Neonatal Nurse with a baby in the hospital

As experts in their specialization, Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses provide round-the-clock support and healthcare to infants. NICU Nurses are one of the highest-earning nursing professionals in the healthcare industry. 

NICU Nurses love working with infants, primarily newborns born prematurely or with severe health conditions. They nurture, feed, and treat them during the most critical periods of their lives to go home happy and healthy with their parents as soon as possible.

NICU Nurses are often the first point of contact for parents with babies in need of specialized medical care after birth. 

As with any nursing profession, it’s a good idea to let passion guide you, then decide on a career based on practicality. Even though some might love the idea of working with babies, being a NICU Nurse is a true calling, and those that feel that calling should research the job description before making a decision. 

If working with babies in a hospital setting is of interest, then NICU could be right for you. But there are also other careers with infants and children in nursing, such as pediatric nursing and RNs working in schools or family doctor’s offices.

Recommended Reading - What is a Neonatal Nurse (NICU Nurse) in The USA?

NICU Nurse Salaries in The United States

Before becoming a NICU Nurse, it’s helpful to review your salary and understand your financial future if you choose this career. 

A note about our data. We use the median of the data gathered from The BLS at and other salary data sources such as, and We believe that 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.

Registerd Nurse Median Salary

How Much Does A NICU Nurse Make A Year?

The average NICU Nurse in the US earns approximately $71,000 a year, but their earnings can range from $58,000 to over $120,000. The salary depends on their level of experience, location, and employer. 

Generally, NICU Nurses can expect to earn at least $60,000 a year when they start their careers and gradually earn more throughout their lifetime. By the time they have 5 to 7 years of experience, a Neonatal Nurse could earn an average of $80,000 to $100,000 a year. 

How Much Does A NICU Nurse Make An Hour?

The hourly wage of a NICU Nurse in the United States tends to range between $30 to $39. They may earn more depending on how long they’ve been in the field and the demand for NICU Nurses in their area. 

Some Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses earn over $60 an hour, and traveling nurses can earn well over $100 an hour. However, the $30 to $40 range is a good figure to expect if you’re considering becoming a NICU Nurse anywhere in America. 

NICU Nurse Salary by State

Using data from Zippia, we compiled a spreadsheet with the average NICU nurse salaries and hourly pay by state. This information was last updated in February 2022. 

While some states, like Alabama, tend to pay far lower than the national average, others pay 10% to 27% higher than the rest of the country. Michigan and California provide the highest median hourly wages at $47.09 and $42.27. 

Suppose your state’s NICU Nurse salary is not high enough for your needs. In that case, you may consider relocating to a state with higher demand. However, the cost of living in states that pay the most tends to be higher.

Given inflation and moving expenses, you might find that even being in a state that pays the national average or slightly less does not affect you negatively. 


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National Average



Factors That Affect How Much a NICU Nurse Makes

The majority of NICU Nurses earn based on location and experience. Because they all must hold the same credentials, basic education does not play a large role in their earnings at the entry-level.

However, if a NICU Nurse earns a master’s degree in nursing, they could become a NICU Nurse manager. This promotion increases their earnings significantly between $79,500 to $119,500 (ZipRecruiter). 

How Quickly Can You Become A NICU Nurse And Start Earning?

All NICU Nurses must first become registered nurses in their states. This position starts by earning an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing school.

Vocational schools, community colleges, and universities across the U.S. offer nursing programs of both degree levels. 

Earning an associate’s in nursing takes two years, while a bachelor’s takes four. It’s important to know that nurses who earned an associate's degree are required to complete further education courses in many states. Many states require them to hold a BSN within ten years of licensure.

After completing your ADN or BSN, you can start working in nursing, ideally in pediatrics. This experience will help you prepare for your neonatal nurse certification. 

To become a NICU Nurse and work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, you must pass the RNC-NIC exam. This exam is for all registered nurses in the United States and Canada who wish to specialize in neonatal intensive care.

You must have at least two years of work experience as a registered nurse before you are eligible to take the RNC-NIC exam.

It takes between four to six years to complete all the necessary education and work experience requirements to become a certified NICU Nurse. 

Recommended Reading - How to Become a Neonatal Nurse (NICU Nurse) in the USA


Am I Being Paid Fairly As A NICU Nurse? 

You may wonder how much your earnings compare to the average NICU Nurse. Given the most recent data, the median annual salary for a NICU Nurse in the US is $71,267.04. In high-earning states, NICU Nurses can make between $80,000 to over $100,000.

In the lowest-earning states, NICU Nurses can earn between $55,000 to $69,000. Depending on your experience and location, your salary should match the average in your state. 

You should also consider whether you are working overtime. If you are required to work overtime and are not fairly paid, you should take issue with your employer. 

All nurses are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week. 

Are NICU Nurses Paid Mostly Hourly Or Annually?

Most nurses are paid hourly in the United States, regardless of their specialization. 

Nurses who hold advanced degrees (master’s and doctorates) and have administrative roles tend to be offered salaries instead. 

You will likely be offered an hourly pay plus your hourly wage and a half for overtime. 

Do NICU Nurses Get Paid Overtime?

NICU Nurses are all eligible for overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Overtime is often offered on holidays as well. Employers tend to pay nurses their usual hourly wage plus a half. 

So, if you earn $35 an hour, your overtime pay would be $52.50. 

Do NICU Nurses Get Paid More Privately Or In Hospitals?

NICU Nurses mostly work in public health settings, but some may work in community centers or home healthcare. After being discharged from the hospital, babies who require special nursing tend to have a NICU Nurse care for them at home.  Some NICU Nurses choose to only make house calls instead of working in a hospital setting.

The pay tends to be the same in hospitals and private healthcare. Although some private clients may pay more for 24-hour or on-call NICU Nurses, most job opportunity is in hospitals. 

What State Pays NICU Nurses The Most Per Hour?

California has the highest annual NICU Nurse salary at $$97,940, which is 23% higher than the national average. 

The lowest paying state for NICU Nurses in South Carolina has an average annual NICU Nurse salary of $57,103. 

Can You Live Off A NICU Nurse's Salary In The USA?

Between the highest and lowest earning states, the average NICU Nurse still earns higher than the national US salary of approximately $53,000. 

This level of earning will provide a decent standard of living despite the rising costs of housing, food, utilities, and inflation. You may find that downsizing or living in a more affordable state helps you maximize your income as a NICU Nurse.