What Is the Average Salary for a Critical Care Nurse?

Explore the career requirements for critical care nurses. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and job duties to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Critical Care Nurse?

Critical care nurses are registered nurses who specialize in working with the critically ill or injured. In this position, you'll work in a high-pressure environment providing emergency, acute and first aid care. The job of any registered nurse includes both direct patient care and counseling or advising the patient and their family. This goes for critical care nurses as well, who are based in intensive care units at hospitals. They focus on patients with serious or complex conditions who require very close monitoring and often have complicated treatment regimens. For this reason it's important to be able to multi-task, to be able to physically and emotionally work with very ill patients, and to be willing to do shift work at odd hours. If you become a critical care nurse, you will likely be working as part of a team with physicians, other nurses, and other hospital staff to tend to patients.

The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field:

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Monitor and evaluate patient's vital signs and diagnostic test results; set up and monitor medical equipment and administer medications; maintain patient records; respond to changes in patient status
Licensure and/or Certification All states require RNs to be licensed
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for all registered nurses)*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490 (for all registered nurses)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Average Salaries for Critical Care Nurses

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all types of registered nurses, including critical care nurses, earned a median annual salary of $67,490 as of 2015 (www.bls.gov).

What Would My Job Duties Be?

Some of the services you'll provide include following emergency protocols by connecting patients to monitors so you can track changes in cardiac function and oxygen delivery. You could also review patients' vital signs, x-rays and laboratory test results. You'll often administer medications and maintain patient records while serving as an advocate for your patients with their doctors.

What Training Do I Need?

To become a critical care nurse, you'll first need to earn a nursing degree and test for an RN license. An associate's or a bachelor's degree program offers you the necessary nursing courses to meet state requirements and prepare you for licensure testing. Most programs also provide hands-on training during an internship at a hospital or clinic. Once you have a degree and experience as an RN, you could move into a critical care position. You might also be able to use tuition reimbursement benefits through your employer for advanced education and specialization in critical care.

What Kind of License Will I Need?

You won't need anything extra outside of RN licensing to work as a critical care nurse. To obtain the license and practice as a registered nurse, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). During the exam, you'll be tested on nursing essentials such as health promotion, health care environments, nursing principles and patient privacy. Some states require additional tests, so you should check with your respective state about specific license requirements.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in the medical field but aren't sure if becoming a registered nurse is right for you, you might instead consider a career as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or diagnostic medical sonographer. To become an EMT requires completion of a non-degree training program, and the job involves responding to medical emergencies in a pre-hospital setting. Diagnostic medical sonographers are professionals who operate special imaging equipment to conduct medical tests. They often work with physicians and nurses in a healthcare setting, and an associate's degree is the typical minimum education requirement.

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