travel nicu nurse salary

How to Make a Lucrative Salary as a Travel NICU Nurse

May Baker
January 8, 2024

As a travel neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, you can care for newborns and explore new places and cultures while earning a salary that reflects your expertise and experience. Working in the NICU is one of the most desired specialties by travel nurses. It’s also a field in high demand across the country, with pay rates to prove it. Where can you make the most as a travel NICU nurse, and what factors influence your income?      

This article will cover the following:

  • What is a travel NICU nurse
  • The average travel NICU nurse salary
  • Factors influencing a travel NICU nurse’s salary

Children’s hospitals are a common place of employment where nurses can expect to work with fragile infants, though NICU nurses are also found in surgical settings and as flight/transport nurses.

Since the NICU nursing job market is growing, it’s the perfect career for someone passionate about caring for babies and with excellent observation and communication skills — both of which can be used to negotiate a higher salary.  

What is a Travel NICU Nurse?

A travel NICU nurse works with critically ill newborns and young infants. Some of their job duties include:  

  • Care for premature infants with significant illnesses in a hospital setting  
  • Monitor and evaluate the progress of the infants in the NICU by using incubators, ventilators, monitors, etc.  
  • Administer medications, nutrition, and treatments as prescribed
  • Work with the families of infants to educate them on their child’s condition and provide emotional support  
  • Maintain up-to-date records and documentation of patient care  

What is The Average Travel NICU Nurse Salary?

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for registered nurses is $77,600 per year as of 2021. However, this is the average for a permanent position and does not designate a specialty. According to ZipRecruiter, the 2023 average salary for a travel NICU nurse is $173,017, or $83 per hour — a significant salary increase for travel positions.  

Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 highest-paying cities for a travel NICU nurse:

City and State Yearly Salary
Green River, WY $215,114
Richmond, CA $207,770
Stamford, CT $205,255
Bellevue, WA $202,847
Belgrade, MT $202,200
Santa Clara, CA $199,139
San Francisco, CA $195,008
Elk Grove, CA $194,661
Hartford, CT $194,419
Pasadena, CA $192,709
Information accurate as of 5/21/2023

A NICU nurse in a permanent setting makes, on average, $129,142 per year or $62 per hour. Permanent positions tend to make less than travel positions because they don’t require relocation and stipends for housing accommodations. Still, travel NICU nurses have the opportunity to make an extra $40,000 or more per year. If you’re interested in banking top rates in sunny California, here’s everything you need to know about housing in The Golden State.

What Factors Influence a Travel NICU Nurse’s Salary?

While exploring opportunities for a travel NICU nurse role, it’s essential to consider the different factors that impact your salary. Being well-informed about what employers are looking for and a typical salary for your desired role will help you effectively navigate the travel healthcare job market.  

Job Title & Type  

Job titles can affect your pay. However, there aren’t many alternate names for a travel NICU nurse because the position is only specific to the NICU department in a hospital. Some facilities may require more advanced professionals capable of working at a higher level of care.  

  • Level II NICU nurses provide basic care to sick newborns aged 32 weeks or older.
  • Level III NICU nurses work with more critically ill and premature babies, who may require ventilation and specialty care.
  • Level IV NICU nurses care for babies with significant congenital disabilities or illnesses who may require surgery or ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation). Level IV NICU settings aren’t available at all hospitals, and babies who need this level of support may require transport to another facility.  

Job Growth  

According to Zippia, neonatal nurse job growth is expected to increase by 12% through 2028. Salaries continue to trend upwards as the average annual salary in 2008 was $51,166 and is now $71,497 in 2023.  

Place of Employment  

When working in a hospital, travel NICU nurses are often needed the most in emergency departments or the neonatal intensive care unit.  

Some travel contracts are available internationally, usually in areas with high infant mortality rates. The specialized training travel NICU nurses possess makes them an invaluable asset to rural and third-world communities that may not have access to high-quality infant medical care.

Salaries for each location vary, depending on the need and budget a facility can allocate to staffing nurses.  

Education, Experience, Training, and Certification  

Some employers will accept an Associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN), but most specialized jobs, like a travel NICU nurse, require a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN).  

Experience also plays a role in how much you get paid. Hands-on experience with such a vulnerable patient population is one of the best forms of education for care providers – and employers know this. Most will expect at least 2-3 years of NICU experience for a travel position, though one year is the minimum requirement. Expect pay rates to correlate with your years of experience.

Certification isn’t necessary as long as you have your nursing license and the appropriate experience. However, it can be helpful if you want to work within a specialized area of NICU nursing. The RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RCN-NIC) is a popular option. Another is the American Association of Critical Care Nurses certification geared toward nurses working with critically ill newborns and infants in a variety of settings.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some benefits of becoming a travel NICU nurse?

  • You have more control over your schedule.  
  • You can travel to different locations while pursuing a career you love.  
  • You’ll have more opportunities for higher pay.  
  • You receive stipends for basic living expenses.  

How do I become a travel NICU nurse?

Becoming a travel nurse involves obtaining a degree in nursing (either a Bachelor’s or an Associate’s degree) and passing a state licensure exam. You must then complete at least a minimum of one year of on-the-job experience.

What is the average travel NICU nurse salary?

The average travel NICU nurse’s salary is $173,017 annually.  

Explore Advantis Medical’s Travel Nicu Jobs for NICU nurse assignments nationwide from 8-13 weeks. Log into the Advantis Connect portal to get started in less than a week!

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