Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses play a crucial role in healthcare by caring for patients facing life-threatening conditions. They evaluate patients’ conditions, provide treatments, and assist in procedures to help them recover.

In turn, ICU nursing can be a highly-rewarding profession.

If you’re thinking about becoming an ICU nurse, you might be curious about how much money you could make. We all like to explore our earning potential, so let’s talk about it—how much does an ICU nurse make?Below, we’ll go over the various factors that impact an ICU nurse’s average salary, as well as some tips on how you can increase your base pay.

How Much Do ICU Nurses Make?

According to Zip Recruiter, the national average annual income for an ICU nurse is $121,371. However, ICU nurses can earn anywhere from $47,500 to $251,000.1 Compared to the average salary of $77,412 for a regular registered nurse (RN), specializing in ICU nursing can significantly boost your earning potential.2

While the average ICU nurse salary is considerable, it’s dependent on a handful of factors, including:

  • Location
  • Place of employment
  • Work experience
  • Credentialing
  • Benefits
  • Shift selection
  • Market demand
  • Openness to travel

Let’s explore each in more detail:

#1 Location

Nursing salaries differ greatly from state to state, so your income as an ICU nurse can depend on where you decide to work.

One reason for this is that each state has a different cost of living. Healthcare units in more expensive states must pay their ICU nurses higher salaries so they can afford their expenses.

Some states also have access to stronger funding, which means their healthcare facilities can afford to pay higher salaries.

Average ICU Nurse Salary by State

With that in mind, here are the top ten states for ICU nurse salaries and their average annual pay:1

  • New York – $136,450
  • New Hampshire – $127,804
  • Vermont – $124,382
  • Maine – $123,940
  • Massachusetts – $120,239
  • Hawaii – $119,515
  • Wyoming – $119,249
  • Arizona – $118,985
  • Tennessee – $118,961
  • Nevada – $118,468

The lowest average annual salaries for ICU nurses can be found in:

  • North Carolina – $85,971
  • Louisiana – $91,217
  • Illinois – $94,501
  • Texas – $95,711
  • Georgia – $95,755
  • Missouri – $95,953
  • Michigan – $98,016
  • Mississippi – $99,071
  • Oklahoma – $99,482
  • Arkansas – $100,278

While some states offer lower salaries than others, ICU nurses can expect a reasonable income no matter their location.

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#2 Place of Employment

It’s not just the state that impacts ICU nurse salary—some places of employment simply pay more than others.

Places that may offer higher compensation include:

  • Neonatal intensive care units (NICUs)
  • Pediatric intensive care units (PICUs)
  • Critical care units (CCUs)

Meanwhile, ICU nurses who review patient care utilization for insurance companies or the government may not earn quite as much.

#3 Experience

As with most professions, the more experience you have as an ICU nurse, the more you can expect to earn. Experienced ICU nurses are often able to handle more complex patient cases with greater autonomy, which can attract higher pay from their employers.

Average ICU RN Salary by Experience Level

So, how exactly might experience impact your salary? NursingProcess.org shares the average hourly wages for ICU nurses across different levels of experience:3

  • Entry-level – $22.60
  • 1 to 4 years of experience – $26.08
  • 5 to 9 years of experience – $31.88
  • 10 to 19 years of experience – $39.60
  • 20+ years experience – $49.18

Your situation might differ, but you can generally expect your salary to grow in line with your experience and expertise.

#4 Credentialing

Credentials can also impact your salary as an ICU nurse. Advanced degrees like a master’s or doctorate could open doors to more lucrative positions in hospital administration, health service management, and legal nurse consulting.

Alternatively, have you considered becoming a specialist? A 2018 survey suggests that getting certified in pediatric, neonatal, cardiac, or surgical care can increase pay by 16%.4

Moreover, with the right experience and additional training, you can advance to become an ICU charge nurse. In this role, you would coordinate staff, manage patient activities, and evaluate unit outcomes. As an ICU charge nurse, you can expect an increase in both responsibilities and pay.

