Intensive Care Unit Nurse Salary Guide

An ICU nurse, also called a critical care nurse, cares for patients requiring life support or around-the-clock monitoring because of serious illnesses or injuries. They assess patients, track vital signs, administer medication, provide wound care, update physicians and respond to medical emergencies. ICU nurses care for fewer patients than nurses in other units to enable close patient monitoring.

How do you become an ICU RN?

ICU nurses are licensed RNs with certifications in intensive care nursing.

Prepare for this rewarding career by earning an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Once you obtain a state nursing license, gain experience caring for critically ill patients.

Some hospitals offer residencies in critical care for new RNs and fellowships for experienced nurses transitioning to intensive care nursing. After acquiring the minimum practice hours and meeting other eligibility requirements, apply for certification as an ICU RN.

What credentials/licensing does an ICU RN require?

Most ICU nurses earn Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). Requirements depend on the specialty you pursue and may include:

AACN certifications are also available for clinical educators, administrators, supervisors, directors and other knowledge professionals working in critical care but not directly with patients. These include:

ICU RNs interested in cardiovascular critical care may want to pursue:

Average Intensive Care Unit Nurse Salary


The average salary for a Intensive Care Unit Nurse is $45.87 per hour. This is 3% higher than the nursing US average of $44.59.

Last updated on April 18, 2024. Based on active jobs on

Salaries for Intensive Care Unit Nurse compared to Registered Nurse National Averages


3% higher than the nursing US average.


United States

Where do Intensive Care Unit Nurses get paid the most?
StateAverage Hourly SalaryMax Hourly Salary
New York$53$74
North Carolina$47$52
South Carolina$41$44
New Hampshire$41$47
What are the highest paying Employers and Agencies for Intensive Care Unit Nurse jobs?

Last updated on April 18, 2024. Information based on active jobs on and pay data from BLS and around the web.

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Intensive Care Unit Nurse Career Guide

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How can you increase your pay as an ICU RN?

You can also earn more in ICU sub-specialties. The average hourly staff rate of $43.53 for neonatal ICU and pediatric ICU nurses was higher than the average critical care RN salary of $41.76, according to Vivian's data sourced on April 2, 2023.

Pursue higher education. RNs who complete education and training to become nurse practitioners earn significantly more. The average salary for a staff critical care or pediatric cardiovascular ICU nurse practitioner was $63.32 per hour, according to Vivian's data on April 2, 2023.

How much does an ICU RN make?

A registered nurse (RN) in the intensive care unit (ICU) averaged $41.77 per hour in staff positions, based on Vivian's salary data from April 2, 2023.

Is ICU RN a growing career?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs for registered nurses to grow 6% from 2021 to 2031, according to its May 2021 data. Demand for ICU nurses is particularly high. A February 2023 article in the Journal of Clinical Nursing noted that the COVID-19 pandemic affected all nurses, but critical care nurses were disproportionately impacted by depression and burnout. It estimated that one-third of ICU nurses worldwide intend to leave their critical care roles, creating a significant need for nurses skilled in this profession.

What types of employers/facilities have the most ICU RNs employed?

Most critical care settings, such as ICU, trauma, emergency, cardiac care and progressive care, are in hospitals. In 2021, 92% of ICU nurses worked in acute care hospitals, according to a survey published in the Critical Care Nurse Journal in October 2022.

Critical care nurses also work in urgent care, outpatient centers and medical transport. BLS doesn't distinguish between nursing specialties but reports the overall distribution of RN jobs in 2021 as follows:

  • Hospitals: 60%

  • Ambulatory healthcare: 18%

  • Nursing and residential care: 6%

  • Government: 6%

  • Educational services: 3%

What states employ the most ICU RNs?

While BLS doesn't separate ICU nursing jobs in its employment data, we can analyze job postings on Vivian to get a sense of the demand for this specialty across the nation.

On April 2, 2023, the states with the most staff ICU RN job postings on Vivian were:

  • Florida

  • Texas

  • Illinois

  • Maryland

  • Virginia

  • Oklahoma

  • New Mexico

  • District of Columbia

  • Georgia

  • Idaho

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Intensive Care Unit Nurse FAQs

What is an ICU RN?

