Administer medication as prescribed by the doctor
  • Stabilize patients
  • Give stitches and sutures
  • Clean wounds
  • Reset bones
  • Assist doctor with minor medical operations
  • Draw blood for testing

Qualities of an ER Nurse

Emergency Room Nurses are special types of travel nurses. They are the the adrenaline junkies of the other specialties. While the emergency department is not always crazy and hectic, it definitely can be. When shifts and patients become chaotic it is important to have a calm demeanor but be able to amp it up to establish care in a quick and efficient way. ER nurses also work long and active shifts, being able to physically maintain stamina is important. As you can imagine, emotions run high during traumatic incidents. Being assertive and staying unaffected through a highly emotional environment is crucial to doing your job effectively.

ER Nurses should Obtain These Qualifications:

To stay competitive in the travel nursing realm it is required to have at least one year of ER experience within the last two years. Obtaining the below qualifications will help you lock in your next travel nurse contract.

  • BSN
  • NCLEX-RN
  • NLC (The Nursing Licensure Compact)
  • CEN – Certified Emergency Nurse
  • TCRN – Trauma Certified Registered Nurse
  • CPEN (Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse)
  • ALS (Advanced Life Support)
  • BLS (Basic Life Support)

Step-Down Nurse

Step-down RNs also are called progressive nurses, telemetry, or transitional care nurses. A step-down nurse provides transitional care for patients who are too sick to be admitted to a medsurg floor but not sick enough to remain in the ICU. As a step-down nurse you care for a variety of patients: elderly, cardiac and neuro patients, chronically ill, and any patient that still requires a great deal of monitoring. You have a higher patient-to-staff ratio when working in step-down than in the ICU. You still will have to perform life-saving procedures and will have to act fast in high-pressure situations.

A step-down nurse makes an average salary of $116,314 per year according to ZipRecruiter. If you add travel nursing into the mix your salary will increase, especially if you travel to high paying states. Each progressive care unit operates differently, making it challenging for travelers to bounce from facility to facility and learn new protocols everytime. California is by far the highest paying state for step-down nurses. San Mateo, CA is currently average $142,274 per year.

Check out our nationwide travel nursing jobs for step-down nurses here!

Responsibilities of A Step-Down Nurse

A step-down nurse’s responsibilities include the below duties:

  • Responding to “Code Blue” alerts
  • Monitoring patients and checking their status daily
  • Using IVs, catheters, syringe pumps, feeding tubes, ventilators, and other life-saving medical equipment
  • Monitoring EKG
  • Acting as the advocate for the patient and the family

Qualities of a Step-Down Nurse

A step-down nurse deals with a wide range of patients with differing conditions. Therefore a successful step-down nurse has to be versatile and adaptable. You may have one patient on a ventilator and another one may needs EKG testing. Having strong knowledge of medical equipment and medical terminology to successfully treat the wide range of patients is important. This work environment is fast-paced and poses both emotional and physical demands, especially when giving life-saving emergency care. Being able to stay organized and multi-task in high pressure situations is important to being a successful step-down RN.

Step-Down Nurses should Obtain These Qualifications:

To be a standout step-down travel nurse you’ll want a great travel nurse resume. You’ll also need to at least one year of experience within the last two years as a step-down nurse and experience with acute care and ventilators are a plus. Finally, you’ll want to have the right certifications! The recommended certifications for a step-down nurse are below.

Pediatrics (PEDS) Nurse

A pediatric nurse specializes in working with babies, toddlers, tweens, and teens. They normally work with one patient from when they are a baby all the way up until they are a teenager. This provides great satisfaction to most nurses knowing they can establish strong relationships with their clients. Unlike other types of travel nurses who only work in hospitals, PEDS RNs work in a variety of facilities. They can work in private practices, schools, hospitals, and clinics.

Pediatric nurses make on average $53,209 per year according to ZipRecruiter. If you are a PEDs nurse that starts travel nursing you will make on average $137,765 per year. The best states to work in for high paying pediatric travel nurse contracts are Washington, New York, California, Idaho, and New Hampshire.

