ICU Nurse Salary and Job Description

Intensive care unit (ICU) staff RNs provide care for patients with life-threatening medical conditions. These nurses work in the critical care unit of a hospital or healthcare facility and look after patients who have experienced invasive surgery, accidents, trauma or organ failure.

Responsibilities of an ICU Staff RN

Working in an ICU requires careful assessment and monitoring of patient progress in order to watch for sudden or subtle changes in a patient’s medical condition that might require emergency intervention. Most patients in a critical care unit are physically unstable and require respiratory and heart monitoring as well as treatment adjustments. ICU staff RNs are responsible for managing medication doses, anesthesia and ventilatory support.

Because ICU staff nurses work with patients who have life-threatening issues, they often encounter end-of-life or ethical matters that may involve withholding medical care. ICU staff RNs need to provide regular status updates to patients and their family members so that they can make informed decisions regarding treatment.

Skills and Focus Areas for Critical Care Nurses

Many ICU staff RNs specialize in a particular area, such as adult or pediatric care, cardiology, neurocare or oncology. Each of these areas may involve different duties and specialized training. An ICU staff RN may care for just one patient or manage the care of several patients. Once patients recover from critical care, they are usually transferred to other units.

Critical care nurses should be prepared to work long hours and deal with life-and-death situations on a daily basis. Excellent teamwork, multi-tasking and interpersonal communication skills are essential for an ICU staff RN, as is the ability to rise to challenges and stay calm under pressure. Many nurses find an ICU career rewarding because they play a key role in helping to save patients’ lives.

Typical ICU Staff RN Salaries

According to national salary data compiled by, the median annual salary for an ICU Staff RN was $68,864 in September 2016. The middle 50% of nurses in this role earned between $62,052 and $74,826. ICU Staff RNs generally receive comprehensive benefits, including health insurance, paid time off and employer contributions toward a 401(k) or pension plan.

How to Prepare for a Career as an ICU Staff RN

ICU staff RNs need to have excellent assessment and clinical nursing skills to effectively care for patients with life-threatening conditions. For this critical role, employers seek nurses with advanced education, such as a bachelor’s degree in nursing. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) helps to prepare nurses for a variety of healthcare challenges and situations that can arise while on the job, and familiarizes them with technological advancements that make it possible to treat a wide variety of illnesses. Earning a BSN degree ensures you have a solid foundation in scientific and medical knowledge that will enable you to excel as an ICU staff RN.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the job outlook for all types of RNs, including ICU staff nurses, will be strong in the coming years, with employment predicted to grow by 16% by 2024, much faster than the average for all other occupations. RNs with a BSN degree and extensive clinical experience will have the best job opportunities, with the ability to move into an ICU staff RN position and other rewarding, high-profile roles.

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