An ICU nurse, also known as a Critical Care Nurse, is a nurse who works in the Intensive Care Unit (also known as the critical care unit or intensive therapy unit). The ICU is a 24-hour facility typically located inside a hospital for the most vulnerable patients.
Patients in the ICU are often critically ill and require close supervision due to the likelihood that their condition may suddenly take a turn for the worse. Here’s what you need to know about the average salaries for ICU nurses.
A note about our data. We use the median of the data gathered from The BLS at data.bls.gov and other salary data sources such as Salary.com, Indeed.com and Zippia.com. We believe this is the best average to follow, rather than the mean or mode. The mean will find the average of all salaries in each state; the mode will favor the most frequently reported salaries. However, the median will find the middle. All data in this report will favor the middle salary from all ranges, which means 50% will fall below and 50% will be above the salary data reported below. On another note, we have removed data from Puerto Rico, Guam, and The Virgin Islands from the data we have sourced as we have focused on the 50 US States plus The District Of Colombia.
ICU Nurse Salaries in the United States
An ICU nurse is usually a registered nurse who cares for patients in the hospital’s ICU. These nurses require specialized skills that help them command a higher salary than nurses who work in other hospital areas.
How Much Does an ICU Nurse Make a Year?
On average, an ICU nurse makes approximately $84,281.06 per year. This figure will ultimately depend on the nurse’s experience and the pay for nurses in their city or state.
How Much Does an ICU Nurse Make an Hour?
ICU nurses make an average wage of $40.52 an hour. This figure may be higher for nurses who work off-shifts (such as the overnight shift) or when they work on holidays or during the weekend.
This high average hourly wage means that an ICU nurse can potentially earn a full-time income by working part-time hours, making it an excellent career option for individuals searching for a healthy work-life balance.
ICU Nurse Salary by State
An ICU nurse's average annual and hourly wage varies from state to state. Check out this graphic, compiled from information obtained from Zippia.com, that examines the variations in ICU nurse salaries. Data updated in February 2022.
Hourly median wage
Annual median wage
Compared To National Average
District of Columbia
An ICU nurse’s salary will fluctuate based on the state’s cost of living and the demand for nurses in that region.
Where Do ICU Nurses Get Paid the Most?
ICU nurses have the highest average salaries in California and Connecticut; in both states, they earn 23 percent more than the national salary average for ICU nurses.
In North Dakota, ICU nurses receive an average salary 20 percent higher than the national average. In New Jersey, ICU nurses earn an average salary 19 percent higher than the national average.
The District of Columbia and Minnesota are also noteworthy states for ICU nurse wages, as ICU nurses earn 18 percent more than the national average.
Factors That Affect How Much an ICU Nurse Makes
Multiple factors influence how much an ICU nurse makes, including:
Years of experience - The longer a nurse has worked as an ICU nurse, the more money they can expect to earn
Location - Large metropolitan areas usually pay higher salaries for ICU nurses, though these cities also tend to have a higher-than-average cost of living
Obtaining an ICU nurse certification - Holding an ICU nurse certification, like a CCRN or CMC will allow an ICU nurse to earn more money
How Quickly Can You Become an ICU Nurse and Start Earning?
An ICU nurse is usually a type of registered nurse.
To become an ICU Nurse, you’ll need to obtain an associate or Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This process usually takes between two and four years.
If you already have a CNA certificate or other nursing training, you can receive credit by proving that you’ve already mastered these skills. This credit will help you become an ICU nurse faster and start earning the salary of an ICU nurse.
How Much Does an ICU Nurse Make Against Other Nursing Jobs?
The average ICU nurse salary of $84,281.06 annually means that ICU nurses make more than many other nursing jobs.
On average, an RN has an annual median wage of $76,944.90, making the average salary for an ICU nurse higher. This higher salary is due to the specialized skills required of ICU nurses.
ER nurses command an average annual median wage of $78,451 a year, while neonatal nurses earn a median wage of $71 267 a year; the median salary for an ICU nurse is higher than both of these nursing positions.
A CNA has an annual median wage of $32,501, and an LPN has an annual median wage of $51,098, both of which are lower than the average median salary for an ICU nurse. With an annual median wage of $75,192, the salary for a labor and delivery nurse is also lower than the wage for an ICU nurse.
However, a CRNA nurse anesthetist has a median wage of $140,357 yearly, higher than an ICU nurse’s salary. A CRNA nurse anesthetist job requires more education, training, and highly specialized skills.
A Nurse Practioner (NP) has an annual median wage of $116,358.04, a wage higher than the median salary for an ICU nurse. NPs must obtain graduate degrees, making the education and training more intensive than that required for a registered nurse.
