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How Much Does a Critical Care Nurse Make?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated January 11, 2023
Want to earn more money as a certified registered nurse? Find out more about what critical care nurses make and how to become one.
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Do you have a calling to work in high-stakes nursing? Critical care nurses engage in rewarding, high-stress work. These nurses devote more attention to fewer patients, allowing them to create stronger bonds. The job also offers autonomy and strong salaries.

How much does a critical care nurse make? This guide breaks down critical care nurse pay and includes ways these health professionals can boost their earnings.

Average Salary for Critical Care Nurses

Critical care nurse salaries typically start higher than pay for RNs. Payscale data from June 2022 indicates this specialty nursing position makes an annual average salary of $77,810 or $33.33 an hour. In general, registered nurses make higher earnings than the national average for all other occupations.

As of 2021, the median pay for all occupations reached $45,760, which remains below the median annual pay for RNs of $77,600. Work experience and continued education influence salary potential for critical care nurses. Experienced and late-career critical nurses can earn $37.79-$40.76 an hour.

Average Annual Salary
Source:Payscale, June 2022

Average Hourly Wage
Source:Payscale, June 2022

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The Highest-Paying States for Critical Care Nurses

A critical care nurse’s location can significantly influence their pay. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not record data for critical care nurses specifically, salary rates for RNs offer insight into states that pay the most.

BLS data indicates that RNs earn the highest pay in California, Hawaii, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and Alaska. Critical care nurses in the top-paying state of California earn an annual mean wage of $124,000. In Alaska, the fifth top-paying state, nurses make an annual mean salary of $97,230.

Factors such as demand in large metropolitan or rural areas can also influence critical care nurse pay, including any bonuses used to recruit and keep nurses. California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania employ the most RNs of any state.

4 Ways to Increase Pay As a Critical Care Nurse

Critical care nurses can pursue professional advancements and salary increases through professional and educational opportunities. The following list offers ways that critical care nurses can increase their earning potential.

  1. 1

    Consider Pursuing Certifications

    Professional nursing organizations offer certifications that require clinical hours and current RN or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) licensure. Applicants must also pass an exam. Nurses pursue certification to validate their knowledge in specialty areas of nursing.

    Get your initial certification in acute and critical care nursing for adults, pediatrics, or neonatal patients through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. Managers, supervisors, and administrators can also consider CCRN-K certification.

  2. 2

    Increase Education Level

    Nurses who gain higher degrees almost always increase their pay. It takes a master of nursing degree or a doctor of nursing practice degree to become an APRN and earn some of the top salaries in the field. APRNs — nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives — earn a median salary of $123,780.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience in Administrative Roles

    Why train for nursing administrator roles? Nursing administrative positions offer high pay and career advancement opportunities beyond providing direct patient care. With experience, RNs can leave the clinical setting and gain leadership experience to become head nurses, unit managers, and chief nursing officers.

    Medical and health services managers make a mean annual wage of $119,840. RNs can gain leadership experience through internships and mentorships.

  4. 4

    Switch Practice Setting

    Geographic and industry settings can determine a critical care nurse’s salary as much as credentials and education. RNs make the most in nonscheduled air transportation, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, and merchant wholesalers and nondurable goods. Nurses in these industries earn $101,240-$112,630 on average. California, Hawaii, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and Alaska pay nurses the highest average salaries.

Frequently Asked Questions About Critical Care Nurse Salaries

question-mark-circleIs a critical care nurse the same as an ICU nurse?

Aside from the difference in title, these types of nurses largely handle the same type of work and patients. ICU and critical care nurses both provide round-the-clock care and monitoring for patients with serious health conditions.

question-mark-circleWhat skills does a critical care nurse need?

Critical care nurses need strong communication skills and the ability to think quickly on their feet. Working with critically ill patients requires a high level of accuracy in a stressful environment.

question-mark-circleDo critical care nurses need to be certified?

No. Critical care nurses can seek certification, but employers do require the credential. Most critical care nurses have experience as RNs. CCRN certification requires 1,750-2,000 hours of caring for acutely and critically ill patients.

question-mark-circleAre critical care nurses paid well?

Yes. Critical care nurses make wages above the average pay for RNs. However, salaries vary among different states and tend to align with cost of living figures for different areas.

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