Types of Travel Nurses: Find Your Specialty

Pediatrics, operating room, emergency room, intensive care unit, the list goes on and on. There are many different types of travel nurses and so many choices when it comes to picking the area that you want to specialize in that it can become overwhelming. Whether you’re looking for the highest paid travel nurse specialty or maybe you are just plain bored of the same old same old and are looking for a change of pace, we at Triage want to help you. Let us take on some of the load by breaking down the types of travel nurses for you to help make your next 13-week decision a little easier. Remember though, in order to take a travel nurse assignment, you’ll need at least two years in that specialty, so keep that in mind.

There are many things to consider when you are picking out which type of travel nurse specialty you want to do. We recognize that this can be a tough decision and there are probably many questions that you are asking yourself such as “What is the highest paid travel nurse specialty?”, “What are the most in demand travel nurse specialties?”, or maybe you are just wondering “What is going to be the best fit for me?” We have the answer to all these questions and more.

The Highest Paid Travel Nurse Specialty

Money, money, money, it’s what makes the world go round. We recognize that when you sign up to be a travel nurse you are making a big commitment. Thirteen weeks away from home can be a large undertaking. You must first find your new home away from home on top of all the small things from food to furniture and everything in between. We want to make sure that you are getting properly compensated and receiving all the benefits that will make you want to continue travel nursing for the long haul. To help you out in your search we have compiled a list of the highest paid travel nursing specialties.

Another big component and something to consider as a travel nurse is location. While it might look as if the salary on an assignment is out of this world, the cost of living varies greatly by state. For example, if are taking an assignment on the West Coast a lot more of your wages will be going to living expenses versus if you were looking to take an assignment in the Midwest. That is just something a little extra to think about when looking for which location is right for you.

Be aware that just like the seasons, travel nurse wages are always changing. While this list may be correct at the time it is created, several events might cause it to change at any moment. If you find that something we have stated is no longer accurate let us know and we will be sure to update our information with the latest and greatest.

Here is a list of the 10 highest paid travel nurse specialties at the time of publication from the Triage travel nurse jobs board

  • RNFA
  • Clinic RN
  • Med Surg RN
  • Cath Lab RN
  • Home Health RN
  • OR RN
  • Stepdown/PCU RN
  • ICU RN
  • Telemetry RN

Along with the amazing pay that these traveling nurse positions offer, Triage also provides a variety of benefits for their travelers including:

  • Comprehensive medical insurance
  • Comprehensive dental insurance
  • Comprehensive vision insurance
  • Comprehensive life insurance

The day you start your brand-new traveling assignment is the day that your benefits start to apply! No wait times here because we offer Day One benefits.

The Most in Demand Travel Nursing Specialties

Supply and demand, while it’s a big concept in economics, also plays a major role in travel nursing. While often the highest paid specialties will be the most in demand, that is not always the case. One reason that one specialty might be in more demand than another is because of the requirements. Every type of travel nurse specialty comes with its own set of distinct requirements, some more strenuous than others causing nurses to be drawn to certain specialties that have less requirements. This makes it so that other specialties become more in demand.  We want to make things easier for you by giving you a list of five of the most in demand travel nurse specialties and the requirements that come with them.

Just a quick note that there are certain requirements that will be the same across the board for the specialty no matter where your heart decides to take you. However, some of the requirements can differ between state and assignment so make sure to pay extra attention to the details to make sure you meet all the qualifications of a job.

The typical requirements that will be listed on every job description through the Triage travel nurse job search include:

  • At least two or more years of experience
  • Either an Associate of Science or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ASN or BSN)
  • Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • Valid license for that state

1) Operating Room RN

An operating nurse or otherwise referred to as an OR RN doubles as one of the most in demand and highest paid travel nurse specialties. They are responsible for taking care of patients throughout the surgical process and have a variety of tasks to perform. One nice thing about being an operating room RN is that there is typically no floating to other areas of the hospital and three main roles that you can have:

Circulating RNs: The circulating RN works on the boundary of the operating room and assists in surgery preparations, charting throughout the procedure, helping the anesthesiologist, pulling supplies and medications, and anything else the surgeon needs assistance with.

Scrub nurse: The scrub nurse works in the sterile field with their main job being assisting the surgical team with putting on their sterile gowns and gloves. They also hand instruments to the surgical team and assist with anything else they need.

