Intensive Care Nurse Salary and Career Information

Sep 24, 2019

Intensive care nursing requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

Intensive care nurses, or ICU nurses, are registered nurses that typically have specialized education or training that qualifies them to work with intensive care patients in hospitals. ICU nurses may work with different types of patients needing intensive care, as there are a range of different ICUs in most hospitals.

Essential Information

Intensive care nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who work in the intensive care units (ICUs) of hospitals. Often referred to as critical care nurses, they provide complex care to a variety of patients with serious illnesses or injuries. These nurses usually have more education, training and certification than typical RNs. Completion of a master's degree is not uncommon for nurses seeking to work in ICUs. Certification in the specialty is encouraged, if not required by employers. All registered nurses must be licensed.

Required Education An associate's degree is required to become a registered nurse; those working in ICUs often hold bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees and have completed additional training for work in intensive care
Additional Requirements RN licensure; the Critical Care Nursing Certification (CCRN) is offered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN); advanced certification exams may require a master's or doctoral degree
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 12% for all registered nurses*
Median Salary (2019) $64,541 for nurses working in ICUs**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Salary Information for Intensive Care Nurses

According to, nurses who worked in intensive care units made a median salary of $64,541 as of September, 2019. Most ICU nurses earned between $43,000 - $100,000 a year.

Career Information for Intensive Care Nurses

In most hospitals, intensive care nurses can work in different types of ICUs, such as cardiothoracic, oncology or neurocare. ICU nurses also tend to choose the type of patient they want to work with, including adult, pediatric or neonatal patients.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of RNs was projected to increase at a much faster-than-average rate of 12% between 2018 and 2028. Although the employment of general RNs was expected to rise, the BLS expected particularly high demand for advanced practice RNs.

Training and Certification for Intensive Care Nurses

Because of the difficulty of treating seriously ill or injured patients, hospitals generally require training or continuing education before they allow RNs to work in ICUs. Many hospitals train their own RNs in critical care, using an online program offered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), while others offer critical care fellowship programs. Aspiring ICU nurses also might choose to complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program with a concentration in acute and critical care.

For experienced critical care nurses, the AACN offers the Critical Care Nursing Certification (CCRN). This basic certification exam is open to current, non-restricted RNs and advanced practice RNs who have provided at least 1,750 hours of direct bedside care to critically ill adult, neonatal or pediatric patients in the two years prior to application. The AACN also offers advanced certification exams that require a master's or doctoral degree, in addition to clinical experience.

Licensed registered nurses can pursue further training and certification in pursuit of a career as ICU nurses. Some hospitals train RNs to work in their own ICUs, and many ICU nurses hold master's degrees or specialized certification. ICU nurses care for patients that need higher, more specialized levels of care.

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