Critical Care Nurse (CCN)

Critical Care Nurse

  1. What is a Critical Care Nurse?

    A Critical Care Nurse (CCN) is one of the roles of a broader group of nurses called Clinical Specialists. Also called Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) and Intensive care nurses, the exact term used will depend on area of specialization and training. Although the scope of practice for a CCN varies by state as defined by the State Board of Nursing, a Critical Care Nurse most commonly provides evidence based nursing care to deliver advanced care in intensive care, critical care and coronary care units.

  2. Quick Facts about Critical Care Nurses:

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track the Critical Care Nurse role, so the data below is based on the closely related Nurse Practitioner role:

    • 2015 Median Pay (according to
    • $67,490
    • Number of Jobs in 2014
    • 126,900
    • Job Prospects from 2014-2024
    • Much faster than average
    • Projected Employment in 2024
    • 171,700
    • Areas of Growth
    • Hospitals and offices that care for critically ill patients

    Figure 1: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016

  3. What does a Critical Care Nurse do?

    The CCN role is designed to provide advanced nursing care that improves patient outcomes in a critical care environment. Depending on state-specific scope of practice, a Critical Care Nurse will do some or all of the following:

    • Take nursing histories from patients and families;
    • Perform in-depth physical exams;
    • Analyze and monitor results of tests;
    • Diagnose nursing problems based on the history, exam and testing;
    • Create plans of care for patients and families based on the patient problems and nursing diagnoses;
    • Administer and monitor medication and treatments based on the plan of care;
    • Evaluate the individual’s response to prescribed medications and treatments;
    • Set up and monitor equipment common to the critical care environments (Pressure lines, cardiac monitors, ventilation equipment, etc.);
    • Teach and collaborate with patients and families about the findings and plan of care;
    • Collaborate with and educate other members of the healthcare team.
  4. Where do Critical Care Nurses work?

    Clinical Nurse Specialists can work in a wide variety of environments including acute care hospitals, physician offices, surgery centers, and outpatient clinics. The area of specialization will help to determine where you will work as a CCN.If you are interested in cardiac problems, you may elect to work in a Coronary Care Unit or cardiology office. If your interest is in trauma, you may elect to work in a surgical or trauma unit or as a flight nurse. Again, it is important that you understand that CCN practice is governed by each state’s Board of Nursing and the hiring facility so it is critical to understand the rules and regulations in your state and the policies of your workplace.

  5. What qualities should a Critical Care Nurse have to be successful?

    First and foremost, the Critical Care Nurse must have exceptional basic nursing skills. The CCN is typically the first line caregiver for the critically ill so the nurse must have strong assessment skills and the ability to quickly recognize and solve problems. The Critical Care Nurse must have great communication skills and must be able to take detailed information and condense the data into information that will be meaningful to physicians caring for the patient. Due to the serious illness of the patients that the CCN cares for, the Critical Care Nurse must have a great degree of tolerance for stress. The CCN is often in charge of helping to orient new team members so must have great listening and mentoring skills.

  6. How much can I expect to earn as a Critical Care Nurse?

    The great news is that the Critical Care Nurse can expect to earn a very good living. Salaries will vary depending on specialization, location, experience and other factors. As of May 2016, the median annual wage was $67,940 with a range from $61,277 to $112,051. Of course, wages vary widely by state, cost of living, and need. Experience of the CCN can have a relatively large impact on salary:

    Figure 2: Accessed online at July 2016

  7. What are the job prospects for a Critical Care Nurse?

    The need for Clinical Nurse Specialists will grow much faster than other professions through 2024. Job prospects for Clinical Nurse Specialists are excellent over the next 10 years as baby boomers age, begin to leave the work force and begin to develop health issues.

    In January 2016, AACN showed the following as employment of CCRNs by state:

    Figure 3: Accessed online from AACN July 2016

  8. How can I become a Critical Care Nurse?

    A Critical Care Nurse must be a Registered Nurse with at least an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in nursing. In most cases, the CCN must have at least one to two years of medical- surgical experience in an acute care environment. Many facilities require that the nurse be certified in Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS). Trauma nursing may require Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) certification.

    A Critical Care Nurse can elect to obtain additional formal certification from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses that offers the Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification. For the nurse who specializes in specific critical care areas such as the Emergency Department, there are specific certifications that the nurse can achieve for the specialized areas.