How much money do you think a critical care unit nurse makes a year? According to recent studies carried out by the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average ICU nurse salary is approximately $97,000 per annum. While the figure may seem a bit high, it’s interesting to note that the top 10% of highest paid critical care nurses actually earn well over $130,000 per year. The average amount is leveled off by the bottom 10% of nurses who make around $68,000 annually. Not bad for new practitioners, right?

But why such a major variation between these two figures? A $62,000 difference is quite substantial. What makes the one care specialist get almost double their colleague’s salaries? Well, just like in football, the starting quarterback definitely earns more than the substitute. Why? Because he’s proved himself as the best. He’s played longer, understands the team inside and out, puts in some serious hours in practice and knows how to make a game plan that will push all the way from first down to touchdown.

Basically, what I’m really trying to say (without sounding like a rabid football fan) is that there are a plethora of dynamics that go into influencing the annual salary of any medical professional. Let’s take a much closer look at the most influential factors that will determine the actual sum for different ICU nurse practitioners.


Factors Influencing ICU Nurse Salary Earning Potential


Naturally, every professional nurse wants to earn the highest ICU nurse salary in the market. However, this is not always possible for all nurses. The elements that typically have the most impact on the ICU nurse salary includes experience, education, registration status, location, medical field and even personality. Even the number of weeks and type of job could also affect the all-important weekly paycheck. We’re going to break down and explain these factors one by one to show you exactly how the amounts add up.

1.Years Worked (Experience)


How long an ICU nurse has been practicing can also have a huge effect on the number of zeros on the paycheck at the end of the month. For many nurses, working at one facility for several years contributes to increasing their take-home salaries. A large percentage of hospitals in America have moved from what is known as a merit pay scale to one that is time-based.

According to the Lippincott’s Nursing Center Website, ICU nurses with under 5 years experience earn roughly $45,000 a year. Those with anywhere between six to ten years of experience under their hat earn about $55,000 annually. The figure rises even further to almost $60,000 for nurses with 11 to 15 years of experience. A registered ICU nurse practitioner salary with over 15 years experience is $63,000. When it comes to asking for a raise, negotiation salary, and remuneration, putting in the time gives nurses both leverage and seniority. This will allow you to optimize your time and accrue as much on the job as possible. It works wonders for a typical ICU nurse salary, especially if the nurse is unionized. Which takes us to the next factor in the list.


First of all, if you’re a nurse in America with a master’s degree, great things are coming your way (or maybe they’re already there). Let’s start from the beginning. Recently, the healthcare sector has seen a serious demand for qualified nurses and skilled professionals. This can be mainly accredited to the rising number of nurses approaching retirement rate. Listen to this: by 2020, the government predicts that there’s going to be a shortage of almost 900,000 vacant nursing positions.

I don’t know about you, but a shortfall like this is significant in whichever way you look at it. However, this is quite distressing for hospitals and medical facilities that need qualified nurses. But for resident nurses straight out of school with an MSN, you can expect an average starting salary of $70,000. Not bad at all, especially when you feature in the signing bonus and benefits that come with the job such as relocation assistance perks.



Some states call for registered nurses to be part of a local union for nurses. Joining a union translates to higher rates of earning for nurses, especially in cases of overtime hours.

4.Work Shifts

Hospital schedules often involve two major shifts. The most favored day shift and the dreaded night shift fondly referred to as the graveyard shift. Wherever you go, hospitals and employers always reward nurses willing to work nights. Now, admittedly, nobody loves the graveyard shift because, in addition to sacrificing a good night’s sleep, some of the craziest and outright weird cases come in at night. However, putting in a couple of years of overtime and late nights will work significantly to your advantage when it comes to those annual performance evaluations. Not to mention a very attractive ICU nurse salary and benefits. Anyone up for a hard earned pay rise?



The size of an ICU nurse salary paycheck can be impacted by where they work. Here, geography and topography all play a role. ICU nurses working in urban areas earn higher wages than those in rural areas. As researched by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Northern states seem to pay much higher hourly rates than both Western and Southern states. This is of course with the exception of California.

Other than the geographical setting, the physical setting of the job also dictates ICU nurse salaries. Although it varies with where you work, registered nurses working in hospitals tend to earn more than those in the long-term care field, outpatient facilities and even home care nurses.

6.Practice Location


Surprise, surprise, actually, this one’s a no-brainer. The highest paying areas tend to the ones that are super expensive to reside in. This situation kind of creates a humorous paradigm, don’t pack up and move to an expensive location if you’re not prepared to pay for a higher cost of living. For example, a typical registered ICU nurse working at a hospital in Boston earns about $43 an hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now, if that same registered nurse moves to a state like, let’s say Dallas, the rate per hour moves to approximately $32. This amount would further drop to $28 an hour back in Mississippi. The USBLS shows the most highly paid ICU nurses to be in metropolitan areas around California.


