Part One How Much Does an ICU Nurse Make?
Average ICU Nurse Salary
The median annual ICU nurse salary is $79,400 as of 2022, per Salary.com. Whereas ZipRecruiter’s estimates found that ICU nurses earn a much higher salary. As of 2022, ZipRecruiter reports that ICU nurses in the U.S. earn a median annual salary of $95,000 annually or $46 per hour.
ICU Nurse Salary Ranges
ZipRecruiter found that the majority of ICU nurses earned between $75,000 to $103,000 annually. However, top-earning ICU nurses made as much as $171,000 or $77/hr.
Salary.com reports that most ICU nurses earn between $69,500 and $91,900. However, they also found that salaries could range from $60,487 (lowest (10%) to $103,281 (highest 10%).
ICU Nurse Salary vs Average RN Salary
ICU nurses appear to earn about as much or more than the average registered nurse salary in the US, depending on the source.
The BLS states that the average nurse salary in 2020 was $75,330. In contrast, salary.com reports that ICU nurses earn about $79,400 annually and ZipRecruiter states that ICU nurses earn about $95,000 annually.
Part Two ICU Nurse Salary by State
|State||Annual Salary||Hourly Wage|
Part Three ICU Nurse Salary by Years of Experience
In general, ICU nurses start their careers at the lower end of the salary spectrum. In most cases, they get a small increase in pay once they start taking on their own patients, and then annually after that.
Payscale reports that ICU nurse experience is directly related to years of experience. They found that ICU nurse incomes - including bonus and overtime - based on years of service were as follows:
- Entry-level ICU nurse with 1-year of experience:$27.81/hr
- ICU nurse with 1-4 years of experience: $30.42/hr
- Mid-career OCI nurse with 5-9 years of experience: $34.11/hr
- ICU nurses with 10-19 years of experience: $39.18/hr
- ICU nurses with 20 or more years of experience: $42/hr
Part Four ICU Nurse Salary by Work Setting
ICU nurses most commonly work in intensive care units in a hospital or medical center. Some of the types of ICUs where you find ICU nurses working include:
- Medical-surgical ICU
- Neuro Trauma ICU
- Pediatric ICU
- Neonatal ICU
- Transplant ICU
- Surgical ICU
- Psychiatric ICU
- Coronary ICU
You may also find ICU nurses working in other areas of the hospital where intensive care is given, such as the emergency department.
ICU nurses usually earn the most by working inside a hospital setting where they receive a higher salary, benefits, overtime hour opportunities, and shift differential pay for working nights or weekends.
It is also important to keep in mind that ICU nurses who work in large cities with a higher cost of living usually earn higher wages than those who work in small towns.
Part Five How to Increase Your Salary as an ICU Nurse
There are many ways to increase your salary as an ICU nurse. To maximize your earning potential, you may want to consider one of the following:
Advance Your Education
Your level of education plays a huge role in your earning potential as an ICU nurse. You may want to start your career with an associate's degree in nursing or a bachelor's degree (BSN) and then go back to school part-time while you work. This method can be helpful to pay off some of your school costs during your studies.
Many employers offer an increase in hourly wage if an ICU nurse earns their Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) Certification through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (ACCN). Becoming board certified lets employers, your patients, and their families know that you have specialty nursing expertise in ICU care.
Becoming certified can equate to more money in several ways:
- Higher per hour salary
- More career enhancement promotional ability
- Employers are more likely to hire ICU nurses who have their CCRN certification - this may allow you to choose between higher-paying jobs
Consider negotiating a higher salary during the hiring process. Some hospitals and medical facilities have a pay structure for new employees. However, you may find some room for negotiation, especially if the hiring employers are short-staffed and struggling to hire more nurses.
Travel nurses are RNs who take short-term assignments at hospitals and other health care facilities to help fill nursing shortage gaps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, travel ICU nurses were needed in “hot spots” all around the country to care for critical COVID-19 patients.
Also, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many facilities to offer “crisis pay” as an incentive to get more travel nurses to work in ICUs that were chronically understaffed. Some hospitals were offering up to 2-3 times or higher than their normal per hour rate to attract ICU travel nurses to work there.
How You Work
Career nurses are full or part-time nursing staff employed directly by the facility where they work. ICU career nurses most commonly earn an hourly wage plus a benefits package including retirement benefits, paid time off, and other benefits. Some career nurses spend their entire careers working at the same hospital.
Career nurses can expect to earn a higher per hour rate for each year they work in the profession.
Per diem is Latin for “by the day” and per diem nurses work on a schedule they choose. However, unlike career nurses who get sick pay if they don’t work, per diem nurses do not get paid at all on days they don’t work.
Per diem nurses earn a higher per-hour rate to compensate for their work flexibility. But they generally don’t have a benefits package with retirement benefits or paid time off.
A contract nurse is a full-time nurse who works at a hospital for a specified period of time. This time can be for as little as four weeks to as long as six months.
When their contract ends, nurses can sign another contract at the same hospital (if they are still needed) or work at another hospital.
One of the cost benefits of working as an ICU contract nurse is you will usually have guaranteed full-time hours during the contract. This means that even if you are called off for some reason, you still get paid for your shift. Many nurses enjoy working on a contract in lieu of working per diem because of the guaranteed payment.