#5 Benefits

Alongside your salary, you’ll likely receive a package of employment benefits. In addition to mandatory ones like unemployment insurance and Social Security, your employer may also offer:

  • Paid time off
  • Medical insurance
  • 401(k) employer matching contributions
  • Health savings account contributions
  • Professional development reimbursements

On average, private sector ICU nurses are granted $29,616 worth of benefits, while the average state and local government ICU nurses are granted $44,928.

Employment benefits can be a significant kicker, representing a sizable portion of your overall compensation.

#6 Shift Selection

ICUs operate 24 hours a day, so nurses are needed around the clock. Some ICU nurses work weekends and evening shifts, while others opt for standard schedules.

Flexibility in nursing is key. ICU nurses who work from 7pm to 7am— or on weekends—can expect to earn more during these shifts than other shifts.

Nursing also allows the freedom to pick up extra shifts, should you be available and up for it.

#7 Market Demand

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the U.S. will need 6% more nurses by 2031 to keep up with demand. While this shortage places a strain on healthcare facilities, it also presents an opportunity for aspiring ICU nurses.

With high staff turnover, employers are also increasingly relying on travel nurses to fill the gaps.

#8 Openness to Travel

If you’re up for traveling, you could make significantly more than you would in a permanent nursing role. The average ICU travel nurse salary is around 20% higher than permanent positions.

The mobility of a travel nurse also allows them to take advantage of job openings more readily. This makes them an efficient staffing solution for healthcare facilities across the board.

In addition to the higher travel ICU nurse salary, you can also enjoy the added perks of exploring different cities you have always dreamed of visiting.

Host Healthcare: Increase Your Salary By Becoming a Travel ICU Nurse Today

If you’re already an RN—or you’re thinking of becoming one—you may want to consider your potential as a travel ICU nurse. Not only can you earn more money than in a permanent position, but you can also unlock the freedom to work and explore anywhere across the United States.

Throughout your entire travel nurse journey, you can count on Host Healthcare to have your back. Our responsive recruiters listen to your preferences to swiftly match you with the travel nursing job of your dreams.

Our dedicated teams provide comprehensive support before, during, and in-between assignments—from personalized housing support and day-1 benefits to clinical liaison and beyond.

Ready to embark on your next adventure? Apply today to talk to one of our responsive recruiters and discover how you can transform your nursing career.

 

Reviewed by:

Hannah Wilson, BSN, RN, CCRN

Nursing Specialty: M/SICU, PreOp

I began my career as a new graduate nurse in an M/SICU where I ended up working for 5 years, one year of which I was a Team Leader. In January of 2020, I took my first travel nursing position in a Burn ICU. After 13 weeks there, I spent the next 14 months in a couple of Medical/COVID ICUs in CA where I primarily cared for COVID patients. After 7 years in the ICU, I needed a change and took a permanent position in PreOp in September of 2021, which is where I currently work. Being a nurse have given me so many opportunities and has taught me more than I ever thought it could – I can’t imagine doing anything else!

 

Sources:

  1. “What Is the Average ICU Registered Nurse Salary by State,” ZipRecruiter, 2022. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/What-Is-the-Average-ICU-Registered-Nurse-Salary-by-State
  2. “Registered Nurse Salary,” ZipRecruiter, 2022. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Registered-Nurse-Salary
  3. Editorial Staff @ NursingProcess.org. “ICU Nurse Salary By State – (2023 Figures),” NursingProcess.org., 2022. https://www.nursingprocess.org/icu-nurse-salary.html
  4. “2018 Nursing Salary Guide,” EliteLearning, 2018. https://info.elitelearning.com/hubfs/Nursing/2018-Elite-Nursing-Salary-Guide.pdf
  5. “Vacancy rate of registered nurses in hospitals in the United States in 2021, by vacancy range,” Statista, 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1251419/vacancy-rate-of-registered-nurses-in-hospitals-in-the-united-states/
  6. Ehli, Nick. “Short-staffed and COVID-battered, U.S. hospitals are hiring more foreign nurses,” NPR, 6 Jan. 2022, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/01/06/1069369625/short-staffed-and-covid-battered-u-s-hospitals-are-hiring-more-foreign-nurses
  7. “Registered Nurses,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm