PICU Travel Nurse Jobs: What to Expect During a PICU Assignment

Are you a new nurse interested in a career as a pediatric ICU travel nurse? Or are you an experienced nurse looking to expand your skills before diving into pediatric ICU travel nursing? Remember, you’ll need two years of recent, hospital experience in order to take a job as a travel pediatric intensive care nurse. Read on and then check out our board full of travel nurse jobs and connect with a Triage recruiter to get started.  

What Exactly Is the PICU?

While most people have probably heard of the NICU, the PICU is less well-known. Nurses who work in the NICU care for babies who need extra medical attention, but PICU nurses care for some of the sickest toddlers, children and adolescents. Kids there require round-the-clock care that’s individual, which means that many PICU nurses have one or two patients during their shift.  

The kids in the PICU could be there for a number of reasons. They might have just had surgery, have issues with their lungs or their breath (including RSV and other respiratory illnesses), had a severe injury or infection or complications from cancer. Most kids have brief stays in the PICU and fewer than five percent of kids stay there more than 12 days.  

What Are the Travel Pediatric ICU Nurse Requirements? 

So you know what the PICU is, now, how do you become a PICU nurse? Obviously, you’ll need your RN license, which means going through nursing school and passing the NCLEX test. Many PICU nurses start out in a different area of the hospital, such as med-surg. To work as a PICU nurse though, you’ll need your Basic Life Saving, Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support and Neonatal Resuscitation Program certifications. The Pediatric Advanced Life Support certification is also a good idea and may be required for some positions.  

Certifications and experience aside, PICU nurses need to be able to work in high-stress, fast paced environments, under an incredible amount of stress and scrutiny. Their patients are children, which means they’re often also dealing with parents who are experiencing the worst moments of their lives. PICU nurses need to be compassionate and provide emotional support, but still able to detach at the end of the day so they don’t carry that heavy load once they’re done with work. It’s important for PICU nurses to take care of themselves. Not unlike what they say on an airplane—PICU nurses need to care for themselves so they can take care of others at work.  

Can ICU nurses work PICU? It’s a valid question, but the answer is not without experience in the PICU. Children have different needs than adults so you can’t just dive into a PICU position without training. One of the biggest differences between the two though is how to communicate with children. Although you’ll often be talking with parents, you’ll also need to be able to work with kids and help them through scary medical procedures.  

Patients and Floating 

Patients in the PICU can be there for a number of reasons and PICU nurses need to be able to handle a variety of medical concerns, including: 

  • Respiratory failure 
  • Respiratory distress 
  • Chest tubes 
  • Nasal CPAP 
  • Pulmonary Edema 
  • Covid 
  • Invasive surgery 
  • GI and renal disorders 
  • Cardiovascular disease/disorder 
  • Neuro Spine Injury 
  • Congenital Anomalies 
  • Severe Infection 
  • Physical Trauma 

Because of this vast list of responsibilities, it’s possible for PICU nurses to be floated to PCU or stepdown units.  

How Much Is a PICU Travel Nurse Salary, Per Hour? 

Salary and job outlook wise, things look good for PICU nurses. The career field is expected to grow 6% between now and 2031, which means job openings will increase. Staff PICU nurses can expect to earn an average rate of $94,000, but this is entirely dependent on what state you live in. Nurses in Missouri average around $70,000, $76,000 in Texas and $112,000 in California.  

A travel pediatric nurse salary can also vary quite a bit. Unlike a staff nurse salary, travel pediatric intensive care nurse salary in the USA can vary by season, as well as location. When winter hits, so does RSV season which almost always increases the need for travelers.  

Currently (as of January 2023, but these numbers can change rapidly), travelers in the PICU can earn up to $5000 each week, but actual rates can start at $2000. Before you take an assignment, check with your recruiter to see if the salary meets your needs, but also don’t forget about the difference cost of living can make. A high cost of living location with a $4500 rate can work out to be about the same salary as a $3000 rate in a low cost of living location. If you still want to check out an assignment in the higher cost of living area, that’s fine, but it’s important that you have all the information to make the right decision. 

Because nurse practitioners go through extra training, a travel PICU nurse practitioner salary can be higher. However, there are likely not as many jobs available so if you’re looking for one, you may have be very patient or flexible with your job requirements.   

When comparing travel PICU vs NICU salary, you may notice some small differences. Because the NICU sees only babies, while the PICU sees toddlers through adolescents, PICU nurses may have higher rates and more opportunities.  

The best thing to do if you’re looking for a PICU travel job is to talk to a Triage recruiter. Triage recruiters work tirelessly to find our travelers the right assignment, but won’t tell you what you want to hear just to get you to sign on the dotted line. If that gig near the ocean isn’t a day at the beach, they’ll tell you and hustle like hell to get you an assignment that checks as many boxes as you want.  

To find a travel PICU job, check out our travel nurse jobs board today.