I am going to start my first travel assignment soon and see that my specialty (emergency) is not exactly in high demand. I have always wanted to get into ICU. Has anyone changed specialties while travel nursing? Is it even possible without taking a staff position?
You might want to do a search of Allnurses (easier with Google than the built-in search). This subject comes up a good bit and I doubt there is anything new to be said. But in a word or two, difficult and rare.
Perhaps ChrisMMS will weigh in, but travel is having a cyclical low spot for all specialties, probably because of the political uncertainties in healthcare. Even recently hot specialties like OR. It is possible for some ICU specialties to always be in higher demand (higher trained is usually better), but generally I tend to think of ED and ICU as similar demand and pay. ED is a bit more of a bread and butter specialty but because of that has a greater number of location choices.
If you yearn to do ICU, by all means take an appropriate staff job. Otherwise, consider expanding the number of agencies you have a relationship with. Once you complete your first assignment, you will become more valuable and more and better assignments will open up to you. Right now in a down market, you don't have that much street appeal.
When you are trying to switch specialties in a lateral or upward movement it can be very difficult because they are not going to have the appropriate time to train travelers. There are a few cases here and there where you'll see an agency advertise a cross training travel program, but I wouldn't hold my breath for something like that I've seen one the entire time I've been a recruiter. Downward movement in specialties is something that can be easily done in the travel industry because you are "over" qualified for that position and many facilities will gladly take use of your skills. However, keep in mind that doing so will be a semi-permanent career move because to go back into the ED after you've transitioned into the ICU would require you to take 6 months+ of ER positions as a staff/PRN nurse to be eligible to travel as an ED nurse again.
As NedRN has mentioned specialties demand ebb and flow based on the time of year and other factors that I'm unaware of. You are correct that ER has been very dry over the summer, but during the winter last year ER was the highest paying and had the most frequent amount of contracts. Being in the "right" specialty for traveling is more dependent on why you are deciding to travel. If you are looking for the highest paying contracts than being in ER is going to help you accomplish that, but if you are wanting something else than switching to ICU may be better. I wouldn't recommend switching to ICU strictly for the possibility of having more contracts, I would only recommend you switch if you are burnt out on the specialty and are looking for a change of pace. If you currently love working the ER and are just wanting to travel full time then I would look for a recruiter/agency who is committed to that. This is not a feat that is impossible, but it requires a little more work from both parties.
I picked up a Step-down assignment from a med-surg/tele background without having had a staff position in it prior. Learned some cool new things. ED to ICU seems like more of a stretch... but good luck!
The thing about switching specialties is, even if you find one hospital to cross train you, you still need the same 2 years of experience to travel in your new specialty. The next hospital you go to might not be cool with only 13 weeks experience in ICU. Im looking to switch to OR myself. Im L&D. I can't even find a staff hospital to take me in the OR. Everyone wants a year or 2 of experience. I have to take an L&D staff job and wait around for an internal transfer. So switching specialties in general isn't that easy, let alone as a traveler.
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