ICU Nurse Salary: How Much Do Nurses in Intensive Care Units Earn?

After completing an accredited nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam, you will become a registered nurse (RN). As an RN, you can choose from different career paths and specialties. Some RNs choose to become ambulatory care registered nurses, geriatric registered nurses, pediatric care registered nurses, infection control registered nurses, or some other type. An excellent choice is also working in the intensive care unit (ICU).

The intensive care unit is usually located in hospitals and provides round-the-clock care for critically ill patients who need close supervision due to their condition. The staff working in such environments represent a vital sector of the healthcare system and receive generous salaries for their contributions. 

Read on to learn more about ICU nurses, the benefits of becoming one, and the average salary for ICU nurses in the United States.

What Is an ICU Nurse?

ICU nurses are a type of specialized healthcare personnel that works in the field of critical care nursing. Their primary patients are those that are critically ill or have another condition that requires close monitoring.

Some day-to-day duties and responsibilities of ICU nurses include monitoring patients’ vital signs, recording any changes noticed in their condition, writing detailed reports, and informing the physicians about them. Additionally, they must always consult and coordinate with the rest of the healthcare team members of the critical care unit about the patients’ care plans and medications.

ICU Nurse Salary

The latest reports show that, as of March 2023, the average pay for ICU nurses in the United States ranges from only $53,500 a year to as high as $251,500. The overall average salary comes down to $119,473 a year. 

To better understand the variation in pay, we’ll go through the average ICU nurse salaries by work setting, state, and experience.

ICU nurse salary by work setting


Another factor that influences ICU nurse salary is the work environment. For example, the average neuro ICU nurse’s salary is $97,597 per year, and they work in ICUs caring for patients suffering from neurological problems. 

On the other hand, some nurses travel between jobs whenever hospitals or healthcare centers require their help to employ temporary positions. In such cases, the average ICU travel nurse’s salary is estimated to be $143,416 per year.

ICU nurse salary by state

There are six states where the average salary exceeds the national average, with New York topping the list as the highest-paying state for ICU nurses. To get an idea of the median wages in different locations, refer to the map below. It displays the average salary for ICU nurses in all 50 states.

ICU nurse salary by years of experience

ICU nurses can expect their salaries to increase as they gain more experience in their field. According to recent data, an ICU nurse’s salary can range from $78,847 to over $100K based on years of experience. Here are the expected salaries for ICU nurses at different levels of experience: 


How To Increase Your Salary as an ICU Nurse

Based on the range of salaries reported, it is clear that ICU nurses have plenty of room for income improvement. To begin, you can boost your salary through education and training. Master’s degree holders earn up to 20% more than bachelor’s degree holders

Similarly, developing your skills through certification programs can help too. Your employers could choose to increase your salary since you have already gained extra knowledge and skills, thus, requiring less on-the-job training.

Another excellent way you can improve your earning potential as an ICU nurse is through travel nursing. As mentioned, the average travel ICU nurse salary is higher than the national average for regular ICU nurses. You can work in temporary positions across hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities across the country while the agency covers part of your expenses too.

Should You Become an ICU Nurse?

ICU nurses, like all other nurse types, help people. However, when considering whether you should become one, it is crucial to distinguish the key characteristics that one must possess to succeed in this profession. 

First and foremost, you should become an ICU nurse if you are passionate about helping people in need. Secondly, you could be an excellent fit for the role if you can stay calm, collected, compassionate, and caring, even when dealing with challenging cases.

Of course, you should also remember the education and training you must complete before beginning this journey. However, all the effort you put into becoming a proper ICU nurse will be worth it once you help patients in their most fragile physical and mental state.

Benefits of being an ICU nurse

In addition to the excellent salary associated with the role, some other benefits of being an ICU nurse include:

  • More autonomy
  • Smaller patient ratios per nurse
  • A larger scope of practice
  • Many opportunities for travel nursing
  • Steady growth (the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that positions for RNs are expected to grow by 6%)

What’s the Bottom Line?

ICU nurses are part of one of the most prominent branches of nursing. They try to lower mortality and healthcare difficulties in critical care environments. Becoming an ICU nurse comes with many benefits, including a satisfactory salary in many states nationwide. As an ICU, you can provide care for some of the most vulnerable patients and make a change.

We hope this guide has been a valuable resource for you in exploring the salaries of ICU nurses. If you want to learn more about different career options in healthcare and the wages they offer, you can click here and discover different pathways you can take as a nurse as well as find a high-paying nursing career that best suits you.

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