GUIDE
June 9, 2022
NICU Nurse Salary Guide

Part One How Much Does a NICU Nurse Make?

Average NICU Nurse Salary

The average NICU nurse salary is $72,223 according to Salary.com. ZipRecruiter reports that NICU nurses in the U.S. earn an average annual salary of  $101,727 annually or $49 per hour. 

NICU Nurse Salary Range

The majority of NICU nurses earned between $60,000 or $40 per hour and $115,000, or $55 per hour. The top NICU nurse earners made as much as $125,000 per year or $60 per hour, according to ZipRecruiter.

NICU Nurse Salary vs Average RN Salary 

Depending on the source, NICU nurses appear to earn an annual salary that is about the same or higher as the average registered nurse salary in the US.

The BLS states that the average nurse salary as of 2022 was $77,600. Salary.com reports that as of January 2022, NICU nurses in the US earn an average of $72,223. In contrast, ZipRecruiter states that NICU nurses earned about $101,727, or about $49 per hour.

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Part Two NICU Nurse Salary by State 

State Annual Salary Hourly Wage
Massachusetts $105,493 $50.72
Hawaii $103,986 $49.99
Connecticut $102,931 $49.49
Wisconsin $101,334 $48.72
Tennessee $100,678 $48.40
Washington $100,318 $48.23
Minnesota $100,290 $48.22
Rhode Island $100,070 $48.11
Ohio $99,940 $48.05
New York $99,473 $47.82
Alaska $98,448 $47.33
North Dakota $98,409 $47.31
Utah $97,880 $47.06
Nevada $97,673 $46.96
Louisiana $97,259 $46.76
New Mexico $96,390 $46.34
New Hampshire $96,022 $46.16
Maryland $95,754 $46.04
South Dakota $95,536 $45.93
Iowa $94,722 $45.54
Oregon $94,303 $45.34
Nebraska $94,085 $45.23
Kansas $93,252 $44.83
Virginia $92,851 $44.64
California $90,777 $43.64
Vermont $90,315 $43.42
South Carolina $90,249 $43.39
Colorado $90,118 $43.33
Delaware $89,533 $43.04
Wyoming $89,184 $42.88
Oklahoma $87,444 $42.04
Mississippi $87,398 $42.02
Kentucky $86,606 $41.64
West Virginia $86,465 $41.57
New Jersey $85,796 $41.25
Idaho $85,047 $40.89
Pennsylvania $85,002 $40.87
Montana $84,861 $40.80
Arkansas $84,795 $40.77
Maine $84,571 $40.66
Michigan $84,525 $40.64
Illinois $84,336 $40.55
Arizona $83,988 $40.38
Indiana $83,449 $40.12
Missouri $82,535 $39.68
Texas $82,144 $39.49
Georgia $81,022 $38.95
Alabama $79,127 $38.04
North Carolina $76,906 $36.97
Florida $76,365 $36.71

Source ZipRecruiter

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Part Three NICU Nurse Salary by Years of Experience

As with most nursing specialties, NICU nurses have higher earning potential as they gain more experience within the field. Total compensation may also include a combination of base, bonus, and overtime pay.

Entry-level NICU nurses generally start their careers earning a lower salary. However, they can expect to start earning a higher annual wage as soon as the first or second year.

According to payscale.com, these are the average NICU nurse hourly wage based on years of experience:

  1. Entry-level NICU nurse with less than 1-year experience: $28.04/hr
  2. Early career NICU nurse with 1-4 years: $29.94/hr
  3. A mid-career NICU nurse with 5-9 years:  $32.92/hr
  4. Experienced NICU Nurse with 10-19 years: $37.23/hr
  5. Late-career NICU nurses with 20 or more years: $41/hr.

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Part Four NICU Nurse Salary by Work Setting

NICU nurses most commonly work in neonatal intensive care units and maternity wards at a hospital or medical center. However, you might also find a NICU nurse working in other areas, such as:

  1. Cardiac Care Units (CCUs)
  2. Combined ICU/CCUs
  3. Medical-Surgical ICUs
  4. Trauma Units
  5. Community health clinics or organizations
  6. Medical evacuation or transport/flight services

In very rare circumstances, you may also find a NICU nurse working for a home-health service.