RNFA (RN First Assist): The RNFA are scrub nurses who directly assist with procedure. They do whatever the surgeon needs and can also help suture incisions and apply dressings/bandages/

Some of the types of patients cared for in the OR include:

  • Thoracic
  • Orthopedics
  • General
  • Neuro/Spine
  • Endoscopy
  • Genitourinary/Urology
  • Cardiovascular
  • Oral ENT
  • Plastics (reconstructive and cosmetic)
  • Transplant
  • GYN
  • Ophthalmology ENT
  • Podiatry

2) Emergency Room Nurse

An emergency room nurse or as listed on the Triage job boards ER RN is one of the most fast-paced and unpredictable positions that a nurse can have which is why it is in such high demand. Emergency nurses see a wide variety of patients with a plethora of different issues that can make the job stressful as well as fun and exciting because the situations they are in will constantly be changing. ER RNs typically do not float because they see patients come in with such a variety of problems including allergic reactions, injuries resulting from car accidents, broken bones, COPD, CHF, chest pain, abdominal pains, and other critical health issues. Patients are either treated and released or sent to other areas of the hospital for treatment. Some ERs have a holding area where the patients have been seen and treated and are waiting to transfer to an inpatient unit for admission. Whereas, other ERs have a fast-track area for minor illnesses such as fever, cough, and sore throat. Nurses in this area will have a higher patient ratio.

Some of the types of patients cared for in the emergency room include:

  • Trauma
  • Fractures
  • Auto accidents
  • Farming/industrial accidents
  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • COPD
  • Asthma
  • Mental illness
  • Withdraws
  • Overdose
  • Covid

3) Intensive Care Unit and Critical Care Unit

Intensive care unit nurses (ICU) and critical care unit nurses (CCU) are constantly in high demand due to the intense requirements and because of the job description. ICU RNs use advanced skills to care for critically ill patients with life-threating health problems. Common ICU diagnoses include heart attack, stroke, shock, severe trauma, or respiratory distress, multiple organ failure, sepsis, and other critical conditions. Because of the critical nature of the patients, it is standard that ICU RNs only have one or two patients on a shift. Patients are on very specialized equipment, have multiple medication drips running and require close monitoring. Some of the bigger hospitals have specialty ICUs and that is how assignments will be named under the Triage job board they include:

  • Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU): this area focuses on patients with complex cardiac problems.
  • Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU): care for patients who are not as critically ill as ICU patients, but still require more intensive monitoring.
  • Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU): focus on patients who have recently had major surgery and require ongoing monitoring.
  • Burn Intensive Care Unit: cares for victims from fires, explosions, or chemical burns.
  • Neuro Intensive Care Unit: treats patients who have suffered from brain injuries or neurological disorders.

Unlike other types of travel nurses, intensive care unit nurses float to other intensive care units. They can also float to progressive care units (PCU)/step down unit, telemetry units or emergency room holding areas depending on experience level.

Some of the types of patients cared for in the Intensive care unit include:

  • Transfers from the ER that require close monitoring
  • Life-threatening illness/injury
  • Transfers from inpatient units that have rapidly deteriorated
  • Covid
  • Medical
  • Post-surgical
  • Trauma
  • Burns
  • Cardiac

4) Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse

Pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) nurses along with neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses are in high demand due to the high stress that can come with these positions, however they are both extremely rewarding specialties of travel nursing.

NICU nurses care for newborn babies who need continuous care. There are different levels of NICU and it’s possible that a smaller facility may not be able to care for the sickest infants. Level II NICUs care for babies as early as 32 weeks who may need help breathing on their own, eating and maintaining temperature. Level III NICUs can care for babies as early as 23 weeks and nurses who work in a Level III facility typically have experience with vents, continuous IV drips and central line management. Level IV NICUs care for the most complex, sickest infants and are usually found in large, teaching hospitals.  

PICU nurses care for kids up to 18 years old who have life-threatening or high-acuity conditions. These patients are medically unstable, critically ill or have complex post-surgical issues that require constant monitoring and intervention. PICU nurses spend a lot of time with families and become very involved with a child’s medical case.  

If you’re not currently working with kids, you’ll want to make sure you fully understand that these are not just small adults. Working with kids can come with many different challenges. It can be more difficult to see sick kids, plus you’re often dealing with adults who are experiencing some of the most stressful situations of their lives.  

Some of the types of patients cared for in the pediatric intensive care unit include:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Respiratory distress
  • Syndrome
  • Chest tubes
  • Nasal CPAP
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Covid
  • Invasive surgery
  • GI-Renal disorders
  • Cardiovascular
  • Disease/disorder
  • Neuro/spine injury
  • Congenital anomalies
  • Severe infection
  • Physical Trauma

5) Telemetry Nurse

Although telemetry nurses may not be as in demand as other types of travel nurse specialties on this list, they still serve a major role and are extremely important. Telemetry RNs typically care for patients coming out of the ICU or who have chronic cardiovascular issues. Patients on a telemetry unit are on constant electronic monitoring. Telemetry RNs closely monitor vital signs and heart rhythms, breathing rates, blood pressure, and more. They also record and interpret the data from the monitors and use it to assess a patient’s rate of recovery. Telemetry nurses need to be able to assess and react quickly to patient changes. Some subsets of the telemetry unit can be the stepdown unit, progressive care unit, or the intermediate care unit. They can also float to the med surg unit of the hospital.