Intensive care unit nurses, also called ICU nurses, work closely with doctors and other healthcare professionals in a critical care nursing role. They typically work in hospital ICUs where seriously ill patients receive specialized care, such as intensive monitoring and advanced life support. ICU RNs must have highly proficient technical nursing skills and be extremely comfortable working in life-or-death situations, which are some factors that impact their salaries.

ICU nurses are registered nurses who specialize in providing critical care to patients with life-threatening illnesses or acute conditions caused by serious injuries. They also may treat post-operative patients requiring intensive care during recovery. ICU nurses may work in numerous types of ICUs, including MICUs, SICUs, PICUs, NICUs, and CVICUs, among others.

Prospective ICU nurses must first complete the educational requirements to take the NCLEX-RN licensure exam to become registered nurses. This requires earning an Associate Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from a nursing program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). However, earning a BSN is becoming a requirement for nurses working in critical care areas like an ICU.

How an ICU RN salary is based

All prospective ICU nurses must already possess their RN license, but no other special licenses are required. On average, ICU nurses are paid a higher salary than nurses in non-critical care settings, but this salary is based on several factors.

Education level is a primary basis for the starting salary of an ICU nurse. Although RNs can enter ICU nursing with an ADN, those with a BSN earn a higher average wage. Plus, BSN-educated nurses tend to rise more quickly in the ranks and pay scale. Of course, ICU RNs with advanced degrees demand an even higher salary than those with BSNs.

Some facilities hire newly graduated RNs without any previous experience or professional certifications and train them in ICU nursing, but the salaries of entry-level nurses without these qualifications will reflect this. Nurses who already possess relevant experience and skills obtained through years on the job and specialty certifications will see a higher salary base.

Key certifications for ICU nurses include Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certifications. Although professional certification isn’t usually required, earning Critical Care RN credentials from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is a good career move and certified RNs typically earn significantly more than noncertified nurses.

Location also impacts base pay for ICU nurses, which includes work setting and geographical location of the facility of employment. Traditionally, ICU RNs work in inpatient hospital positions, which pay the highest in respect of location. However, the location of the ICU in the hospital also may make a difference in an ICU nurse’s pay. For example, more specialized CVICU nurses may earn more than other ICU nurses, but ICU nurses who can float between several areas of a hospital often earn the most. Geographically, some states pay more than others and urban areas tend to pay more than rural areas but the cost of living can be a big factor in areas with higher salary bases.

How to increase your ICU RN salary

Obtaining an ICU nursing certification makes you more hirable because it shows you have the knowledge to take on the difficult responsibilities found in intensive care. Professional certification can also impact salary increases, so it’s financially advisable, even if a hospital doesn’t require it.

There are numerous professional certifications appropriate for ICU nurses. The AACN offers three critical care certifications divided by patient population. ICU RNs can take any of the three certification exams after completing 1,750 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients within a specific population in a two-year period or a minimum of 2,000 hours in a five-year period. Certifications include:

  • CCRN (Adult) is for traditional RNs specializing in the critical care of adult patients, including in various ICUs or trauma units

  • CCRN (Pediatric) is for RNs specializing in the critical care of youth up to age 21, including in PICUs 

  • CCRN (Neonatal) is for RNs specializing in the critical care of newborns during the neonatal period, including in NICUs

Like other nursing positions, ICU nurses who further their education also increase their salary potential. ICU RNs who earn graduate degrees may pursue advanced practice board certification, such as an acute care nurse practitioner or a certified nurse specialist. APRNs see increased salaries and may pursue other professional certifications that could increase salaries even further.

What professional certifications can potentially increase my salary as a ICU RN?

Earning your AACN Acute/Critical Care Nursing (CCRN-Adult), AACN Acute/Critical Care Knowledge Professional (CCRN-K Adult), AACN Progressive Care Knowledge Professional (PCCN-K), Certified Hyperbaric Registered Nurse (CHRN), Advanced Certified Hyperbaric Registered Nurse (ACHRN) or Adult Certified ECMO Specialist (CES-A) often increases your salary potential as a intensive care unit nurse or makes you eligible for another position with greater responsibilities, which also might include a bump in wages.

The CACCN Certified Nurse in Critical Care (CNCC) is available if you are a nurse residing in Canada.

Where can I learn more about working as a ICU Nurse?

Take a look at Vivian's ICU Nurse Career Guide for more information, including required education, responsibilities, pros and cons and more.