Critical Care (ICU) Nurse

What Is a Critical Care (ICU) Nurse?

Intensive care unit (ICU) or critical care nurses are highly skilled healthcare professionals who care for patients with acute and life-threatening injuries or illnesses. To treat the most vulnerable and critically ill patients in the most thorough way possible, ICU nurses employ their specialized skills and extensive knowledge of disease pathology to intervene during life-threating situations to restore and sustain life. Critical care nurses can be found working in intensive care units, coronary care units, trauma centers emergency departments, and others. To be successful, these nurses need to be able to think and work quickly, meticulously, independently, and efficiently under intense and stressful conditions. Although certainly not for the faint of heart, of the many nursing specialties, ICU nurses are known to have one of the most rewarding careers around.

What Are Some Critical Care (ICU) Nurse Duties?

Some tasks and duties that are commonly carried out by intensive care nurses may include the following:

  • Evaluate vital signs
  • Identify a patient's needs according to their age and level of consciousness
  • Work alongside an interdisciplinary healthcare team to create a plan of care to stabilize patients in critical condition
  • Closely monitor and document patient care and unit procedures
  • Administer different lifesaving treatments and procedures
  • Wound care
  • Monitor life support equipment
  • Administer medication via intravenous tubes, injection, orally, and through other methods
  • Care for patients' bodies immediately after death and arrange for transportation to a burial facility or morgue
  • Act as a communication intermediary between the patient, their family, and staff members involved in the direct care of the patient
  • Immediately and appropriately respond to any changes in a patient's condition

Where Do Critical Care Nurses Work?

A typical workplace environment for a critical care nurse may include:

  • Hospitals (mainly in ICUs)
  • Military
  • NGOs
  • Government agencies

How to Become a Critical Care (ICU) Nurse

Before you decide on pursuing a career as an intensive care unit nurse you should make sure that you're equipped to handle the emotional toll that working in a critical care unit can take on clinicians. If you believe that you're up to the task after giving it some thought, you'll need to obtain the right level of education as well as an RN license. Some experience in the field as an RN in a critical care setting will also be required. After these steps have been completed, you'll then be eligible to take the exam which will allow you to become certified as a critical care registered nurse (CCRN).

Step 1: Educational Requirements

To become a critical care nurse, the following educational requirements must be met:

  • Earn an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited college or university
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN prelicensure exam
  • Hold an active and unrestricted RN license

*Although not explicitly required, prospective critical care nurses who are in their last year of nursing school are highly encouraged to seek a Nursing Student Externship. This will allow them to gain invaluable experience in assisting RNs within intensive care units.

Do Critical Care Nurse Need an RN Degree?

Yes, critical care nurses are required to hold active and unrestricted RN licenses, as they must have the proper training and expertise to react to urgent and emergent situations.

Step 2: Required Critical Care Nurse Certifications/Credentials

Prospective intensive care unit nurses can acquire the Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN).

In order to be eligible to take the Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification exam, the following requirements must be fulfilled:

  • Have completed an ADN or BSN program from an accredited college or university
  • Hold a current and unrestricted RN license
  • Have at least 1,750 hours of direct care experience as RN caring for acutely/critically ill or injured patients in the past two years, with 875 of those hours accrued in the year preceding the application


  • Have at least five years of experience as an RN or APRN with at least 2,000 hours of direct care experience caring for acutely/critically ill or injured patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the year preceding the application

*Certifications must be renewed every 3 years.

Critical Care (ICU) Nurse Jobs, Salary & Employment

Due to the highly valuable and uncommon skill set that critical care nurses have, vacancies and opportunities for advancement within the field are abundant, making the outlook for this crucial nursing specialty look quite favorable.

Job Description & Information

  • Essential Skills Needed - Data analysis, ability to work effectively and efficiently under intense pressure, meticulousness, independence, leadership abilities, capacity to carry out complex tasks, emotional stability, physical strength, compassion, and empathy
  • Job Outlook - The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of job openings for RNs will grow by no less than 16% between 2014 and 2024. Because critical care nurses possess a highly valuable skill set, they can expect job openings in their specialty to be on par with or above the figure mentioned above.

What Is the Average Salary of a Critical Care Nurse? reports that the average annual salary for critical care nurses is about $67,000. Key factors that will contribute to the how much a critical care nurse can earn include things like the city/state of employment, type of employer, how much ICU experience they have, and their educational background and credentials. Because they are usually employed by large hospital organizations or governments, benefits included in employment packages are likely to include medical, dental, vision, and prescription insurance coverage. Retirement plans, paid vacation and sick leave, and other perks are also usually available.

How Much Do Critical Care Nurses Make per Year?

  • $40,000 – $94,000 annually

How Much Do Critical Care Nurses Make per Hour?

  • $33.17 average hourly wage

Critical Care (ICU) Nurse Resources