Nursing Salaries: How Much Does a Critical Care Nurse Make?

Critical care nurses may increase their salary potential by specializing. Learn more about career paths open to these professionals.
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  • Typical critical care nurses make $59,450-$120,250 per year.
  • Critical care nursing includes many careers paying above the median U.S. salary.
  • Coastal states feature higher nursing salaries.
  • Professionals may access more career opportunities by advancing their education.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses made approximately $22,000 more annually than the U.S. median salary across all occupations in 2021. Critical care nurses may earn more than this figure, depending on their specialization and state of residence.

Entering the nursing field requires an associate degree and a state-issued license. Graduates may find their first jobs using their school's career resources, such as an online job board. Other helpful career advice includes networking with potential employers. Students and recent graduates can find jobs by researching economic trends and building a support network. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What Is the Average Critical Care Nursing Salary?

The average critical care nursing salary lets professionals live comfortably in most states. Workers with experience and certifications may earn more than their peers. They may also make more by developing their salary negotiation skills.

Below are the 2021 median salaries for three jobs critical care nurses may pursue.

Highest-Paying Critical Care Nursing Jobs

The highest-paying critical care nursing jobs require a license, an advanced degree, and many years of professional experience.

Critical Care Nursing Job Average Annual Salary

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

$202,470 as of 2021

ICU Nurse

$120,240 as of 2022

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

$118,590 as of 2022

General Nurse Practitioner

$118,040 as of 2021

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

$113,290 as of 2022

Sources: BLS, Payscale, and ZipRecruiter

How Much Do Critical Care Nurses Make in Your State?

What critical care nurses earn varies by state. The table below shows that coastal states generally pay higher critical care nurse salaries. However, these states' costs of living exceed the national average.

Review the best and worst states to change a career before relocating. The best states for 2021 include Georgia, New Hampshire, and Utah.

Average Salary for Critical Care Nurses by State (June 2022)
State Cardiovascular Registered Nurse Oncology Registered Nurse Pediatric Registered Nurse

































District of Columbia
























































































New Hampshire




New Jersey




New Mexico




New York




North Carolina




North Dakota




















Puerto Rico




Rhode Island




South Carolina




South Dakota




























West Virginia












Source: ZipRecruiter

The Highest-Paying States for Critical Care Nurses (by June 2022 Average Salary)

Cardiovascular Registered Nurse

Oncology Registered Nurse

Pediatric Registered Nurse

#1 New York

#2 Washington

#3 Massachusetts

#1 New York

#2 Washington

#3 Massachusetts

#1 Hawaii

#2 Connecticut

#3 Massachusetts

Source: ZipRecruiter

Job Growth for Critical Care Nurses

The BLS projects the need for RNs to grow by 9% from 2020-2030. This rate matches the average projected growth rate for all U.S. careers during the time period. Recent graduates looking for jobs can benefit from the strong projected job growth rate for nurses, as more open positions exist.

Strong growth in the field is also a good sign for experienced professionals looking to change careers. In-demand opportunities in the healthcare field include dental hygienist and health information technician. The BLS projects the need for dental hygienists to grow by 11% between 2020 and 2030.

Fields of Critical Care Nursing That Pay the Most

Critical care nursing professions pay much more than the median U.S. salary. The average critical care nurse earned $73,370 in June 2022, according to Payscale. Experienced professionals earned $122,000 or more.

Some positions critical care nurses may pursue pay more than the average salary for this profession. They include:

  • Advanced practice registered nurse
  • Nurse educator
  • Medical and health services manager
  • Nurse anesthetist

New professionals can explore these careers by gaining hands-on experience in different healthcare settings. They may also research job-hunting techniques, such as networking with peers.

Does More Education Leads to a Higher Critical Care Nursing Salary?

BSN Salary

RNs with associate degrees can earn a bachelor's to qualify for more career opportunities. Aspiring nurses without a college education may earn a bachelor's degree in nursing, as well. The percentage of nurses with a bachelor's increased from 49 to 56% between 2010 and 2018, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Salaries for those with BSNs vary by job title, employer, and years of experience. Learners may find the best job using their nursing program's career center resources.

Gerontology Nurse

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $70,330

Gerontology nurses specialize in injuries and medical conditions typical among older people. This expertise lets them make informed decisions and collaborate with other healthcare staff. These professionals may increase their salary potential by earning a certification.

