Exploring the World of Step-Down Travel Nurse Jobs - TNS 987839088534212 [9:30 AM] Katie Iglewski

If you’re a step-down nurse, you understand the profound impact you have on patients in your hospital. 

If you crave a fresh adventure and a chance to explore the nation while utilizing your professional nursing skills, step-down travel nursing could be for you. 

This article delves deep into the world of step-down travel nursing, uncovering the prerequisites, responsibilities, compensation, and more. 

Whether you’re embarking on your nursing journey or seeking a thrilling change, this article will help you discover the dynamic life of a step-down travel nurse.


Table of Contents


What Is a Step-Down Travel Nurse?

A step-down travel nurse is a registered nurse who works in a step-down unit. Step-down units are a type of hospital unit that provides care for patients who are no longer in need of intensive care but who are not yet ready to be discharged home. <h2

Patients in step-down units typically have a variety of serious medical conditions, including heart failure, respiratory failure, or post-surgical complications.

Step-down travel nurses provide a variety of care to patients in step-down units on limited contracts around the country.


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What Does a Travel Nurse in Step-Down Do?

The duties of a step-down travel nurse vary depending on the specific unit and the needs of the patients. Common travel nurse step-down duties include: 

  • Performing assessments
  • Administering medications
  • Monitoring vital signs
  • Providing patient education
  • Working closely with other members of the healthcare team

Step-down units often have patients with serious complications or who are recovering from intensive procedures, such as: 

  • Respiratory failure 
  • Strokes or heart attacks
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Pulmonary hypertension 
  • Lung and heart transplants
  • And more

Since the step-down unit is just a “step down” from the ICU, you will be dealing with a variety of conditions and patients needing intensive care. 


How To Become a Travel Nurse in Step-Down 

If you are interested in becoming a step-down travel nurse, there are a few steps you need to take:

  • Become a registered nurse. Becoming a travel nurse in step-down requires earning a nursing degree. You can earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). 
  • Pass the NCLEX: Once you have earned your degree, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
  • Gain experience: Once you are a registered nurse, you will need to gain experience in a step-down unit. This experience will give you the skills and knowledge you need to be successful as a travel nurse. Most travel nursing agencies require at least one year of experience in a step-down unit.
  • Get certified as a PCCN: Becoming certified as a progressive care certified nurse (PCCN) can make you a more competitive candidate for travel nursing jobs. The PCCN certification is a nationally recognized certification that demonstrates your expertise in progressive care nursing. To become certified, you will need to have at least 1,750 hours of experience in a step-down unit and pass the PCCN exam.
  • Find a travel nursing agency. Once you have met the requirements to become a travel nurse, you can start looking for a travel nursing agency. Check out Trusted Nurse Staffing to learn more about your options.


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FAQs About Step-Down Travel Nursing


How Long Are Contracts for Step-Down Travel Nurse Jobs?

Contracts for step-down travel nurse jobs are typically 13 weeks long. However, some assignments may shorter or longer.

Some travel nurses will travel for upwards of a year or more with successive contracts in different locations.


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Who Is the Optimal Candidate for Step-Down Travel Nurse Jobs?


Excellent Communication Skills

Clear communication is vital as step-down travel nurses are constantly providing information and working to understand the needs of patients, families, and their colleagues. 

A step-down travel nurse must be able to clearly and concisely explain medical information, answer questions, and address concerns. They also need to be able to listen actively and build rapport with the people they come into contact with.


Strong Medical Knowledge

Step-down travel nurses need to have a deep understanding of medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology. They also should be up-to-date on the latest medical advances. 

This knowledge allows them to provide safe and effective care to patients.



Empathy is key when working with patients who are often experiencing physical and emotional pain. 

Step-down travel nurses need to be able to empathize with patients and families and provide them with emotional support. They also need to be able to handle difficult situations with compassion and professionalism.


Highly Organized

A step-down travel nurse should be organized, as the role often requires managing multiple tasks simultaneously. They must be able to:

  • Prioritize tasks
  • Stay on schedule
  • Meet deadlines 
  • Keep track of patient information 
  • Administer patient medications


Where Are Step-Down Travel Nurses Typically Placed?


