All Things You Need to Know About Becoming an ICU RN

According to a 2023survey, the average annual salary of an ICU RN was $82,600 with the salary range between $72,600 and $95,700. ICU registered nurses are in high demand due to the growing need for critical care services. The major factor responsible for an increase in the number ofICU nurse jobs and average salary each year since 2012, is the nursing shortage across the US. And this shortage is primarily a result of advancements in medical technology and an aging population with complex health conditions. 

An ICU RN provides care to patients at a time when they are the most vulnerable. As we know, these are individuals who are very sick or fighting for their lives. These patients can be intubated, ventilated, or heavily medicated creating complex treatment charts and varied skills needed to support them. Also, the patient’s health conditions can change dramatically so they require round-the-clock monitoring. The role of these specialized nurses is to stabilize a patient or de-escalate care. Without these nurses, hospitals will not be able to able to support or serve trauma patients, end-of-life patients, and other patients that require a high level of care. Considering a career path in the ICU offers enormous career security benefits as well as a great travel nurse opportunity to gather exposure and skills. 

Degrees and education  

To start working as an ICU RN, you must first become a registered nurse by graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or an Associate Nursing Degree. After getting your degree, you must apply for the NCLEX-RN exam. Subsequently, you can apply for a state registered nurse license by submitting your nursing school transcripts and a fingerprint check. After getting clearance from the state board and passing your NCLEX-RN exam you earn your RN license. Moreover, RN licenses are state specific so you may need to apply for a specific license in each state of practice especially if you are open to moving in search of a new challenge or a more lucrative job. Alternatively, travel nurses can apply for Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) which is a multi-state nursing license that allows nurses to work in their home state and other participating states. 

Also, you must obtain basic life support certification to be an ICU RN. This is the certification of adult critical care nurses awarded by the American Association for critical care nurses. Other certificates that can help you get ICU nurse jobs all over the country are advanced cardiac life support certification and health stroke scale credential.  

Experience and training  

After getting your RN license, consider working in areas such as the emergency department, medical-surgical unit, or step-down unit. Indeed, this experience will help you develop the necessary skills and knowledge needed for an ICU position. 

Additionally, you must apply for nursing residency programs that will give you that much-needed exposure. In such programs, you get to observe ICU patients and even assist under the supervision of a senior nurse or doctor.  

Undoubtedly, most graduate nurses require at least two years of basic nursing experience and some critical care exposure to work as an ICU RN. This experience will help you acquire basic skills like patient assessment and evaluation, administering emergency medicine, and escalating care. One of the best ways to gain experience is to consider travel nursing after completing the first year in a hospital or healthcare facility. Travel nursing offers unmatched exposure as you get to work in diverse settings that help you enhance your skills.  

Key Skills to of an ICU RN

Technical skills

As an ICU nurse, you must be proficient in using and operating various medical devices and equipment found in the ICU, such as ventilators, cardiac monitors, infusion pumps, and dialysis machines. Troubleshooting technical issues and responding appropriately is the silent responsibility of an ICU nurse.  

Multitasking and time management

Working in the ICU involves caring for multiple patients with complex conditions simultaneously. Effective multitasking, excellent time management skills, and the ability to prioritize to ensure optimal patient care is a pre-requisite when applying for ICU nurse jobs.  

Communication skills

You need exceptional communication skills to interact with patients, their families, and the multidisciplinary healthcare team. You must know how to explain complex medical information in a compassionate and understandable manner. 

Emotional resilience

ICU nurse jobs can be emotionally demanding due to the high-stress environment and critically ill patients. Emotional resilience and the ability to cope with challenging situations are vital for providing the best possible care while maintaining personal well-being. 

Teamwork and collaboration

ICU nurses work closely with other healthcare professionals, including physicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and physical therapists. Effective teamwork, collaboration, and the ability to communicate and coordinate care within a multidisciplinary team are essential. 

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is crucial for early detection of any complications or deterioration. You must closely monitor patients’ vital signs and quickly provide treatment upon any changes in their condition.  

Compassion and empathy

You must have a compassionate and empathetic approach while providing care to critically ill patients.  

Applying for ICU positions

Once you have gained sufficient clinical experience and necessary certifications, start applying for ICU RN positions. Check job listings at hospitals, healthcare systems, and specialty hospitals that have intensive care units. Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight your relevant experience and skills. 

Ultimately, we recommend SkillGigs, a talent marketplace that leverages AI to help you find job opportunities. Simply upload your resume and enter your job preferences. The platform will convert your resume into an attractive 3D Resume and give you the option to choose from different jobs all over the US. You can bid on gigs you are interested in. Likewise, employers can submit their bids to you if they are interested in your profile. The communication runs smoothly as you can message the employer directly and negotiate pay without the need for any third party.  


ICU nurse jobs are on the rise due to nursing shortages in the US. Still, to be on top of your game you need to complete your education and have significant on-the-job experience. Thus, it is important to stay up to date with the latest advancements in critical care. Attend conferences, participate in continuing education programs, and consider pursuing advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a focus on critical care, if you wish to advance your career further. 

If you are new to SkillGigs, then sign up— it is completely free. It will be your opportunity to see what roles are currently available in the market to help you adjust your career path as needed to get to your next level of success.  

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