Nursing Director

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $93,910

Nursing directors use their education and experience to run nursing units. Typical day-to-day responsibilities include ordering equipment, keeping staff organized, and evaluating less-senior nurses' performances. These and other tasks ensure patients receive the best care possible.

Public Health Nurse

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $63,840

Public health nurses spend their days creating educational programs for individuals and communities. These programs help people improve their mental and physical health. The profession requires strong communication skills and years of experience working with patients.

MSN Salary

An MSN can open up new career opportunities, many of which offer higher nursing salaries. The best MSN programs let learners continue working while in school. Approximately 13% of nurses held a master's as of 2018, according to the AACN.

Learners may save money on an MSN by exploring online programs. Students can make the most of their education by speaking with a career counselor about jobs and specialization options.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $123,780

Advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) can work as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, or nurse practitioners. Each path requires a different education at the master's level. Unlike RNs who only possess associate or bachelor's degrees, APRNs may diagnose conditions and order tests.

Chief Nursing Officer

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $134,210

Chief nursing officers (CNOs) direct and monitor other nurses' day-to-day responsibilities. They must follow their employer's safety procedures and nursing best practices when making decisions. Successful CNOs contribute to their employer's success by ensuring managers understand RNs' needs and challenges.

Nurse Educator

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $78,940

Nurse educators with MSNs and years of experience develop continuing education programs for their employers. This process involves collaborating with hospital administrators and interviewing employees. Other tasks include training senior RNs to mentor new staff.

DNP Salary

Experienced critical care nurses with bachelor's or master's degrees may return to school to earn a DNP. The top DNP programs take 3-5 years to complete and let learners specialize in direct or indirect care. Graduation requirements may include a final project or dissertation.

Graduates typically explore career opportunities in academia and healthcare management.

Medical and Health Services Managers

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $101,340

Medical and health services managers oversee an entire healthcare facility or manage one department. They train staff, monitor budgets, and act as their employer's public face. Medical and health services managers hold many years of experience as physicians, nurses, or other healthcare professionals.

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $79,640

Postsecondary teachers instruct classes at a college or university. They also develop curricula, advise undergraduate or graduate students, and serve on committees.

Many postsecondary teachers perform original research. They turn research findings into papers they can submit to academic journals.

Top Executive

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $98,980

Some professionals with DNPs advance in the critical care nursing field by becoming top executives. Job titles include chief executive officer (CEO) and operations manager. These workers create goals for their company or organization, oversee finances, and hire less-senior managers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Critical Care Nursing Salary

What does a critical care nurse do? true

Critical care nurses treat people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries. Other responsibilities include caring for patients immediately before and after surgery. These nurses provide the best care by monitoring patients' conditions continuously.

Critical care nursing requires more than healthcare expertise. Professionals must hold advanced communication skills to help patients and families deal with extreme stress.

Typical job sites for critical care nurses include hospitals' intensive care units (ICUs), emergency departments, and patient transport. Some critical care nurses work in managed care centers and outpatient surgery centers. These and other job sites need healthcare professionals trained to respond to unpredictable situations.

What is the difference between ICUs and critical care units? true

No difference exists between ICUs and critical care units. Both need highly trained healthcare professionals that include critical care nurses, physicians, and case managers. These settings treat patients with serious illnesses or injuries.

Patients in the ICU or critical care unit undergo 24-hour observation. This enables healthcare professionals to respond immediately if a patient's health declines. Patients move to a regular hospital room once they improve or their condition stabilizes.

What types of nurses are in critical care? true

Like other RNs, critical care nurses may specialize in a nursing subfield, such as oncology. They gain relevant experience by working in their hospital's oncology department. Doing so can help them decide whether to pursue certification.

Other options for nurses include specializing in cardiology or pediatrics. These professionals follow a similar path as aspiring oncology critical care nurses. Specialization has many advantages, such as increased salary potential and new career paths.

Keep in mind that critical care nursing does not require workers to specialize. Critical care nurses' education and training help them respond to different emergencies.

How long does it take to be a critical care nurse? true

Becoming a critical care nurse requires earning at least an associate in nursing. An associate degree takes full-time learners two years to earn. A bachelor's program takes four years to complete.

Licensed RNs gain 2-5 years of experience in critical care settings before earning American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) certification. Certification requirements include completing at least 1,750 hours of direct care and passing an exam. AACN charges a $245 fee for members and a $360 fee for non-members to take the exam as of June 2022.

Some professionals need longer to meet their career goals. They may want to earn an MSN or pursue additional professional certifications. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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