Some of the types of patients cared for in the telemetry unit include:

  • Post-surgical
  • Heart attack
  • CHF
  • GI bleeds
  • Renal failure
  • COPD
  • Chest pain
  • Diabetes
  • Advanced cancer
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Post CABG

6) Medical Surgical Nursing

There are plenty of medical surgical jobs on the Triage job board, making it a popular specialty. Typically called med surg, these nurses handle all types of cases. These patients aren’t sick enough for a specialized unit like the ICU or telemetry unit, but they’re not well enough to be cared for at home. Med surg nurses give medications, monitor vital signs, admit and discharge patients, run tests, insert catheters and NG tubes, start IVs and change wound dressings. Usually, med surg is the last step before patients are released to home. Nurses who work in med surg can float to telemetry, if they have their ACLS. 

Patients cared for in the med surg unit: 

  • Post-surgical 
  • Diabetes 
  • Bariatric surgery 
  • Ortho 
  • Detox 
  • Psych 
  • Cancer 
  • Asthma 
  • Emphysema 
  • Heart disease 
  • Covid 

7) Stepdown Progressive Care Unit Nursing

The Progressive Care Unit, also known as PCU or stepdown, is for patients who don’t require the 1:1 care of an ICU, but they do need more care than what’s provided in the med surg floor. PCU patients are stable, but they still need continuous monitoring. They may be on a vent or need complex medications so a typical ratio in the stepdown or PCU is 1:3 or 1:4. Currently there are more than 700 stepdown/PCU jobs in the Triage job board. 

Patients cared for in the PCU/stepdown unit: 

  • Stroke 
  • Cancer 
  • Orthopedic surgery 
  • Severe pneumonia 
  • Sepsis or other serious infection 

8) Labor and Delivery Nursing

Labor and delivery nurses work with families before, during and after the birth of a baby. They’ll monitor and assess the mother and baby and coach the mom through the labor and delivery process. They can also help with epidurals and assist the doctor during delivery. After delivery, they care for the mom, watching for excessive bleeding and pain.  

Labor and delivery nurses also care for the baby immediately after birth, checking their breathing, vitals, blood sugar and more. Some nurses focus on high-risk cases and are assigned cases with mothers who have high-risk factors like diabetes, pre-eclampsia, multiples, prematurity or low birth weight. Labor and delivery nurses who work with high-risk moms try to keep the mothers pregnant as long as possible. Other labor and delivery nurses circulate during C-sections. They’ll help prepare the mom for surgery, help during the procedure and care for the mom afterwards.  

Labor and delivery nurses can expect that they will start IVs and run drips, insert catheters, perform cervical checks and monitor the baby electronically.  

Patients cared for in labor and delivery: 

  • Antepartum (before labor) 
  • Intrapartum (during labor) 
  • Postpartum (after delivery) 
  • Newborns 
  • High-risk OB 
  • C-sections (pre-op and post-op) 

The List of Types of Traveling Nurses is Endless

While this is a thorough list of types of travel nurses. we’d also like to offer you a little extra help by providing you with an advanced search for travel nurse jobs. Through this job search you can filter by specialty, pay, shift type, shift hours, and assignment length. Here is a list of specialties that have job openings available right now through our job search in case we did not already cover a specialty of nursing that is your bread and butter:

  • Case Manager
  • Cardiac Catheterization Lab Nurse
  • CFA
  • Clinic RN
  • Clinical Manager
  • Critical Care Nurse Manager
  • Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit Nurse (CVICU RN)
  • Cardiovascular Operating Room Nurse (CVOR RN)
  • Cardiovascular Surgical Tech (CVOR Tech)
  • Dialysis RN
  • Emergency Department Nurse Manager
  • Emergency Room Nurse (ER RN)
  • Home Health RN
  • Hospice RN
  • House Supervisor
  • Intensive Care Unit Nurse (ICU RN)
  • Med Surg RN
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse (NICU RN)
  • Nurse Manager
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursery RN
  • Oncology RN
  • Operating Room Nurse (OR RN)
  • Operating Room Tech (OR Tech)
  • Post-Anesthesia Care Unit Nurse (PACU RN)
  • Pediatric Emergency Room RN (Peds ER RN)
  • Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU RN)
  • Psychiatric RN
  • Rehab RN
  • Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA)
  • Stepdown/Progressive Care Unit (PCU) Nurse
  • Sterile Processing Tech
  • Surgical Services Nurse Manager
  • Telemetry RN
  • Telemetry Tech
  • Wound Care RN

The Triage advanced search for travel nurse jobs will also show you what jobs are in high demand. We would never want to hide anything from you so be aware that certain specialties might also come with a few extra requirements that will be listed on the job post description to ensure that you do not miss anything. At the end of the day Triage wants to make sure that you find the best specialty of travel nursing for you because we want to make sure that you are getting everything you want and more from an assignment. We have now provided you with all the tools to go out and start searching for your next travel nursing adventure!