Flight nurses earn a median annual wage of $89,579.22, higher than the median ICU nurse salary. A flight nurse provides nursing care on a medical transport helicopter and may have to work 24-hour shifts.
What is the Highest Paying Nurse Job?
A CRNA nurse anesthetist is the highest paying nursing job with an average median salary of $140,357 a year. You have to complete the requirements to become an RN in addition to acquiring a doctorate that focuses on anesthesia.
Are ICU Nurses Busy?
Even though ICU nurses are usually assigned fewer patients than nurses in other hospital units, they remain busy throughout their shifts. Most ICU patients require a lot of care; just administering medications and assisting with personal care takes up a lot of time. An ICU nurse is on their feet and moving around for most of their shift.
How Much Do ICU Nurse Salaries Increase with Each Year of Experience?
As an ICU nurse gets more experience, their salary will steadily increase. Simply continuing to work as an ICU nurse and acquiring more experience is an effective way for ICU nurses to increase their salaries.
An entry-level ICU nurse with less than one year of experience will make an average of $27.81 an hour, while an ICU nurse with one to four years of experience will make $30.42 an hour. ICU nurses with five to nine years experience make $34.11 an hour.
Once an ICU nurse gets ten years of experience, they make an average of $39.18 an hour. ICU nurses with more than 20 years of experience earn approximately $42 an hour.
ICU Nurse’s Salary FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions about an ICU nurse’s salary.
Am I Being Paid Fairly as an ICU Nurse?
Whether you’re receiving fair pay as an ICU nurse depends on multiple factors, including your experience, your location, and whether you have any certifications.
If you only have a year or two of experience, your wage isn’t the same as an ICU nurse with 10 or 20 years of experience.
Some states have lower than average salaries for ICU nurses due to a lower cost of living or low demand for ICU nurses.
For example, in Mississippi, the average hourly wage for an ICU nurse is $28.45, and the median annual salary is $59,184, a whopping 30 percent lower than the national average.
However, the median household income in Mississippi is only $46,511, and the state has a low cost of living. Considering these factors, the average ICU nurse’s salary in Mississippi seems much fairer.
Should you feel like your salary isn’t fair, you can negotiate your pay rate. Though some hospitals follow a fixed pay scale, there may be room for a salary increase.
Another option is to work for a different facility or nurse agency willing to pay you a fair wage for your experience and education.
Are ICU Nurses Paid Mostly Hourly or Annually?
Usually, ICU nurses are paid hourly. This pay structure means you are paid for the number of hours you work rather than a fixed amount.
Do ICU Nurses Get Paid Overtime?
Yes, many ICU nurses receive overtime pay for work that exceeds 40 hours a week. Overtime pay for critical care nurses is usually time and a half, so if you’re making the median wage of $40.52, your overtime pay is $60.78.
Some hospitals pay overtime for any hours you work outside your scheduled hours, even if they don’t exceed 40 hours a week.
Occasionally, ICU nurses may be required to work overtime due to staffing needs at the hospital.
Do ICU Nurses Get Paid More Privately or in Hospitals?
Typically, ICU nurses who work at hospitals will make more than those who work at private practices, but this highly depends on the area and the nurse’s experience.
Critical care nurses also can work as traveling nurses by signing up with an agency that matches nurses to hospitals in dire need of ICU nurses. Working as a traveling ICU nurse usually commands a higher salary than working for a hospital.
Can You Live Off an ICU Nurse’s Salary in the USA?
Even entry-level ICU nurses can comfortably live off their salary in the USA. The average annual salary in the USA is $51,168, and the average median salary for an ICU nurse is higher than this amount in every state.
Not only can you live off an intensive care nurse’s salary, but you can maintain a comfortable lifestyle in most areas of the country.
How Can You Increase Your Earnings as an ICU Nurse?
If you’re looking to increase your salary as an ICU nurse, you can do a few things to boost your income and maximize your earning potential.
Be willing to work the overnight shift (usually 7 pm to 7 am), as hospitals and nursing agencies pay a shift differential to nurses willing to work these hours.
This is another way to increase your income if you can work as a travel ICU nurse. Travel ICU nurses earn a higher average age to attract nurses to in-need areas, and you’ll also receive stipends and reimbursements to cover your living expenses.
Many travel nursing positions are also eligible to receive bonuses. All these elements create a good compensation package for ICU nurses.
Obtain your CCRN or ACCN certifications if you don’t already have them, as many employers will pay a higher rate to certified ICU nurses.