One example of a contract nurse is a travel nurse. But contract nurses also have opportunities to work without traveling to other cities.
Nurses who work overtime are entitled to increased pay for their additional work hours. In most cases, this means:
- Working over 40 hours a week, OR
- Working more than 12 hours a day
Overtime wages differ per facility, but they are usually one and a half to three times the normal hourly wage. Working a lot of overtime hours can add up fast!
A shift differential is added pay for working weekends, holidays, evenings, or night shifts. Shift differentials usually increase wages by two to six dollars per hour.
That might not sound like much, but it adds up. The ICU can be stressful, and many ICU nurses enjoy working on nights or weekends because it can be a little quieter.
Most nurses do not receive annual bonuses unless they work in a management position.
However, it is common for nurses to be offered a sign-on bonus as an incentive to take a job at another hospital. Bonuses can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand.
Always read sign-on bonus terms carefully. Many hospitals require that you stay working full-time at their facility for a specified period of time to keep the bonus. If you don’t, they may ask you to pay it back.
Hazard pay is extra compensation above the normal compensation for nurses who work in physically harder or dangerous conditions.
During the pandemic, many ICU traveling or contract nurses received some form of hazard pay to work at severely understaffed hospitals with large COVID-19 populations.
Part Six Has COVID-19 Affected the Expected Salary for ICU Nurses?
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected the expected salary for ICU nurses all across the country. This is primarily due to healthcare facilities lacking the staff to care for large influxes of COVID-19 patients.
To fix this issue, many facilities began hiring travel nurses and paying them as much as twice as much as before the pandemic.
In more extreme circumstances, travel nurse pay tripled, and hospitals began using extreme hiring tactics, such as:
- Waving individual state nursing licenses
- Hiring retired and non-working RNs to work
- Paying travel nurses up to $6,000 per work with additional quarantine pay
This allowed many travel ICU nurses to move from assignment to assignment, earning more than they had before in their entire careers.
However, in some situations, ICU nurses were required to take on too many patients at a time. This situation resulted in many ICU nurses experiencing “burnout” and “moral injury”, leading to higher turnover rates and increasing the nursing shortage.
Career nurse salaries as a whole for all specialties have risen due to the higher demand for nursing services during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to healthcare consultants Premier, the average annual nursing salary rose 4 percent in 2021. That estimate also did not include bonus pay or overtime pay.
Part Seven Is it Worth it to Become an ICU Nurse?
Nursing school to become an ICU nurse is a huge investment. Nursing school costs can vary greatly depending on the cost of living in your area and whether you want to pursue an ADN or a BSN.
ADN programs take two years to complete at a community college or technical school and range from $6000 to $20,000.
BSN programs take four years to complete at a public or private four-year university and can cost anywhere from $35,000 to $100,000.
ICU Nurse Salary vs. School Costs
Although school is expensive, ICU nurses have an opportunity to make a lot of money year after year. As you become more experienced, your hourly wage will rise accordingly.
There are many reports that ICU nurses have an excellent opportunity to make a lot of money in the years following nursing school. For example, ZipRecruiter found that the majority of ICU nurses earned between $75,000 to $103,000 annually. The top-earning ICU nurses even made as much as 171,000 or $77/hr!
Keep in mind that your salary will significantly depend on the city and state where you live. But if you live in a higher paying state, such as California, you can make an average annual income of $120,560 annually, or $57.96 per hour!
In addition, ICU nursing - like all nursing specialties - is in high demand. The BLS projects that the job outlook from 2020 to 2030 is 9%, with an additional need for 276,800 nurses.
Part Eight Related Nursing Careers
Med Surg Nurse
ZipRecruiter reports that as of 2022, the median salary for med-surg nurses in the US is $88,205. However, they also report seeing annual salaries as high as $141,500 and as low as $42,500.
ZipRecruiter found that most operating room (OR) nurses - also known as surgical nurses - earned between $58,000 and $93,500. However, salaries for surgical nurses earning in the top 10% made as much as $102,500.
Floor nurses can be nurses of any specialty who treat patients at the bedside in the hospital setting. This can include ICU, telemetry, med-surg, pediatric, neonatal, and other nursing specialties.
The BLS reports that the average nurse salary, which includes an average of all nursing specialties, is $75,330 per year or $36.22 per hour.
Part Nine ICU Nurse FAQs
How much do ICU nurses make?
- ZipRecruiter found that most ICU nurses earned between $75,000 to $103,000 annually. However, they discovered that top-earning ICU nurses made as much as 171,000 or $77/hr.
Do ICU nurses get paid more?
- Some ICU nurses make more than those in other nursing specialties. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average nurse salary in 2020 was $75,330 per year or $36.22 per hour. However, they specify nurse income based on the whole profession, not individual specialties.
Is being an ICU nurse hard?
- Yes, being an ICU nurse can be hard. ICU nursing requires excellent critical thinking skills, physical stamina, and the ability to multitask many different patient variables involving critically ill patients. In addition, working as an ICU nurse can be very emotionally draining because some patients do not recover.
Which ICU nurse gets paid the most?
- The highest-paid ICU nurses work in New York, where they make an annual median salary of $114,269 or $54.94/hr.