NICU nurses usually earn the most by working in hospitals or medical centers. In these settings they usually have a higher salary, benefits, overtime hour opportunities, and shift differential pay for working nights or weekends. 

No matter the setting, NICU nurses often work in stressful environments because the infants in their care usually need constant care. NICU nurses must be trained to use specialized equipment such as ventilators, incubators, and oxygen hoods.

Part Five How to Increase Your Salary as a NICU Nurse

There are many ways to increase your salary as a NICU nurse, including the following options.

CCRN Neonatal Certification

Many employers offer an increase in hourly wage if a NICU nurse earns their Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) Neonatal Certification. This certification is for nurses who provide direct intensive care to ill neonatal patients.

Becoming board certified lets employers, your patients, and their families know that you have specialty nursing expertise in NICU care.

Negotiate

Some healthcare facilities have a pay structure for new employees. But you may find some room for negotiation during the interview process, especially if employers are struggling to hire NICU nurses. 

Travel

Travel nurses are RNs who take short-term assignments at hospitals and other health care facilities to help fill nursing shortage gaps. Not only is travel nursing a great way to live and explore different parts of the U.S., but it can also offer a higher income for NICU nurses as well. 

The COVID-19 pandemic provided a unique opportunity for travel nurses to earn a significantly higher annual salary than ever before. Many nurses of all specialties found that pandemic pay for traveling nurses was too good to pay up.

In some cases, chronically understaffed hospitals were offering up to 2-3 times or higher their normal per hour rate or higher to attract new travel nurses for assignments. Many hospitals around the country are still dealing with staffing issues, and travel nurse opportunities will continue to help fill those gaps in the future as well.

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How You Work

Career Nurse

Career nurses are full or part-time nursing staff employed directly by the facility where they work. Career nurses most commonly earn an hourly wage plus a benefits package including retirement benefits, paid time off, and other benefits.

Career nurses earn a higher per hour rate for each year they work in the profession. 

Per Diem

Per diem translates to “per day” in Latin. Per diem nurses work “by the day,” which means they get paid for the days they work, but not for the days they don’t.

Per diem nurses usually make a higher per-hour rate for their work flexibility. However, in most cases, they don’t have a benefits package with retirement benefits or paid time off. If they do, it is usually much less than those offered to career nurses. 

One of the main benefits of working per diem as a NICU nurse is having the option to choose your schedule. For this reason, many working parents move into per diem nursing to match their children's school or child care schedule. 

Contract

A contract nurse is a full-time nurse who signs a contract to work at a facility for a specified period of time. The time frame can range from as little as four weeks to as long as six months. Once their contract is up, nurses are free to 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 a NICU contract nurse is you will usually have guaranteed full-time hours during the contract.

Travel nursing is a type of contract nurse. But there also may be opportunities to work as a contract nurse in the city where you live without traveling. 

Additional Compensation

Overtime

Nurses who work overtime are entitled to increased pay for their additional work hours. In most cases, overtime hours are anything over 40 hours during a Sunday through Saturday workweek.

In addition, nurses are also usually eligible for overtime pay if they work longer than 12-hours in a shift.

Overtime wages differ per facility, but they are usually one and a half to three times the normal hourly wage. Many NICU nurses offered overtime shifts often take it because it can add up quickly.

Shift Differential

A shift differential is extra pay for working weekends, holidays, evenings, or night shifts. Shift differentials usually increase a normal hourly wage by around $2-$4.

Some nurses actually enjoy working on nights or weekends because it can be a little quieter on the unit.

Bonuses

Most career nurses do not receive bonuses as part of their normal pay. However, it is becoming more common for nurses to be offered a sign-on bonus as an incentive for nurses to take a new job at a new facility. Bonuses can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand.

Just keep in mind that many hospitals will require that you stay working full-time at their facility for two to five years to keep the bonus. If you want to leave beforehand, you may have to pay the bonus back. 

Hazard Pay

Hazard pay is extra compensation above the normal pay for nurses who work in situations with a risk of personal injury or increased physical labor.

For example, severely understaffed hospitals or facilities in areas experiencing a natural disaster or other catastrophic events may offer hazard pay to nurses as an incentive to work.

Employers are not required by law to pay hazard pay. It is usually an incentive to bring on new nurses but rarely offered to the career nurses who already work at the facility. 

