9 Critical Care Nursing Jobs
Critical care nurses work in fast-paced, high-pressure settings. Learn more about critical care nursing jobs, including job duties and salary data.
Published August 24, 2022
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- Critical care nurses provide care for critically ill patients in high-pressure settings.
- Many critical care nurses work in emergency departments and intensive care units.
- Critical care nurses need a nursing degree, RN license, and advanced clinical experience.
Critical care nurses work in high-pressure settings where they care for critically ill patients. With a nursing degree and strong clinical skills, registered nurses (RNs) can work in critical care settings.
But what kinds of critical care nursing jobs exist? Within the nursing field, critical care nurses may work in intensive care units (ICUs), trauma centers, emergency centers, and outpatient care centers. Our guide introduces different types of jobs for critical care nurses, including the earning potential and job outlook.
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Types of Jobs for Critical Care Nurses
How to Become a Critical Care Nurse
Critical care nurses need a nursing degree that provides clinical training in critical care. The steps in how to become a critical care nurse include:
- Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree: Critical care nurses generally need a bachelor's degree. More than 3 in 4 employers prefer to hire RNs with a BSN, according to a 2021 survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Earning a BSN generally takes four years.
- Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam: Registered nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive a license in their state.
- Apply for an RN License: Nurses apply for an RN license in their state. The process varies, but most states require a nursing degree from an approved nursing school and passing scores on the NCLEX-RN exam.
- Apply for Nursing Jobs: After receiving an RN license, nurses can apply for jobs as a critical care nurse.
RNs with an associate degree can return to college for an RN-to-BSN program. Critical care nurses can also increase their responsibilities and earning potential with a graduate degree.
Critical Care Nursing Salary
What's the average critical care nurse salary? Salaries range widely, with the lowest-paid critical care nurses making around $59,000 while the top paid earn $122,000, according to August 2022 data from Payscale.
Critical care nurses may see their earning potential grow with experience.
How to Find a Critical Care Nursing Job
How do nurses find critical care nursing jobs? The process starts during nursing school.
While enrolled in a nursing program, students complete clinical requirements that expand their network. Nursing students also participate in career development events like career fairs. And nursing schools often connect graduates with recruiters and local employers.
In addition to building a professional network, nurses can prepare for critical care roles by joining a critical care nursing organization. Many of these organizations offer job support. For example, the Society of Critical Care Medicine offers a career center with job resources. And the American Nurses Association runs a job board with postings from over 8,500 employers.
By focusing on skill-building, networking, and professional development, nurses can find jobs as a critical care nurse.
Critical Care Nursing Professional Organizations
- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: AACN represents critical care nurses. The organization offers education and clinical resources, along with certification options and a conference with networking opportunities.
- Society of Critical Care Medicine: An organization dedicated to critical care professionals in diverse fields, SCCM emphasizes education, research, and patient care. The society provides clinical resources and educational tools.
- American Nurses Association: The largest professional organization for nurses, ANA offers professional development tools, networking events, and resources on nursing specialties.
Frequently Asked Questions About Critical Care Nursing Jobs
What is the highest-paid critical care nursing job?
The highest-paid critical care nursing jobs include advanced practice roles like critical care nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist. Nurse practitioners reported a median pay of $120,680 in May 2021, according to BLS data. And nurse anesthetists earned a median salary of $195,610, making it the highest paid nursing job.
Nurse anesthetists typically need several years of critical care experience before graduate school. For registered nurses, the highest-paid critical care nursing jobs include ICU nurse, travel nurse, and NICU nurse. Salaries vary by location, experience, and work setting.
Is critical care the same as ICU?
The ICU, or intensive care unit, represents one key site that provides critical care. And many hospitals operate different types of ICUs, including neonatal ICUs and pediatric ICUs.
Nurses who work in ICUs are critical care nurses. However, critical care covers other settings as well. For example, emergency trauma centers also qualify as critical care, along with progressive care, burn units, and step-down care. Many of these settings care for moderately stable patients who may require critical care.
Within the broad field of critical care, nurses work in diverse settings.
Can I become a critical care nurse with an online degree?
Yes, you can become a critical care nurse with an online degree. Critical care nurses typically hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. Prospective nurses can earn their BSN online. However, while taking online classes, nursing students must meet clinical requirements in their local area.
Critical care nurses can also enter the profession with an associate in nursing or a nursing diploma, which meet the requirements for an RN license.
Nurses interested in critical care roles often pursue their BSN by enrolling in an online RN-to-BSN program. Accredited online nursing schools meet the requirements for an RN license and jobs as a critical care nurse.
How much money can I make as a critical care nurse?
The earning potential as a critical care nurse depends on your degree, experience, location, and work setting.
For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $77,600 in May 2021. The lowest-paid RNs made less than $60,000 per year, while the highest-paid earned over $120,000.
Salaries for critical care nurses also vary, with August 2022 data from Payscale showing an average annual salary range from $59,000-$122,000. Critical care nurses can increase their earning potential with experience or a graduate degree. Advanced practice RNs report the highest salaries in nursing.
What is the fastest way to become a critical care nurse?
You can become a critical care nurse in as little as two years. Nursing students who enroll in an associate in nursing program complete coursework and meet clinical requirements. After earning an associate degree, they take the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for an RN license. These nurses can then apply for critical care nursing jobs.
However, many employers prefer to hire nurses with a bachelor's degree, according to a 2021 survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Earning a BSN degree typically takes four years. RNs can advance their education with an RN-to-BSN program.
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