Responsibilities of A Pediatric (PEDS) Nurse

Responsibilities of a PEDs nurse can vary depending on the type of facility you work at. One thing that remains consistent is working with children and adolescence. Here are some typical job duties of a pediatric nurse.

  • Administering shots, boosters, and vaccines
  • Tracking growth and looking for abnormal changes and developments
  • Monitoring and documenting vitals
  • Evaluating children for signs of abuse
  • Making children comfortable in a medical environment
  • Communicating with the parents of the children

Qualities of a Pediatric Nurse

Being a pediatric nurse is a different experience from other types of travel nurses. Some nurses love the elderly population, others love the fast pace of the ER, and pediatric nurses thrive around children and adolescence! Having your main population under the age of 18 means you will have to have an abundance of patience, kindness, and playfulness. When giving exams, especially in the early years, it is important to make it fun for the child. Also being able to easily distract the child during exams and shots is a great quality to have. Overall the main quality a pediatric nurse should have is relationship building, as you will begin working with an infant or toddler and continue working with them until they are a teenager.

PEDs Nurses should Obtain These Qualifications:

To distinguish yourself as a pediatric nurse in the travel nursing arena, you will want to have at least one year of experience within the last two years. You will also want these certifications as a PEDs nurse!

  • BSN
  • NCLEX-RN
  • NLC (The Nursing Licensure Compact)
  • PED-BC (Pediatric Nursing Certification)
  • CPN ( Certified Pediatric Nurse)

Long Term Care (LTC) Nurse

Long term care nurses are the types of travel nurses who are old souls and adore the elderly population. LTC nurses work with patients who require extended care and help them in accomplishing daily tasks. They normally work in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, or assisted living facilities. This is a different pace then working in a hospital like other types of travel nurses. Their core team is comprised of not only doctors, CNAs, and other nurses but also case managers, social workers, and case managers.

On average, LTC nurses make about $80,912 per year according to ZipRecruiter. Travel nursing is a great way to make more money and have a flexible schedule. Many LTC nurses opt to take local travel contracts which allows them to stay in the local area but still make travel nurse money.

Ask us about our LTC opportunities in Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, and Iowa! We have both local contracts and per diem opportunities.

Responsibilities of A Long Term Care (LTC) Nurse

A long term care nurse’s responsibilities revolve around the care of their elderly patients. This can range depending on the level of care the patient needs and the type of facility the LTC nurse works at. Below are some typical job duties of a long term care nurse.

  • Administer prescribed medication
  • Assist patients with daily tasks like dressing and personal hygiene
  • Work with patient care team to develop and implement care plans
  • Offer emotional support
  • Monitor vitals and record patient status

Qualities of a Long Term Care Nurse

Long term care nurses are different types of travel nurses. These nurses normally stay in their local areas and pick up per diem shifts or take local contracts. This could be due to forming great relationships with patients. LTC nurses are both in charge of the physical well-being of patients, but also the emotional care. Some patients don’t have a great family support system, so some nurses become like family to these individuals. Being empathetic, compassionate, and attentive is important to successful patient care.

LTC Nurses should Obtain These Qualifications:

LTC nurses who want to be an attractive candidate should have specialties in long term care, wound care, and geriatrics. Having at least one year of experience within the last two years in the LTC field as a registered nurse is preferred. Other qualifications are listed below:


As you can see there are many types of travel nurses in the field! Choosing the perfect specialty for you, getting great experience, and gaining relevant certifications is crucial to a happy and long nursing career. Becoming a travel nurse allows you to travel across the nation, get higher pay, and access a flexible schedule. What are you waiting for?! Take the dive into travel nursing. See what travel nursing opportunities we have available!

Also read our other articles about travel nursing!

Travel Nurse Salary
Travel Nurse Housing
How To Become A Travel Nurse
Travel Nurse Licensing
Travel Nurse Resumé
Local Travel Nursing
Travel Nurse Taxes
Best Travel Nurse Apps
Travel Nurse Podcasts
Travel Nurse Insurance

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