The Top 10 Cities for Step-Down Travel Nurse Jobs

Step-down travel nurses can be placed in hospitals all over the country. A 2023 study determined that these 10 cities offer the best pay for travel nurses: 

  1. Santa Clara, CA
    • Average annual salary: $145,914 
    • Average hourly rate: $70.15 
  2. San Francisco, CA
    • Average annual salary: $140,854
    • Average hourly rate: $67.72
  3. Fremont, CA
    • Average annual salary: $137,691
    • Average hourly rate: $66.20
  4. Marysville, WA
    • Average annual salary: $136,989
    • Average hourly rate: $65.86
  5. San Jose, CA
    • Average annual salary: $133,184
    • Average hourly rate: $64.03
  6. Jackson, WY
    • Average annual salary: $132,198
    • Average hourly rate: $63.56
  7. Oakland, CA
    • Average annual salary: $131,914
    • Average hourly rate: $63.42
  8. Diamond Ridge, AK
    • Average annual salary: $131,643
    • Average hourly rate: $63.29
  9. Alexandria, VA
    • Average annual salary: $131,021
    • Average hourly rate: $62.99
  10. Sunnyvale, CA
    • Average annual salary: $130,096
    • Average hourly rate: $62.46


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How Much Is a Typical Step-Down Travel Nurse Salary?

According to the same study above, the typical salary for a travel nurse is $118,400 per year. However, salaries can vary depending on the:

  • Specific unit
  • Location
  • Nurse’s experience

The national average salary for a non-traveling step-down nurse is $82,631 per year (depending on experience and the specific unit), so traveling may offer an opportunity to increase your salary while traveling the country.


What Are the Benefits of Step-Down Travel Nurse Jobs?


Work With a Wide Variety of Patients

One of the key benefits of working as a step-down travel nurse is the opportunity to work with a wide variety of patients. 

As a step-down nurse, you will care for individuals who are transitioning from intensive care units (ICUs) to general medical-surgical units. This exposure allows you to gain valuable experience in treating patients with complex medical conditions, including:

  • Surgical recovery
  • Cardiac issues
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Other acute illnesses 

Working with diverse patient populations can help enhance your clinical skills and broaden your knowledge base, making you a more well-rounded and adaptable healthcare professional.


Small Patient-To-Nurse Ratio

Step-down units typically maintain a smaller patient-to-nurse ratio compared to intensive care units. 

This means that as a step-down travel nurse, you will have the opportunity to provide more individualized and attentive care to your patients. With fewer patients to care for, you can dedicate more time and attention to each individual, ensuring their needs are met and promoting optimal patient outcomes. 

The smaller patient-to-nurse ratio also allows for closer monitoring and better coordination with the interdisciplinary healthcare team, fostering a collaborative and comprehensive approach to patient care.


Strong Sense of Teamwork

In step-down travel nursing, teamwork is a vital component of providing high-quality patient care. Step-down units often emphasize collaboration and communication among healthcare professionals, creating a strong sense of teamwork. 

As a step-down travel nurse, you will work closely with physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals to develop and implement patient care plans. 

This multidisciplinary collaboration not only enhances patient outcomes but also provides opportunities for professional growth and learning from experienced colleagues. 

The supportive and collaborative environment in step-down units promotes a sense of camaraderie and shared responsibility, which can be highly rewarding and satisfying for travel nurses seeking a supportive work culture.


What Are the Drawbacks of Step-Down Travel Nurse Jobs?


Demanding Shifts

Working in a step-down unit can involve demanding shifts due to the acuity of the patients’ conditions and the complexity of their care. 

Nurses in step-down units often have to closely monitor patients’ vital signs, administer medications, perform procedures, and respond promptly to any changes in their condition. 

The nature of the work may require long shifts — including nights, weekends, and holidays — to ensure continuous and comprehensive patient care. This can lead to physical and mental fatigue, potentially affecting work-life balance and overall well-being.

Step-down travel nurses need to prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy work schedule to manage the demands of the job effectively.


Little Patient Interaction

In step-down units, patients often require intensive medical interventions and may be in critical conditions that limit their ability to interact. This can result in less direct patient interaction compared to other nursing specialties. 

Patients may be on mechanical ventilation, have tracheostomies, or be in comatose states, which can limit communication and interpersonal interactions. 

It’s important for nurses who value frequent patient interaction to consider this aspect when pursuing step-down travel nurse jobs.


Let the Team at Trusted Nurse Staffing Help You Find the Step-Down Travel Nurse Job That’s Right for You

If you’re a nurse seeking new challenges, professional growth, and the opportunity to explore different healthcare settings, step-down travel nursing can be an exciting career path. 

The benefits of working with a wide variety of patients, enjoying smaller patient-to-nurse ratios, and experiencing a strong sense of teamwork make step-down travel nurse jobs highly rewarding.

Trusted Nurse Staffing understands the unique needs and preferences of travel nurses.

Our dedicated team of professionals can assist you in finding the step-down travel nurse job that aligns with your skills, interests, and desired work-life balance. 

Whether you’re a seasoned travel nurse or considering stepping into the world of travel nursing for the first time, Trusted Nurse Staffing can provide the guidance and support you need. 

Find available positions on Pronto today!


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