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ICU nursing isn’t for the faint of heart. 

Things get serious quickly — and you can go from discussing weekend plans at the nurses’ station one minute to saving a life the next. 

So, how can you prepare for a demanding, high-stress assignment like the ICU?

We’re glad you asked! 

Whether you’re already on a job or are getting ready to hit the road as a critical care nurse, you won’t want to miss our list of the top 14 ICU travel nursing tips for success in your ICU assignment. 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

14 Tips for Success as an ICU Travel Nurse

#1: Brush Up on ICU Basics

Before you jump into an assignment as an ICU travel nurse, take the time to refresh yourself on the everyday ICU principles you will come across. 

This includes things such as: 

  • Intubation 
  • Ventilators
  • Pressors
  • Paralytics
  • Sedative drips; and 
  • Common disease processes

Having this information fresh in your mind will set you up for success!

 

#2: Memorize Procedures and Equipment

Each department in a hospital has its own unique set of processes and procedures. 

As an ICU nurse, you will need to be familiar with:

  • Specific medical equipment
  • Terminology; and 
  • Standard practices

To help your response times on the floor, consider:

  • Creating a fact sheet you can refer to while on the floor. This can include the first available point of contact and direct lines for closely related departments.
  • Storing resource guides in your nursing bag to keep procedures right at your fingertips. 

 

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#3: Get Your ACLS and PALS

Consider expanding your intensive care nursing expertise by obtaining your:

  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) – Enables you to provide life-saving care to children and infants by teaching:
    • Treatment of infants and children at risk for cardiopulmonary arrest
    • Pediatric assessment
    • Effective respiratory management
    • Defibrillation
    • Synchronized cardioversion
    • Fluid bolus administration
    • And more
  • Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) – Teaches you to handle the urgent and emergent treatment of life-threatening cardiovascular conditions through: 
    • Effective chest compressions
    • Use of a bag-mask device
    • Use of an AED
    • Recognition and early management of cardiac and respiratory arrest
    • Recognition and early management of peri-arrest conditions
    • Airway management
    • Related pharmacology
    • And more

 

#4: Obtain Specialized Certifications and Licenses

ICU protocols are forever changing, and expanding your nursing knowledge is a necessity. 

Consider obtaining one or more additional ICU certifications, such as: 

  • CCRN – Critical Care Registered Nurse 
  • TCRN – Trauma Certified Registered Nurse 
  • TNS – Trauma Nurse Specialist
  • TCAR – Trauma Care After Resuscitation

 

#5: Understand How Much You Don’t Know

You know the nurse who always thinks they know it all, and if something isn’t done their way, it surely must be wrong? Don’t be that nurse. 

The ICU is changing minute by minute, and there are bound to be protocols or procedures you don’t know. 

Be teachable and acknowledge your lack of understanding. 

When you are willing to keep your mind open and let the knowledge flow in, you’ll be the best ICU nurse you can be!

 

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#6: Be Patient With Yourself

“Have patience with all things, but first of all with yourself.” — Francis de Sales

This is especially true when you are working as an ICU travel nurse. 

The job can be intense, intimidating, and incredibly overwhelming. You’re responsible for talking with providers and families. Patients code and sometimes don’t make it. The stakes are high. 

Give yourself plenty of grace and allow yourself time to adjust to this incredibly complex specialty.

 

#7: Take ICU-Specific Continuing Education Courses

Continuing education (CE) courses give you the latest information about ICU-specific procedures and protocols. While continuing education requirements vary by state, don’t neglect to stay up to date with your profession.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is a great resource for intensive care nurses, and many of their courses can be taken online. 

 

#8: Invest in Quality Equipment

When you are an ICU travel nurse, efficiency is key. 

And one of the best ways to reach peak efficiency is to have the right equipment. This includes purchasing a top-of-the-line:

  • Stethoscope
  • Pair of bandage scissors
  • Penlight
  • And more

Even when you have the best equipment, there’s nothing more annoying than having an item in your hand, setting it down, and then being unable to find it again when you need it. 

That’s why many experienced ICU nurses recommend a nurse utility belt to keep equipment easily accessible. When your equipment is always on your person, you won’t have to worry about misplacing your thermometer or stethoscope.

 

#9: Prioritize Time Management

Time management skills are highly valued in any profession. But it’s particularly vital to have excellent time management skills when you’re a nurse in the ICU. 

After you get the shift’s patient reports, take a few minutes to build out a shift schedule. Break it down hour by hour, prioritizing the tasks you need to complete. Is a patient being discharged? Which patients need medication? 

By creating a visual, you will have a realistic outlook for your rounds. And you will easily see when you’ll need to rely on your team. 

This high level of time management ensures that your patients are receiving the highest standard of care — even when you’re busy with other tasks. 

 

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#10: Learn To Be Assertive

It’s a fact. The ICU — whether it’s other ICU nurses, critical care physicians, or patients themselves — can be an intimidating assignment.

This means you’ve got to know how to confidently stand up for yourself, even in the most nerve-wracking situations.

If this is something you struggle with, take a course on assertiveness or follow these tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to speak up and express your desires.
  • Use “I” statements. 
  • Practice saying “no.”
  • Rehearse common scenarios where you lack confidence.
  • Learn appropriate body language.
  • Keep your emotions in check.

 

#11: Conquer Your Fears

We often want to avoid the things that scare us. But as an intensive care nurse, you don’t have that luxury. Avoidance might help you make it through a shift, but it won’t do you any good in the long run.

You will be required to deal with situations that seem intimidating or scary, and it’s better to lean in and attack them sooner rather than later.

Find the thing that makes you the most nervous — whether it’s talking to doctors or codes and equipment — and come up with a plan to conquer your fear.

 

#12: Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions

Don’t hesitate to ask questions when necessary. 

You don’t remember the right way to document details in a chart? Forget a policy? Feel a little rusty about a specific skill? Ask someone to refresh your memory. 

Asking for help shows your initiative and can go a long way towards establishing your competence as an ICU travel nurse. 

 

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#13: Find a Mentor

There will be shifts when it literally will “take a village” for you to make it through. 

Find someone you look up to, who has more experience or is trained in an ICU specialty you’re working towards, and ask them to be your mentor. 

Make a habit of forming new bonds of mentorship at each new assignment, and you’ll learn and grow in each setting. 

 

#14: Get To Know Your Coworkers

One of the best ways to get into the groove of a new assignment and ease the stress of the ICU is to make friends with the people you work with. 

True, you may only be there for a few weeks, but there’s no reason it has to be a lonely few weeks. 

Reach out with small talk to discover what you have in common. Invite them out for coffee or a movie, or make plans to spend a shared day off together. Coworkers, especially other traveling nurses, can add a fun dimension to this amazing profession. 

And who knows? You may even decide to hit the road together for your next assignment.

 

Trusted Nurse Staffing Can Help You Find the ICU Travel Nurse Assignment That’s Right for You 

Working as an intensive care nurse is an art. And at Trusted Nurse Staffing, our goal is to give you the tools you need to make every new assignment a masterpiece. 

We can help you find the travel nurse contract that fits your lifestyle. Whether that’s a …

  • Traveling assignment
  • Local assignment
  • Permanent placement
  • Temporary-to-permanent placement; or
  • Per diem assignment

… our experienced agents have got you covered. We were even recognized as one of the leading national healthcare staffing companies in 2022.

Contact us today to find the ICU travel nursing assignment that’s right for you!

 

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