How to Become a Crisis Nurse

8 Min Read Published September 18, 2023
Busy nurse in emergency room interacting with medical device

A crisis nurse is a nurse that responds to natural disasters or healthcare emergencies and staffs hard-hit areas. Think New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, and New York City during COVID-19. 

>> Click here to see available high-paying travel nurse opportunities!

Crisis nurses are usually travel nurse positions. These positions open up very quickly, have high pay, and can be anywhere in the country depending on the need. When positions open up, be ready to drop everything and go!

Read on for everything you need to know about becoming a crisis nurse including what qualifications you need, what the career entails, and how much you can make. 

What is a Crisis Nurse?

A crisis nurse is a nurse that accepts a travel crisis contract in an area with an emergent need for increased staff. These are very specific positions that are created to entice nurses to come to a specific area. It is important to be wary when signing these contracts because these nurses are often the first to be canceled because of their high pay. 

These positions are temporary and often short term. Typically, a crisis nurse contract will be 2-6 weeks but could be extended depending on the need. The only way to obtain a crisis travel nurse contract is through one of the 340 travel nurse staffing agencies in the United States. Of the 340 companies, 110 are certified through the Joint Commission. 

Crisis Nurses should be:

  • Flexible
  • Ready to drop everything and go
  • Willing and able to help the hospital and unit in any way possible
  • Supportive of colleagues 

Crisis Nurses will be expected to help in any way possible and this may include floating to other units in the hospital or sister hospitals. Being a team player and ready to jump into action when needed are absolutely necessary to be a crisis nurse. 

>> Click here to see available high-paying travel nurse opportunities!

Crisis Nurse Salary

While the median average registered nurse salary is $81,220 as of 2022, according to the BLS, crisis nurse salaries can be insane depending on the location, healthcare system, and contract. Often, ICU positions will pay more than medical-surgical nurse positions. The “Crisis Rate” assignments are perhaps the most well-known and highest-paid nursing travel positions. 

But it’s VERY important to look at the specific breakdown of pay in a crisis nurse contract. Ask yourself:

  • What is the take-home pay after taxes?
  • What is the base rate? What is the overtime rate?
  • Is quarantine pay included?
  • Is there additional hazard pay?
  • Is there a housing stipend?

Pay for these positions is often non-negotiable and cannot be matched by other companies. Most travel nurse agencies that handle these contracts suggest to not shop around. Sometimes the pay will be slightly different, but often the pay for nurses in a specific city will generally be the same. 

Industry experts suggest that crisis pay rates can be anywhere from 10% to 100% higher than normal travel nurse pay at the same hospital and even more than staff nursing positions. 

These positions often do not include benefits because they are for a finite amount of time and with very strict start dates and end dates. Crisis contracts cannot typically be extended. 

How to Become a Crisis Nurse

To start working as a crisis nurse, you’ll want to complete the following steps.

Step 1: Attend an Accredited Nursing Program

The first step to becoming a crisis nurse is becoming a registered nurse. You can do that through either an ADN or BSN nursing program, just make sure it’s accredited. 

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

The next thing you’ll need to do in order to become a registered nurse is to take and pass the NCLEX examination. This is the certification exam always registered nurses must pass in order to begin working.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Before you start working as a crisis nurse, you'll want to gain at least 2 years of nursing experience. 

Step 4: Earn Advanced Certifications

While there are no specific national nursing certifications for a Crisis Nurse, having advanced RN certifications can make an individual look more desirable to hospitals. During a time of crisis and with limited contracts, this might be the deciding factor on landing a highly coveted position.  There are a plethora of nationally recognized certifications including, 

  • CDN - Certified Dialysis Nurse
  • CHN - Certified Nephrology Professional
  • CMSRN - Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse
  • CNN - Certified Nephrology Nurse
  • CNOR - Certified Nurse Operating Room
  • CPAN - Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse

The most common certifications for Travel Nurses are CPN (Certified Pediatric Nurse), CCRN (Certified Critical Care Nurse), and CEN (Certified Emergency Nurse). See below for additional information about these three certifications.

Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) Certification

The Board of Certification of Emergency Nursing offers the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) for nurses specializing in emergency medicine. In comparison to other certifications, the CEN examination has less eligibility requirements. There are currently more than 34,000 Certified Emergency Nurses. 

Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) Certification

The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (ANCC) offers the Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) national certification. Three exams are offered -  adult, pediatrics, and neonatal. All exams follow similar eligibility criteria and examination guidelines. The difference is in the exam material.

Certified Pediatric Nursing (CPN) Certification

The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) offers the Certified Pediatric Nursing (CPN) certification. According to their website, more than 25,000 nurses currently hold a CPN certification. In order to apply, individuals must meet the following criteria,

  • Current, valid, unrestricted, and unencumbered Registered Nurse license
  • A minimum of 1800 hours of pediatric clinical experience completed within the past 24 months as an RN, or
  • A minimum of 5 years as an RN in pediatric nursing and 3,000 hours in pediatric nursing within the last 5 years with a minimum of 1000 hours within the past 24 months 

Step 5: Apply to Crisis Nursing Positions

When a healthcare emergency or natural disaster strikes – apply to crisis nursing positions through travel nurse staffing agencies.

Step 6: Be Ready to Start at Any Time

Crisis Nursing positions can come around at any time so you have to be ready to drop everything and go at a moment's notice. 

>> Click here to see available high-paying travel nurse opportunities!

What do Crisis Nurses Do?

Crisis nurses are just regular nurses that are working in high pressure, fast-paced areas during a national or statewide medical emergency. Nurses should very carefully read their contract when applying for Crisis Travel Nurse positions. 

Often, these contracts will require nurses to work more than 36 hours a week. Most will be a minimum of 48 to 60 hours but some might be even more. Yes, OT is paid for those additional hours over 40 a week, but just remember the toll it can take on your body. 

You won’t be able to pick your schedule during these positions. Complete flexibility is expected. If you do not have that ability, do not apply for these positions. Often, if a nurse expects or demands a specific schedule they will not be hired. 

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What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Crisis Nurse?

Crisis nurses have the same continuing education requirements as other RNs. This will vary on a state by state basis. There are no specific CEU requirements for a Crisis Nurse.

Often during national emergencies requiring an immediate influx of healthcare workers, the CEU requirements are often not required or delayed. This is so that interested and willing nurses can immediately apply and be approved for these positions. 

Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

Examples of continuing education requirements for RNs are as follows: 

  • Arkansas - 15 contact hours every 2 years
  • Illinois - 20 contact hours every 2 years
  • Florida - 24 contact hours every 2 years
  • Iowa - 36 hours every 2 years
  • Pennsylvania - 30 contact hours every 2 years 

Some states do not require CEUs to maintain an RN license. Examples include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, and Indiana. Several states also require HIV/AIDS education such as New York, Minnesota, and Kentucky. It is important for nurses to check their state’s RN credentialing body for exact CEU requirements.

A detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours can be found here.

What is the Career Outlook for a Crisis Nurse?

Currently, there is no exact data on the expected growth for crisis nurses. However, according to the BLS, there will be a need for an additional 193.1K nurses from 2022 to 2032, which is an expected growth of 6%. With the aging population, this number is expected to be even higher.

Crisis Nurses are utilized specifically during emergencies and crisis situations. It is impossible to determine what the career outlook is for this position, but with the current pandemic and natural weather events such as hurricanes, the need for crisis nurses is crucial. 

Where Can I Learn More About Crisis Nursing?

Crisis Nurse positions fulfill a crucial need during a period of turmoil in a specific location. These nurses walk bravely into the unknown to help their fellow healthcare professionals and patients. Often, the work is hard, the hours long, and the supplies scare but the reward, both monetarily and personally, can be unparalleled. 

>> Click here to see available high-paying travel nurse opportunities!

Crisis Nurse FAQs

  • What Is a Crisis Nurse?

    • A Crisis Nurse is a type of travel nurse, who responds to nursing staffing shortages anywhere in the country during extreme times of need. 
  • What Does a Crisis Nurse Do?

    • Crisis nurses can work in any field but usually work where the highest demand is such as the emergency room, intensive care unit, or medical floors.
  • How Much Does a Crisis Nurse Make?

    • There is no set pay for a crisis nurse. The salaries are generally very high but the work is exhausting. During the recent pandemic, certain agencies were offering $10,000 contracts for Registered Nurses, but those contracts had them working for 14 days straight. 
  •  Is Being a Crisis Nurse Hard?

    • The hours are long, the patients are sick, and the supplies might be sparse for nurses in these positions. Often the physical, emotional, and mental toll on staff is what makes these positions so taxing.

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Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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