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Part Six Has Covid-19 Affected the Expected Salary for NICU Nurses?

Although children and infants were usually not as affected by COVID-19 at the same rate as adults, many NICUs were still chronically understaffed due to high turnover during the pandemic.

To fix this issue, many facilities resorted to hiring travel nurses and paying them as much as two to three times or more than they were making before the pandemic. NICU nurses willing to travel to new hospitals around the country have increased their expected salaries more dramatically than they ever have before.

Nurse salaries also rose due to higher demand for nursing services during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to healthcare consultants Premier, who analyses nursing income for the Wall Street Journal,  the average annual nursing salary rose 4 percent in 2021. However, that estimate also did not include bonus pay or overtime pay.

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Part Seven NICU Nurse Salary vs. Education Costs

Nursing school to become a NICU nurse is an investment in money and time. It is important to look closely at the financial aspect of nursing school before you take the plunge.

The average cost to go to nursing school varies depending on where you live and whether you want to pursue an ADN or a BSN. 

  1. ADN programs take two years to complete at a community college or technician school. ADN programs can range from $6000 to $20,000.
  2. BSN programs take four years to complete at a public or private four-year university. A BSN can cost anywhere from $35,000 to $100,000.

Tuition cost also depends on several other factors:

  1. The school's reputation and status
  2. The location of the school
  3. The program length
  4. The state where you live

Additional costs of nursing school also include books, lab fees, supplies, and the NCLEX examination fee.

NICU Nurse Salary vs. School Costs

To repay nursing school loans, many nurses live on a tight budget for the first few years after nursing school to pay back their loans as soon as possible. But although school is expensive, NICU nurses have an opportunity to make a lot of money year after year. 

Many nurses also decide to move to a city or state that offers nurses higher pay. For example, 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!

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Part Eight Related Nursing Careers

Neonatal Nurse

According to ZipRecruiter, the average neonatal nurse salary in the U.S. is $100,944 annually or $49/hr.  In addition, neonatal nurse annual salaries in the U.S. range from about $74,000 (25th percentile) to $127,000 (75th percentile) per year.

PICU Nurse

ZipRecruiter reports that the average PICU nurse salary in the U.S. is about $98,066 annually or $47.15/hr. They also say that most PICU nurses earn between $91,000 (25th percentile) to $107,000 (75the percentile), and the top earners make as much as $139,500.

Labor and Delivery Nurse

According to ZipRecruiter, labor and delivery nurses earn on average about $99,043 annually or $48/hr. Average labor and delivery nurse annual salaries range from about $46,000 to $156,000.

Pediatric Nurse

ZipRecruiter found that most pediatric nurses in the U.S. earn between $60,500 and $87,500. However, they also state that pediatric salaries can range from as low as $46,000 to as high as $117,500.

Part Nine NICU Nurse Salary FAQs

  • How long does it take to become a NICU nurse?

    • There are various ways to become a NICU nurse, and it can take anywhere from two to six years. An ADN degree takes about two years to achieve, a BSN takes about four years, and an MSN takes about six years. 
  • Is being a NICU nurse hard?

    • Working as a NICU nurse can be a rewarding career, but it can also be stressful and is not for the faint of heart. It requires working with critically ill infants that require constant care and attention. In addition, NICU nurses also must be trained to use specialized equipment such as ventilators, incubators, oxygen hoods, and must also possess many other skills to work with NICU patients. 
  • Do NICU nurses make good money?

    • Yes, NICU nurses make good money. ZipRecruiter found that most NICU nurses earned between $60,000 or $40 per hour and $115,000, or $55 per hour. However, they also found that the top NICU nurse earners made as high as $125,000 per year or $60 per hour.
  • Are NICU nurses on-call?

    • Since NICUs operate around-the-clock, 365 days a year, many NICU nurses must work on-call shifts. However, this depends on how the employer manages their scheduling. It is not uncommon for a hospital to require that nurses commit to 1 or 2 on-call shifts per month. However, other facilities may not require on-call shifts at all.
  • What is the entry-level NICU nurse salary?

    • According to payscale.com the average entry-level NICU nurse with less than 1-year experience is $28.04/hr. However, entry-level salary also depends on the area and cost of living where you work.