Again, no matter where in the world you are or what job we’re talking about, specialized nursing work fetches higher rates than regular nursing. For instance, a pediatric nurse or one that specializes in neonatal care will definitely make more than the average ICU nurse salary. Lots of nurses spend years exploring different areas before finding something they’re passionate about. Not only does specialization allow you to generate more annual income than the average ICU nurse salary, but it also makes a nurse quite valuable and irreplaceable. Some of the highest paid specialty areas in ICU nursing include:

  • Pediatric Nursing. In addition to educating parents and children on child disorders, pediatric nurses cater to children with a broad range of afflictions. The average pediatric ICU nurse salary is around $80,000 per annum.
  • Neonatal Nursing. These nurses cater to the needs of sick and premature infants as well as offering consultation and support to the rest of the family. The average neonatal ICU nurse salary is about $75,000.
  • Nurse Practitioner. The average nurse practitioner salary rounds off at $79,000. In this role, nurses are expected to provide emergency preventative care to patients.
  • Certified Registered ICU Nurse Anesthetist. This specialization area is quite lucrative for skilled and educated nurses. By collaborating with physicians, podiatrists, surgeons and anesthesiologists, ICU nurses can earn as much as $135,000.



Believe it or not, another frequently neglected factor that plays a vital role in ICU nurse salary is personality. That’s right, your personality dictates how well you relate with each and every one of your patients. Since the job basically involves lending a hand to acutely ill patients with life-threatening conditions, being sad and gloomy doesn’t help anyone. If you are friendly, jovial, reliable, efficient and always ready to help out, that makes for some very satisfied patients.

Happy patients mean more referrals, more referrals gets you more clients, more commissions, and even tips. Think of it like a math equation where all your hard work and efforts are directly proportional to your earnings; healthy patients equal to a fat bank account. So, for all you aspiring nurses and potential medicine practitioners out there, don’t forget to put on a smile and encourage your patients all through their treatment. A little friendliness and empathy goes a long way towards increasing the ICU nurse salary.

Additional ICU Nurse Salaries and Fringe Benefits


Like any other job, ICU nursing positions hold very favorable opportunities and additional benefits for all practitioners involved. However, with the increasing demand for skilled ICU nurses, most hospitals and health facilities are sweetening the deal to attract and retain the best nurses. These benefits are added to the total ICU nurse salary and range from medical coverage, vacation days, all the way to retirement pensions.

According to recent reports from Payscale, over 80% of nurses receive health benefits such as dental, medical and vision care as well as paid time off and sick leaves in addition to their usual ICU nurse salary. Not to mention retirement savings plans like the 401k and 403b, disability insurance and even education and certification reimbursement. Whether registered or otherwise, ICU nurses can look forward to the following perks and fringe benefits.

  • Bonuses

To attract highly skilled ICU nurses, both government organizations, and private facilities offer an additional sum known as a sign-on bonus to complement the ICU nurse salary. This bonus is available to ICU nurses who accept employment and is usually contingent on the completion of a service. For example, the U.S. Division of Health and Human Services sweetens the pot with a sign-on bonus of $25,000 for ICU nurses who sign in for a four-year active-duty agreement. In addition to a hefty sign-on bonus, ICU nurses also get another yearly bonus over their regular ICU nurse salary based on a nurse’s individual performance. The annual bonus could be anywhere between $200 to $2000 per year.

  • Paid Holidays and Sick Leaves

Most ICU nurses look forward to yearly vacation days as well as holidays. This could be anywhere between a week to 20 working days a year off. Although sick leaves are not quite welcome, it’s always great to anticipate anything and be ready. This includes both health and maternity leaves. However, it is interesting to note that paid holiday days do not accrue at all, make sure you use them well.

  • Insurance

This is one of the most crucial benefits for most practitioners when it comes to the ICU nurse salary. Employers all over the country offer a wide range of insurance services to make sure that their nurses feel safe and secure in their positions. According to the level of ICU nurse salary a practitioner gets, additional insurance packages include things like:

  • Health Insurance
  • Supplemental Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Accidental Death Benefits
  • Disability Insurance
  • Professional Liability Insurance
  • Other Benefits

Unlike traditional practice, nurses working directly under an employer usually receive an extensive range of benefits. This is because employers allow nurses to receive higher wages by working on a contractual basis as well as getting very hefty bonuses after completing each contract.

The future is looking really bright for all ICU nurses as well as many other medical professionals. With ICU nurse salaries and bonuses looking more and more attractive by the day, it just might be the right time to consider joining the profession.






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