NICU Travel Nursing: A Day in the Life of a Travel NICU Nurse

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By Hannah Quirk

July 13, 2021



A Day in the Life of a Travel NICU Nurse

When I was in nursing school, I remember when I first discovered my passion for caring for babies. I was at a clinical in Pittsburgh, PA, at the women’s hospital, and I knew that NICU nursing was for me. It is all I have ever done since graduating from Duquesne University in 2016. I thought I had found my dream job, but then I began hearing about travel nursing. What if you can still be a NICU nurse and help families and their babies, but also travel all over the country and explore on your days off? I was sold. 

What does NICU stand for?

A lot of people ask me, “What does NICU stand for?” NICU is the neonatal intensive care unit. I have also had people ask me, “So do you like, change diapers all day?” The answer to that is yes, but being a NICU nurse is so much more than changing diapers. In the NICU, we see babies who are born at 23 weeks of gestation to about 40 weeks of gestation. Babies can stay in the NICU for a few days, weeks, months, or even years. We commonly see babies who are there for prematurity, which is often accompanied by many other complications. Babies who are not premature can also come to the NICU. Some of the most common diagnoses seen in the NICU include sepsis or infection, respiratory distress, heart defects, hypoglycemia, and other blood sugar imbalances, poor feeding, genetic disorders, and many others. The babies that I have taken care of come in all different shapes and sizes. I have taken care of a one-pound newborn baby, and I have taken care of a thirteen-pound newborn baby. 

Typical NICU assignment

A typical assignment for a NICU nurse can be anywhere from one to three patients, depending on their acuity. A NICU nurse is responsible for taking and recording all vital signs, monitoring the patients for any sudden changes, feedings, mixing milk and formula, administering medication, starting and maintaining IVs, changing out IV fluids, performing blood draws, educating family members, helping new mothers learn to breastfeed, being a patient advocate, and yes, changing diapers. Oh, and of course finding time to chart on your patients!

Each hospital is unique

I have been travel nursing since 2018, and I have taken six different assignments. Each hospital has been unique, with different policies and procedures, but the basics of NICU care have remained the same. Once you sign a travel contract, you have to complete the requirements as you would for any job. Some of the requirements include submitting your vaccination records, providing proof of a recent negative TB test, providing proof of a negative drug test, providing proof of any certifications such as NRP, and completing any modules or competencies that the specific hospital requires. It is usually a whirlwind getting everything completed, but you are never alone, and your agency will help you through it. Once you get to the hospital, you typically have one day of hospital orientation, including training on the hospital’s charting system. Then you typically get two days on the unit to learn where everything is and how they do things. 

Before you become a travel nurse, you should be confident in your skillset, be open to learning new ways of doing things, ask questions if you do not know something, be flexible, be adaptable, and be helpful. So far, as a travel nurse, I have worked both days and nights. I have worked many weekends. I have not gotten my first pick of my schedule. I have been floated to other units (including adults during COVID). And I have had many busy assignments. It is not always as glamorous as social media can sometimes make it out to be. However, it is so worth it! I have learned so much over the past three years. I have learned new skills, been exposed to many different cultures, worked with many different people and personalities, learned to speak up for myself, and learned not to sweat the small things. I have also visited nine new national parks, climbed Half Dome, hiked rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, tasted wine in Napa Valley, lived on the beach, went on a hot air balloon ride in the desert, and experienced more adventure than some people do in a lifetime. If you are interested in becoming a NICU travel nurse, do it! It will be the greatest experience you will ever have.

Are you looking for your next or first NICU travel nurse assignment? Click here to view open NICU travel assignments.

We hope you found this information on a day in the life of a NICU nurse helpful and informative. Keep an eye out for more articles on other travel nurse specialties. Are you a travel nurse who would like to share their story in a day in the life article? Please comment below or email our content department by clicking here.

If you are a new traveler or looking into becoming a Travel Nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step by Step

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